A Walk Through Kodiak’s Notorious Bars



notorious-bars-of-alaska.jpgVandergraft’s book, "A Guide to the Notorious Bars of Alaska."

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

You might imagine the author of a book called “A Guide to the Notorious Bars of Alaska” would have some stories about Kodiak’s public houses – and you’d be right. Former Alaska resident Doug Vandegraft will be sharing some of those stories on a walking tour tonight.

Vandegraft says Kodiak bars have some interesting history. One stand-out is the Mecca. He says its founder ran a beer hall in a mining town, but when that community ran out of copper in the late 30s, he moved to Kodiak.

“Roy Snyder decided he wanted to have the finest cocktail bar in Kodiak and he spared no expense,” says Vandegraft. “He had all these fancy furnishings moved up here. Made a real palace. The hard part was, though, a man could not go in there unless he had a woman on his arm.

“In 1940, 41, 42, when all the men were moving in here in support for military build-up, it was hard for all those men to find a woman to go into the Mecca, but again, also, a really, really nice bar for the longest time.”

Vandegraft is in Kodiak publicizing “A Guide to the Notorious Bars of Alaska” and is giving the walking tour tonight in partnership with the Baranov Museum. Though he lives outside Washington DC now, as a cartographer, he lived in Alaska for many years starting in 1983.

“Because of my job, I got sent around the state to a lot of different towns,” says Vandegraft. “It just seemed to be that there were a lot of bars that were not only unique, but had just a real staying power, that they were [the] same location, and the same name, the same building since prohibition ended in 1933. And you find a lot of those up here and not a lot of those in the lower 48 anymore.”

And because of that longevity, the marks patrons make on their bars tend to stick.

“They’ve scrawled their name into the table or they’ve taken a knife and there in the men’s bathroom, they’ve written their name and stuff like that. A lot of dollar bills on the ceiling or on the wall,” says Vandegraft. “You could say ‘Oh Doug, that happens in the lower 48 too.’ True, but that same graffiti and that same dollar bills aren’t there ten years from now, fifteen years from now, twenty years from now. They are in Alaska.”
You can hear more stories from the hallowed halls of Kodiak’s bars at Vandegraft’s “Notorious Bars of Kodiak” Walking Tour tonight. It will begin at 7 p.m. at the Baranov Museum. Attendees should expect to drink, maybe eat, and definitely learn.

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