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Chilkoot Charlie’s: The Bar That Never Ends

By Natalee Haldeman, Uniquely Northwest Program Manager

On my first visit to Anchorage I had the privilege of being introduced to the infamous Chilkoot Charlie’s, an extensive bar and/or nightclub just south of downtown Anchorage. I use the term “and/or” because it is far from just one type of location; it contains 10 separate bars all with different menus, décor themes, and yes, even liquor licenses.

Upon arrival at Chilkoot Charlie’s I had no concept of what I was about to discover, particularly from the outside appearance of the establishment, which is comparable to an American strip mall. Upon entering Chilkoot’s, better known as “Koot’s” by locals and regulars, I immediately sensed just how unique Koot’s is due to the fact that upon entry you get a split view of three of the ten bars.

There is a lot of history to Koot’s expansive and winding establishment, originally opened in 1970. The short story version is that the original structure of the bar contained multiple side-by-side businesses, only one of which was a bar. Over time, Koot’s owner took over neighboring businesses that closed or sold and expanded the bar. The result of the decades of encompassing expansion is a winding establishment that has surprises around every corner, literally.

We were taken on a short tour of the bars and I have to admit I was quickly impressed and lost all at the same time; we went from a “hole in the wall” bar to a Russian themed bar, to a rustic Alaskan themed bar, to finally a Swing Bar. Each bar was closed off and independent from the others which allowed for a different environment and theme in each one. Koot’s staff shared with us that the unique structure of the building allows for multiple live performances to occur simultaneously or for trivia to take place at the same time as karaoke. The bars are so “separate” from each other that by local law Koot’s is required to maintain multiple liquor licenses because each license can only be utilized for an area within clear line of site of the bartender.

The entire experience was a blast, and so eccentrically unique to Anchorage, but the most unique part of Koot’s, hands down, has to be the Bird House. The Bird House is the smallest area of Koot’s and was built as an exact replica of a local infamous bar that burnt down in 1996. Stories of the original Bird House Bar are told better by locals but can be summed up that it was a must-see stop between Anchorage and neighboring Girdwood that held decades of stories told vividly with undergarments, bumper stickers, business cards and other questionable paraphernalia all over the walls and ceiling of the small single-room bar. The newly constructed replica within Koot’s was made with every detail of the original considered, from the handles and hinges on the bathroom door to the slanted floor that was caused by the 1964 earthquake at the original Bird House.

Koot’s is now a must-see stop of its own. If “bar-hopping” is not in the cards for an Alaska incentive group, we can definitely host a private party in the Swing Bar and exclusively enjoy the eccentric charm of Chilkoot Charlie’s.

Photo by Len Radin via creative commons

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