Entertaining visitors in the great AK is almost too easy. Within easy reach of our city limits are thought-provoking museums, adventurous day trips, creative cultural exhibitions and scores of souvenir shopping. That’s all fine and good, but what’s always harder to settle on is where to take friends to dine and drink. There are just so many delicious and enticing options from which to choose. How does one choose between, say, a perfect flight of wine at Crush Bistro with small plates of artistic food, versus a pairing of a Manhattan and a perfect New York steak at iconic Club Paris?Here are some of my must-do, can’t-miss, all-time favorite restaurants and bars that Anchorage has to offer:
Best bar with “local flavor”: Anchorage offers its own embarrassing assortment of bars and pubs that feel sanitized and common. Don’t waste your visitor’s precious time in generic-land. Want to belly up to the bar with the real locals? Sip that beer at an establishment that feels authentically Alaskan. Crossroads, Darwin’s, and Long Branch Saloon – I’m looking at you. Crossroads, a cheerful sports bar in Fairview, is a great place to watch a game or grab a drink before an engagement at nearby Sullivan Arena. Cocktails are cheap and the crockpot is always stocked with free hot dogs. Darwin’s, downtown, is small but mighty – and the same can be said for its cocktails. Beware their potency and enjoy people watching out the two large front windows that face G Street. And Long Branch, on the south side, also rocks that sports bar vibe, and feels very much like a neighborhood hang-out, where blue-collar dudes shoot whiskey after a long shift. Don’t miss the cheeseburgers. They are amazing.
Best fine dining: It’s so tough to narrow down this list, given that most travel budgets will allow for just one or two real dining splurges and Anchorage has a formidable field of options for foodies. My longtime fav is Ginger, and newer to my heart is Maxine’s Fireweed Bistro. Ginger, downtown on Fifth Avenue, is elegant yet mellow. The vibe is especially cool and laid-back in the bar, with its clever artwork, soft-playing music and understated lighting. Chef Anthony Cirstiani creates delicious food that is decidedly Alaskan with a Pacific-Rim influence. Maxine’s isn’t much to look at from the outside, as is the case with so many places in Alaska. But inside, enjoy the inventive talents of Chef Rob Lewis, whose menu changes frequently to showcase the most seasonal ingredients. It relocated to Anchorage from Girdwood and has been sailing along in a haze of positive buzz ever since.
Best stools with a view: It’s a shame to waste a moment of an Alaskan visit cooped up indoors, or away from a window for that matter. Enjoy the scenery and a meal and beverage at either the Crow’s Nest or the Brown Bear Saloon. The former serves crab cakes while the latter offers corn dogs, and they may be about as far apart as two places could be in terms of ambiance. But the vantage point from the Crow’s Nest atop the Hotel Captain Cook’s Tower 3 is unparalleled, with a sweeping view of the city below. On a budget? Keep the experience simple with a cocktail and appetizer at the bar, no reservations required. Brown Bear, on the Seward Highway in Indian, is a traditional Alaska roadhouse, complete with dollar bill-papered ceilings and salty locals. It’s an easy destination for an afternoon drive, during which your guests will be awed into delighted reverence by the beauty of the Turnagain Arm.
Best place to watch music: Listening to music with the locals is a great way to get a speedy sense of place. I enjoy Mike Gorder’s Tuesday night singer/songwriter shows at Pioneer Bar – always featuring Mike and a guest musician – because the music starts by 6:30 p.m. and ends around 9 p.m. In other words, those of us with actual day jobs can catch a free show without paying for it in the morning.