Happy Hours: Going out Before the Rush Uncovers a More Authentic Anchorage
The mission was pretty simple: Go out on the town and find the best spots to enjoy some “happy hour” snacks in Anchorage. One spot a day for five straight days.
But my schedule got hectic, and five days in a row turned into a handful of sporadic early-evening appetizer forays into the city. But with the help of a willing companion and a little ingenuity, I managed to make it work. The only hard and fast rule we adhered to was that we had to go out before 6 p.m. and we had to only eat appetizers.
Photo by: Matt Tunseth
The result: I’m now convinced this isn’t just a good way to get a cheap snack, it’s one of the better ways to understand the ebb and flow of the city itself. Allow me to explain…
It’s 4:30 on a weeknight in mid-November and some guy who brought his dog as a date is treating the mutt to tidbits from his late-afternoon lunch. The servers look the other way and grin. In a corner booth of the popular 49th State Brewing downtown, a man draws on an iPad, lounging beneath a prehistorically massive set of caribou antlers. If chill vibes were a wave, this place would be underwater.
A few blocks down the snow-covered street it’s much the same at Glacier BrewHouse: Here a man and woman canoodle beside a fireplace while the front-of-house staff huddle for their pre-shift meeting, then a brewer walks contentedly past giant vats of liquid gold as the smell of rotisserie chicken dances in the air like notes from a jazz quartet.
Photo by: Matt Tunseth
Deserved or not, Anchorage’s dining scene has a reputation as a place with sharp elbows, with big dinnertime crowds often the norm and rush-hour waits not uncommon. And that’s not a bad thing – you can’t top the electricity of a midsummer rooftop bar in summer. But often all it takes to get away from the chaos and uncover a more relaxed and authentic experience is to become an early bird.
According to most online sources, the term “happy hour” seems to have come into popularity in the early 1900s and originated as sailor slang. That’s fitting for Anchorage, where many of the best early bird nesting sites are located downtown near the water.
The perennially popular date destination Simon and Seafort’s offers discounted appetizers overlooking the Arm before 6 p.m. – and if you want to catch the sunset in winter, you better go early. Warm salmon dip paired with fresh-brewed beer; teriyaki beef tidbits while tipping a glass alongside Turnagain Arm. Bacon-wrapped dates with a date. Fast, cheap, relaxed, and delicious. At usually packed brewpubs like 49th State, Humpy’s, or Glacier BrewHouse it’s often possible to chat with the bartender if you arrive before the workday ends.
Photo by: Terika Kons
Also: Do not miss the cheesesteak eggrolls at Sullivan's. Trust me.
On another night we hit Kinley’s, a midtown spot with upscale apps and a rolled-up-sleeve fashion sense. At 5 p.m. it’s just coming to life and seats at the bar are in abundance. There’s a small birthday party going on in the corner and it still doesn’t feel crowded. Elbow room isn’t always easy to come by, but tonight it’s in abundance. As are the crab cakes. We sit and watch the rush hour traffic on the Seward Highway stream by and it somehow seems like the most peaceful thing in the world.
One caveat: Bar menus and specials change regularly so it’s a good idea to check with individual restaurants before going early birding. Even if you don’t, there’s usually a good chance you’re going to be able to save money somehow. At one upscale downtown spot I visited recently I happened to know the server – which resulted in a 10-minute chat and my date getting a deliciously decadent chocolate dessert on the house. The early bird gets the lava cake, as they say.
While deals may vary or rotate seasonally, what’s not going to change during the early bird hours will be the energy, which is going to always be more laid back and inviting than if you go during peak dinner time hours. Barkeeps will be more open to sharing their secret fishing spots, servers might be more willing to sneak you a freebie and strangers are going to be more in the mood to chat.
Most places offer online menus with information on happy hour specials and other deals throughout the year. Learn even more about Anchorage’s restaurant and entertainment scene with Visit Anchorage's Local Flavor guide or check out the restaurant page on this site. The page is searchable and comes in especially handy if you’re new to town, here for a week on business or just looking to freshen up your restaurant rotation.