Enjoy summer dining with these lesser-known outdoor venues
In the Alaska summer, we chase the light. We follow it down trails and up mountains, we admire it from viewpoints and along riverbanks. We defer sleep and contort work schedules to score as much sun exposure as humanly possible, because the glorious Alaska summers are, for many of us, the whole point of sucking it up and making it through the winter.
Unsurprisingly, this insatiable appetite for vitamin D also influences our drinking and dining choices: we skip after the sun from patio to patio, from deck to deck, selecting establishments most likely to offer us a splash of farmer’s tan with our cocktail. After a long winter of watching snow fall on the other side of a foggy window, there’s something so peaceful and pleasurable about sipping a beer al fresco and seeing the warm world through the frosty bottom of a pint glass. Plus, everyone knows a margarita tastes better in the sunshine.
Yet so many of Anchorage’s establishments with outdoor areas are played out. The powers-that-be know the crowds will come with the sun no matter what, so they skimp and underwhelm. And we’re left with disappointing service and overpriced food. A gloom shades the experience. Boo.
Well, forget those places. Skip the generic crowds, too. Consider checking out some of the area’s lesser-known patios and decks.
Reilly’s Irish Pub is a personal favorite. Long-time residents may still refer to this little log cabin bar on Fireweed Lane as Cheechako, its name while owned and operated by Joseph Reilly from 1970 to 2005. He sold it to family, who reopened it under the new name.
Reilly’s occupies a charming log structure that was once a homestead, and in the summer, it features a surprisingly peaceful patio out of the bar’s back door, on the north side of the property. Buffered by the building from the busy street, it provides a quiet haven with picnic table seating, slatted wooden Adirondack chairs, and bar stools along a wooden counter. Above the back door, an Irish flag flaps in the breeze.
The crowd here is casual and amiable, generally people in their 40s on up. It’s a great stop-off during a bike ride, as there are plenty of places to prop up a bicycle during a beer break. Drinks are cheap, basic, and satisfying. A crockpot of free soup always simmers inside.
Further down the road on the south side, Long Branch Saloon unfurls a carpet of AstroTurf each summer to lure in sun-loving bar-hoppers. Here’s a spot to pull over for dinner. The “patio” is nothing fancy – just a fenced off corner of the parking lot off the building’s west side, complete with the green carpet and white plastic tables and chairs.
But this small corner of summer gets great sun exposure and it’s all worth it when you bite into one of Long Branch’s legendary burgers – juicy, dripping with cheese and all the fixings, on a famously homemade buns. It’s near perfection.
Some of Anchorage’s other lesser-known outdoor venues include Don Jose’s on Northern Lights Boulevard, where umbrella tables dot a quiet patio. Bradley House on the south side serves up killer steak in the sun. The Slippery Salmon in the Ramada Inn on Third Avenue downtown offers a patio with Sleeping Lady views, and low-priced munchies like cheeseburger sliders and hummus during “Appy Hour,” 4-6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close.
Up for a road trip? Few decks or patios beat the Seaview in Hope, about 80 miles from Anchorage. The bar is now 117 years old and feels every bit its age, in the most delightful way. The cozy interior is all wooden and rustic, with historic photographs and mining tools decorating the walls. Adjacent is a sprawling sundeck that offers incomparable views of Turnagain Arm. There’s a modest but delicious offering of food, with beer and wine, and live music every Friday and Saturday, 7-11 p.m. The best part: If you decide to make a night of it, pay the bartender just $6 to pitch a tent in the campground across the street.