Ask a Local: An Insider’s Guide to Anchorage, Alaska

Ask a Local: An Insider's Guide to Anchorage, Alaska photo

This is Spilling the Beans, where plugged-in baristas give us the lowdown on where to go, what to do, and what to eat (and drink) in their hometown.

Ian Doumit moved to Anchorage with nothing but a backpack and dreams of living among colossal mountains. He moved from “Lower 48,” as he calls it, where he worked at an absinthe bar in Austin, Texas, and later refurbished antique espresso equipment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But it wasn’t until he made it to the stunning Alaskan city that he felt home. Now, at SteamDot Coffee, one of the only places in Alaska where you can find serious light roast single-origin fair-trade coffee, he’s the barista manager and the coffee culture coordinator. He’s also the resident expert on what’s happening in Anchorage, from backcountry yoga on paddleboards to late-night reindeer hot dogs and cocktails called “Duck Farts.” Doumit knows that Anchorage has it all.

Where should we stay?
Hotel Captain Cook is where President Obama stayed when he was in Anchorage six months ago and it has the best views of the inlet. If you want the quintessential Alaskan experience, there are excellent campsites north toward the interior or south, only about 15 minutes away, in Girdwood. If you’re Airbnb-ing, I’d suggest the Bootleggers Cove neighborhood, which has easy access to the water, or the Spenard neighborhood, which has a funky Austin vibe.

President Obama at Snow City Café in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images.

Where’s the best place to grab breakfast?
Snow City Café. Most famously, that’s where President Obama and his entourage bought the entire stock of cinnamon rolls. It’s a very funky local landmark with great breakfast and excellent seafood options. Downtown, there’s Williwaw, which is where I go for a yogurt and granola bowl and a mimosa or two.

When it’s too cold in Alaska, there’s always the coffee drive thru. Photo: Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News/MCT via Getty Images

What’s the best cup of coffee in town?
I’m slightly biased, so of course SteamDot. If you want something more old school, try the Alaskan Middle Way Café. They use a roaster out of Homer and have great, darker roast coffee. For ease of convenience, Alaska actually has the most per capita coffee shops, because we have drive-thru huts on every street corner.

Best place to see great art?
Dos Manos Gallery in Midtown for a great introduction to native and historic Alaskan artwork. Then Anchorage Museum is world-class and has rotating exhibits. There are also some underground art venues worth scoping out—the most notable being Anchorage Community Works.

Best market or food hall to eat around?
We have a gigantic farmers’ market Downtown Farmers’ Market every Saturday near Ship Creek where you’ll find local produce and crafts. There’s another, smaller farmers’ market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. My favorite vendor, Laura Aubry, at The Mint Chip does ice creams, crafted by hand. There’s also a phenomenal artisan cheese kiosk called Fromagio’s.

A photo posted by Erin Kirkland (@akonthego) on

Hottest new restaurant in town?
Hearth just opened a few months ago and is getting a lot of buzz for its innovative take on traditional wood oven-fired pizza. They do a beet-sweetened red pesto on a crispy crust that’s absolutely phenomenal. Brown Bag Sandwich Company just reopened in a huge renovated new space with an awesome bar, and funky, creative sandwiches. I always get the Spicy Yeti, which has mozzarella melted onto hot pressed rye bread with jalapeño and roasted turkey.

Old-school restaurant institution?
Glacier Brewhouse is a famous, classy restaurant that brews great beers on-site. Downtown, there is also an old school steakhouse. If you go out, there’s another extremely famous spot called The Double Musky Inn—a Cajun food restaurant that’s a bastion for locals who want to have a fun night out. My favorite cheap hole-in-the-wall is Tommy’s Burger Stop. For me, Tommy’s is perfect: three picnic tables and a line out the door with rockabilly roller derby servers and Elvis and punk music playing over the speakers.

Best place to get an excellent cocktail?
The most upscale mixology-forward place is Blues Central, which is in the Williwaw building. You have to go to a phone booth on the bottom floor, and then they have a password that changes every night. It’s definitely a speakeasy with off-the-wall cocktails, some of which are extremely modern and others that are deeply traditional. If you want an absinthe dripper from the 1860s, they have three; if you want a smoked earl grey whiskey-infused cocktail, they have those too. There’s just an endless assortment of beautiful, potent things on fire. Brown Bag Sandwich Company also has a top-notch cocktail bar, and the bar at the Captain Cook, called Whale’s Tail, has the best rooftop view of the inlet.

Best brewery to hang out at?
The craft brewing community here is fierce and innovative. My first stop would be Midnight Sun Brewing Company, which is regularly applauded at craft-brewing competitions. If you’re going to get out of town, Denali Brewing Company. But you absolutely have to try Moose’s Tooth, which is actually one of the highest grossing pizza restaurants in America. Shoutouts also to King Street Brewing, Resolution, and Anchorage, which does loads of sour beers with brettanomyces [aka Brett, a yeast that adds funk to beers].

Best place to see live music?
All the big acts—like Modest Mouse, Primus, Wu Tang—come to Moose’s Tooth, which has an awesome outdoor venue. Bear Tooth Theatrepub has great mid-range acts, such as Rodrigo y Gabriela, Trampled by Turtles, and Portugal the Man. For local artists, the Tap Root is hands down the best place to go.

A photo posted by Lisa Murkowski (@lisa4alaska) on

Outdoors at Bernie’s Bungalow Lounge. Photo: Instagram/@lisa4alaska

Best place to get in trouble for the night?
Dancing at Bernie’s Bungalow Lounge; it always has awesome DJs playing, and there’s a giant patio with cheap and delicious food. Otherwise, you’re going to Mad Myrna’s. It’s just the best; it has the raddest bartenders, killer drag shows, and killer DJs.

Where to eat when the party’s over?
When you’re done at Myrna’s, you’re going to need some drunk food. I go down to the local food trucks that are all over downtown and get reindeer dogs. You get a foot-long reindeer sausage slathered in sautéed onions and whatever else. At 2 a.m., it’s a lifesaver.

Girdwood, Alaska: Where you go when you’re in it for the views. Photo: MyLoupe/UIG via Getty Images

The best thing to do in Alaska is get out of the city. With just one day, drive down to the Kenai peninsula. Fifteen minutes down the Seward highway and you get to Girdwood. If you have more time, continue driving south to Seward, Alaska. It looks like a town in Maine got plunked at the end of the peninsula. Seward is right on the ocean, with a ridiculously beautiful beach where you can paddleboard or kayak and a bunch of awesome bars and restaurants with some of the world’s best seafood. Another option is the Homer Spit, a large, manmade sandbar where the fishing boats come in so you get phenomenal halibut and seafood. In Homer, there are consignment shops, beautiful historical inns, book shops, and an iconic bar: The Salty Dawg Saloon. Anyone who’s lived in Alaska for more than six months has a Salty Dogg hoodie. Its most famous cocktail is called…the Duck Fart, and you absolutely have to get it.

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