Anchorage, with a population just shy of 300,000, is the biggest city in a state that averages about one person per square mile. Alaska's densest metropolis is also a jumping-off point for outdoor adventure, with five national parks and 60 glaciers reachable from city limits. Building and inhabiting an urban center surrounded by vast wilderness requires a certain kind of independent-thinking entrepreneurial spirit, which is what makes some of Anchorage's attractions so unexpected and utterly enjoyable.

Ghost Tours of Anchorage

via Facebook


Whether you believe in ghosts or not, spooky stories about how people died long ago (think black plague or "vampires") sure make history lessons more compelling. For a city that’s only 100 years old, however, the tragic-enough-to-be-a-ghost ways that people died are remarkably modern, such as a car bombing in retaliation for an extramarital affair. Top-hatted guide Rick Goodfellow launched the tour in 2011, after a few years of casually questioning locals about their own spectral encounters and then doing meticulous research through property records, newspapers and photographs. The result is an unusual historical walking tour that looks past the street-facing structures and digs into the back alleys, nooks and crannies haunted by Anchorage's past. 

Where: Meet at 4th & L Sts., Anchorage, AK 
When: Runs May-Sept. Tues-Sun., 7:30 p.m.
More info: +1 907-274-4678; ghosttoursofanchorage.com


 

The Bird House Tavern

The original Bird House Tavern — located on a remote roadside outside Anchorage — burned down in 1996 because of faulty wiring. The log cabin lit up like a tinderbox, fueled by decades' worth of business cards, bumper stickers, bras and undies stapled to the walls and ceiling. The legendary one-room establishment had already been sinking into the ground deep enough to require one hand on your drink so it wouldn’t slide down the bar. But in a place where legends don’t easily die (blame the permafrost), the Bird House Tavern was resurrected in 2011, this time inside Koot’s, a downtown club housing an epic labyrinth of drinking spaces under one roof. Old photos were used to replicate the fine details, down to the bumper stickers, undergarments and tree stump bar stools all set on the 10 percent grade. Remember this when you brace yourself to hold your own with Matigan the Magician, the comedian/bartender full of dirty jokes, pranks and tricks, because this brand of debauchery is what made the place so beloved. Along with what happens when a saucy patron rings the bar buzzer and has to buy a round of drinks for everyone sitting on a stump. Definitely stay for that. You could very well end up leaving your underwear. 

Where: 2435 Spenard Rd., Anchorage, AK
When: Mon.-Thurs. & Sun., 10:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m.; Fri. & Sat., 10:30 p.m.-3 a.m.
More info: +1 907-272-1010; koots.com

 

Club Paris 

via Website


A particular breed of Alaskan pioneer is the kind who, in the 1950s, designs a fancy, Parisian-themed steakhouse in a former funeral parlor using the Eiffel Tower in the logo, in case you missed the nuance. A survivor of 1964’s 9.2 magnitude earthquake, Club Paris is your grandpa’s classic steakhouse with 4-inch-thick aged steaks and king crab leg dinners, served with cloth napkins and individually packaged breadsticks in a pitch-dark booth that is surely haunted by the ghosts of business-and-government-deals past. Make reservations, but get there early enough for a drink at the bar so you can soak in the place. If you’re lucky, you’ll score the spot dedicated to the late John Gibbons, a man who visited five times a week for as long as anyone could remember. You’ll see the plaque dedicated to him on his 90th birthday, inscribed “This Seat Reserved For Mr. John Gibbons (Unless of Course He Is Seeking His Virtuous Couch) – With Love.” If you aren’t sure what to drink, order a simple well vodka martini, because that was John’s special.

Where: 417 W. 5th Ave., Anchorage, AK
When: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight; Sun., 4 p.m.-midnight
More info: +1 907-277-6332; clubparisrestaurant.com


 

Cyrano’s Theatre

If you expect there to be some great bars in Anchorage, you’re right. But an award-winning community theater that puts on a new production every month? It's perhaps less expected, but that’s exactly what the not-for-profit Cyrano’s delivers — in an intimate setting where you’re never more than five rows away from the stage. The production team puts on everything from new works to Shakespearean classics, employing local and national talent as part of its mission to provide full-time work to professional artists. Whether you see an original production set in Alaska or a tried-and-true theater favorite, it will be seasoned with local flavor. 

Where: 411 D St., Anchorage, AK
When: See schedule online.
More info: +1 907-274-2599; cyranos.org

 

Downtown Murals

Photo by Arctic_Council via Flickr


Renowned marine-life artist Robert Wyland’s stunning three-story outdoor mural depicting Alaska’s whale and seal species is so at home here, you almost wonder why all the buildings don’t have murals. Richard Zeigler, aka Ziggy — craftsman, erstwhile mayoral candidate, furrier, leatherworker, muralist and self-proclaimed “character”  agrees with you. Since 1984, this self-taught artist has painted dozens of murals on walls throughout downtown, most notably covering Fourth Avenue’s back alley between C and E Streets. There, alongside dumpsters and employees on smoke breaks, you’ll find his work bringing Alaska’s wild and cultural beauty into the city’s core, through renderings of polar bears, ice floes and native peoples.

Where: Whaling Wall, E St. & W. 6th Ave.; Ziggy’s Alley, 4th Ave. alley bet. C & E Sts., Anchorage, AK


By Tami Fairweather

Marketing communicator, consultant and connection enthusiast Tami Fairweather is a lover of fresh air, summer nights, magic, little rituals, and the window seat. She's currently based in New Orleans. Find her on Instagram @tffairweather.