Located in the heart of historic Spenard, Chilkoot Charlie’s first opened its doors on January 1, 1970 in what had been The Alibi Club. “Koot’s,” as it is affectionately called by locals, began as a neighborhood watering hole with a live piano bar. The bar was very limited in size then, occupying only the part of the building that is now the South Long Bar. Owner Mike Gordon and a partner bought the bar having convinced themselves that an Alaska-Theme bar would be successful in Anchorage. Upon purchasing The Alibi Club, Gordon promised the doubtful former owner, Skip Fuller, that he would triple the gross sales within a year. At the time, Gordon was also working at KHAR radio and NY Life Insurance Co. in Anchorage. It was at KHAR that he met Alaskan author and radio personality Ruben Gaines, and the two quickly became friends. It occurred to Gordon one day that one of Gaines characters, Chilkoot Charlie, would be an excellent icon for his new bar. It had once been suggested that the bar should be named the Humpie Bar or Chilkoot Charlie’s. Gordon invited Gaines to lunch and told him the idea. The bar would get exclusive rights to the name Chilkoot Charlie, and in exchange, Gaines could sell his books, cartoons, records, etc. from the bar. Gaines thought it was a great idea, and with a hand-written contract, Chilkoot Charlie’s was born. It is interesting to note that this one lunch meeting has arguably done as much to add character and flavor to Spenard and Anchorage as a whole, as any other event to date.
Anchorage was about to become an oil boomtown as oil was discovered in abundance on Alaska’s north slope. Anchorage grew quickly and Chilkoot Charlie’s grew with it. By the end of its first year in business, Chilkoot Charlie’s had become Alaska’s favorite bar. Gordon had indeed tripled the bar’s gross sales, and then some. Customers flocked to Chilkoot Charlie’s to enjoy its Alaska atmosphere and outrageous entertainment. The costumed bartenders (Gordon included) provided laughs by the ton. A favorite was one of Gordon’s characters called Rocky the Flying M*ther F*cker. Gordon would wear a World War One infantryman’s uniform, a leather pilot’s helmet, and scarf. Customers howled with laughter at the non-stop antics. Music was provided by the bar’s original band – The Rinky-Dinks, and later on by a piano player by the name of Mr. Whitekeys. Mr. Whitekeys now runs The Fly-By-Night Club here in Anchorage. It was he who coined our logo “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you!” The crowds grew steadily, and before long an expansion was needed.
In 1974, Chilkoot’s expanded into what was then Barry’s Motorcycle Shop, to add what is now called the South Side. In 1975, the upstairs portion of the South Side and the Patio were opened. Chilkoot Charlie’s also started importing bands from around Alaska and the lower 48. In 1986, another opportunity to expand was seized upon by Mike Gordon. The north part of the building, which had been Spenard Bingo, was acquired and is now our North Side. With the addition of the North Side, Chilkoot Charlie’s had two more bars and another stage. Customers could now enjoy either of two live bands playing every night of the week.
Construction is always ongoing at Chilkoot Charlie’s. In November 1998, we expanded through Roosevelt’s Cafe to create the New Swing Bar. Listen to Big Band and Swing music as you dance the night away in an authentic 1940′s atmosphere. Or you may just want to lounge at the bar, watch an old black & white movie on one of our many TVs and enjoy one of several secret recipe martinis. Either way, when you walk into the Swing Bar, you’ll feel like you have just been transported back through time about 50 years!
In October of 2001, the Russian Room and Soviet Walk was completed. Take a walk through to be transported back Russia with the Czarist-styled bar and memorabilia. Stroll through the Soviet Walk hallway and be amazed at the relics from bygone eras and experience the feeling of descending into a Moscow subway.
Then in August of 2002, the Bird House Bar replica was completed, and the bar opened to the public. Built where the exterior patio was previously located, it is an “exact” replica of the original bar – complete with lingerie cards, pickles, boneless chicken dinners and the Ptarmigan Whistle. We have had quite the time, gearing up on new undies and new stories, so be sure to come in and find out what all the fuss is about!
Live bands come from all over Alaska and the United States to perform at the world famous Chilkoot Charlie’s. Chilkoot’s has been host or co-host to such bands and performers as: Metallica, Ted Nugent, Bad Company, Bryan Adams, Quiet Riot, Great White, Joe Satriani, The Steve Miller Band, Crosby Stills and Nash, Blues Traveler, White Zombie, Bon Jovi, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ratt, Journey, Ozzy Osbourne, Celicio & Kapono, The Beach Boys, Blue Oyster Cult, The Romantics, The Doobie Brothers, Eddie Money, Megadeth, Aerosmith, Styx, Van Halen, Cinderella, Candlebox, Warrent, Cracker, Berlin, Greenday, and the Scorpions just to name a few.
Chilkoot Charlie’s has also received national coverage on ESPN, Good Morning America, David Letterman and The Johnny Carson Show. In 1989, Chilkoot Charlie’s was the host of an MTV Street Party . A record number of Chilkoot’s customers were partying away as Pauly Shore hosted the live nation-wide broadcast from the bar. Chilkoot Charlie’s has been named Best Bar in 8 Magazine’s “Best of 8 Awards” for several years running, as well as, Best Bar in the “Press Pick Awards” in the Anchorage Press year after year. Then in 2000, Chilkoot Charlie’s was declared the Number 1 Bar in America by Playboy magazine (May 2000)! Chilkoot Charlie’s had hit the big time – and truly became The World Famous Chilkoot Charlie’s!
With its unique Alaskan theme, its numerous multi-talented employees, and its wide variety of entertainment, Chilkoot Charlie’s continued to grow throughout the 80′s and 90′s to become the Alaska institution it is today. Chilkoot Charlie’s features a rustic Alaska atmosphere with sawdust-covered floors, 3 stages, 3 dance floors and 10 bars (11 in the summertime!) with padded tree stumps and beer kegs for seating. Literally filled to the rafters with such things as famous band photos & autographs, huge beer can collections, hilarious gags, and tons of Alaska memorabilia, a person could wander around Chilkoot Charlie’s for days and still not see everything. In it’s 30-year history, Chilkoot Charlie’s has truly become an Alaskan institution. For many, it is as much a part of Alaska as mountains and glaciers. Chilkoot Charlie’s is considered a “Rite of Passage” for Alaskans coming of age and a definite “must see” for visitors to Alaska.
2435 Spenard Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99503
Phone: (907) 272-1010