This interview originally appeared in She Shreds Issue #13, which was released in September, 2017.
Anchorage is in a state of transition. We started out as a military and railroad town, eventually growing like the rest of the state to rely on oil and tourism. Now, with the oil industry in a decline, Alaska is in the midst of a financial crisis.
Over the last year, our scene lost four venues for local shows. With such a small network of musicians, the lines between genres and artists do not exist here. A bill for a night of live music might include queer punk, hardcore, and shoegaze bands. DIY musicians play folk, punk, metal, and indie music; some are even blurring the lines between them all. Anchorage is an anomaly; a music scene with one gear shop and one record store shouldn’t thrive the way we do. But here, you do what you can with that you’ve got. For us, community is everything.
Crossroads Lounge (1402 Gambell St, Anchorage, AK 99501) is the kind of place with wood paneling, an electronic jukebox, and free self-serve hot dogs. While the upstairs is a rustic dive bar, the downstairs space is an intimate setting for live music. With no stage, there’s little between the artist and the audience.
There are 10 different bars and three levels at Koot’s (2435 Spenard Rd, Anchorage, AK 99503), the most popular club in town. Koot’s prides itself on being an employee-owned venue with live music every night. Local bands often play in the Ice Bar, the smaller of Koot’s two stages. Shows at Koot’s tend to be geared towards metalheads.
Van’s Dive Bar (1027 E 5th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501) is one of Anchorage’s newest venues. On the edge of downtown, it’s a small hole in the wall just off the highway—one of Alaska’s oldest dive bars—that recently remodeled in order to accommodate live music. Van’s is an honest, hometown bar that also features an open mic night.
The largest of the local music venues, Williwaw (609 F St, Anchorage, AK 99501) is a downtown bar with an industrial feel. Upstairs there is a password-protected speakeasy, but downstairs there’s a large open dance floor and stage. You have to be able to pull a larger crowd in order to book a gig here.
Obsession Records (2213 E Tudor Rd #53, Anchorage, AK 99507) is Anchorage’s only record store. It’s locally owned by a husband and wife. Although tucked into one of many 1980s strip malls, Obsession carries records from just about every genre, as well as collectables and special requests.
There’s only one real gear shop in Anchorage: Mammoth Music (500 E 5th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501). Venues and bands come and go, but Mammoth has been around since 1990. Local musicians staff the store, and their inventory is the best in town for gear rental.
A hidden gem, Horn Doctor Music Store (1000 Ingra St, Anchorage, AK 99501) is a full-service instrument store that focuses on big band instruments. Locals know they have the best selection of guitar picks in town. They also host an annual spring garage sale for old or damaged instruments.
Few restaurants are as beloved in Anchorage as Bear Tooth Theatrepub & Grill (1230 W 27th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99503). On one side you’ve got a pizzeria and movie theatre; on the other you’ve got a modern Mexican grill with great cocktails and an even better brunch. It’s the kind of place locals can’t go to without seeing an ex, and a spot where you’ll easily find yourself waiting an hour for a table.
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is an 11-mile scenic nature trail that winds down the coast from the Railroad Depot to Kincaid Park. I suggest renting a bike from Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals (415 L St, Anchorage, AK 99501) and starting your trip a block over at Elderberry Park (1297 W 5th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501). The Coastal Trail is home to some of Anchorage’s best sightseeing.
Although smaller than most metropolitan museums, the Anchorage Museum (625 C St, Anchorage, AK 99501) is one of my favorites. Permanent exhibit Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska highlights the eight indigenous groups of Alaska and features over 600 pieces curated from the Smithsonian Institution archives. The museum also regularly rotates exhibits from local artists across multiple art platforms.