My friend David White was attending a community college in Hayward, California. He had just finished a cooking course, in the fall of 1976, when he decided to drive up the Alcan Highway to Anchorage. At the time he knew only one person in the entire state of Alaska—Michael Kerr, and although the state’s economy was still booming, pipeline construction was nearly finished. The first oil would begin its journey to Valdez the next summer.
Upon arriving in Anchorage, David first acquired a job at La Mex, a very popular Mexican restaurant across the street from Chilkoot Charlie's on Spenard Road, and then worked as a manager for a while at Big Boy Burger, also on Spenard Road. One day he saw people loading food and supplies into a truck from a small restaurant wedged between two businesses: the Friendly Fireside Lounge and Spenard Bingo, both just to the north of Chilkoot Charlie's.
The former was the Swing Bar (today it is a pot shop) and the latter is now the main stage area of Chilkoot Charlie’s. The movers said they were heading to Fairbanks and told David he could have the space if he wanted it—all he needed was money to replace the food and supplies they were removing.
Fifty feet away, on the other side of Spenard Bingo, I was operating Chilkoot Charlie’s. At the time it was a bustling twenty-five-foot by one-hundred-foot raucous and rustic Alaskan saloon. My manager, Cliff Martin, aka Crazy Cliff, or just Craze, worked in a colorful Hollywood Indian outfit, including the big, black, high-topped hat sporting a big upright black feather.
I would show up at night wearing long-handled underwear, a fur-lined jock strap on the outside, Bunny boots, an Australian Outback hat, and a kazoo in my mouth. Eventually, I found an authentic WWI infantry uniform, leggings and all, and a dark blue fabric flying helmet with goggles. Add a white scarf and bingo—you had Rocky the Flying Mutherfucker—a XXX-rated Spenardian takeoff on the Rocky and Bullwinkle television cartoon series popular at the time.
If you remember Rocky paddling the canoe with Bullwinkle, Natasha, and Boris seated in it as the latter cried "Strook! Strook!" through a bullhorn in his Soviet spy accent, you are probably collecting Social Security checks each month.
When David and Michael approached me for a loan to start their restaurant, I happily staked them with $500 against future chili sales in the club. To promote business in their startup café, they both gamboled around the club in the inch or two of peanut shells on the floor serving hors d’oeuvres while wearing plastic porcine noses and oinking loudly. The practice might have been scoffed at by Madison Avenue types, but it worked, and another landmark operation had begun in the heart of Spenard.
David and his fun-loving roommates in the Bay Area had derived their gang’s nickname from their refrigerator (filled mostly with beer) that had its brand name, Hogg Brothers Custom, emblazoned in metal letters on the front door. They were the Hogg Brothers, and their name survived the lengthy drive up the Alcan Highway to become David's chosen name for the new Spenard eating institution.
David tells me the front window frame for the café came from an old mining shack in Hatcher Pass, adding an authentic Alaskan touch to the decor. The logo was three colorful oinkers, as I recall, and the place was decorated with porcine paraphernalia, large and small, lovingly donated by patrons. Shelli and I purchased and donated the stuffed head of a wild boar that we found at a garage sale, but the boys rejected it.
David said, “It looks like it died the death of psoriasis!”
Which reminds me.
Early-on in the history of Chilkoot Charlie’s I came across one of the weirdest investments of a lifetime. A guy was selling his booth at the Alaska State Fair. It was a three-sided plywood structure with a curtain across the front; the whole thing was colorfully painted inside and out with depictions of a two-headed pig. Comments like AMAZING, ONE-OF-A-KIND, WEIRD and STRANGE in large black letters described what was on display inside. ONLY $1.00!!! A passerby would perhaps expect to see a real, live, two-headed pig in there.
There was, in fact, a two-headed pig inside the booth, but it was about a foot long and in a jar of formaldehyde. The pig and the booth were all mine for only $500. Though I never set up the booth at the club or the fair, I did put the pig in the jar on display behind the bar. I am told by a reliable source that it is still there.
The Hogg Brothers Café initially served sandwiches, burgers, and omelets all day long. They tried operating at night for a time, but it was too rowdy despite being, and remaining, sort of neutral ground where partiers could break bread in peace. Patrons who were 86ed from Chilkoot Charlie’s had a habit of shifting their activities to the Friendly Fireside Lounge—watering hole of last resort—located on the other side of The Hogg Brothers Café.
I and my staff would sometimes sit cozily among these 86ed patrons in the café and although relations were naturally somewhat strained, as a credit to the establishment, I don’t recall anyone ever breaking the peace.
The café eventually, and wisely, settled for the breakfast and lunch trade. It soon became everybody’s favorite place to cure a hangover and goggle at a waitress named Angie, a pretty, vivacious young gal with a beautiful smile who was in the habit of wearing a see-through white blouse that profiled her full breasts. Not surprisingly, Angie’s tip jar was the envy of all.
As if David’s fun-loving, outgoing personality and Angie’s smile and profile weren’t enough to keep customers coming back there was a permanent crew of characters installed at the Hogg Brothers, including Viene Yorke, Ready Freddie (Larry) Cole, and Garrett Hawkins. After about a year and a half, Mike left to take a job as a code violations inspector at the Municipality of Anchorage, a position that better suited his personality.
Underpinning everything was David’s love of cooking and dedication to the quality of his ingredients. The place cranked out killer omelets and burgers. Portions were large and prices were reasonable. At any given time, you’d find hung-over lawyers in suits sitting next to hung-over pipeline workers in Carhartt overalls listening to the blaring music of Led Zeppelin, their heads buried in their newspapers, glancing furtively at Angie's beguiling profile while pigging out on massive omelets accompanied by heaps of home-fried potatoes. My favorite omelet was the Tierra: cheese, avocado, tomato, Canadian bacon, and sour cream, $6.00. Add Tabasco. It was to die for.
There was nothing pretentious or fancy about the Hogg Brothers Café. It was a “greasy spoon,” but it was everybody’s favorite “greasy spoon.” Not only were David and I such good friends that we made the yearly pilgrimage to the duck flats across Cook Inlet on opening day of duck-hunting season, but our employees were all friends with each other as well.
Chilkoot Charlie’s had an annual holiday party that was held during those years at the Rabbit Creek Inn on the Old Seward Highway just beyond Rabbit Creek Road. Owners and staff of the Hogg Brothers Café, Arctic Music Co., K & L Distributors, plus our lawyer and accountant, were all invited. These were formal but raucous affairs with scripted agendas and some of the most fun I ever had.
We ridiculed one another, presented real and comical gifts, told off-color stories on employees that probably would end in a lawsuit today, and cured our hangovers in the morning over omelets at the Hogg Brothers Café. I am told that on one such morning we threw down shots of Jagermeister and danced around the kitchen. Just for the record, I can neither confirm nor deny that.
In 1985, with the original Hogg Brothers Café in Spenard doing well, David made a foray into the Kenai Peninsula by opening a location in Anchor Point.
He operated there for about a year until he found a building on Pioneer Avenue in Homer. There, he had a restaurant/eating place license and by all accounts the place was successful. But he also had a sublease, and the guy with the lease jacked up the monthly payment on him. Unable to find another location, he just closed it up.
All good things do come to an end. The lady that owned the Friendly Fireside Lounge, who was David's landlord, sold out to me. A major Spenard character, Vern Rollins, threw in with David's ex-landlord and Viene Yorke, bought David's interest, and they moved the Hogg Brothers Café to Northern Lights Boulevard where the Spenard Roadhouse is now. It didn’t last long. The atmosphere was gone. It felt like you were eating in a school cafeteria. Also gone were David’s welcoming presence and his focus on quality, not to mention Angie’s profile.
David left Alaska in 1988 and went to work as a neurology technician at Ohio County Hospital in Hartford, Kentucky, about an hour and a half west of Louisville. He is still chief technician and trainer there, but his love of cooking also landed him back in the restaurant business. For over a dozen years now he has owned and operated a Hartford restaurant named Capers. He has a full liquor license and serves dinners with nothing but five-star reviews. Capers is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sunday for breakfast.
A couple of years ago Shelli and I, after visiting with my daughter's family in New Mexico, flew to St. Louis to visit with Jack Kent and Jan, then went on to Tennessee to see one of Shelli's brothers. Since we were in the "neighborhood," we drove to Hartford, Kentucky to visit with David.
He hadn't changed a bit. He welcomed us with open arms and friends of his put us up in their comfortable home on pilings right next to the Green River. We had the opportunity to dine at Capers several times, including breakfast the last day, but since I haven't eaten meat in over twenty years, I took a pass on the kindly proffered Tierra omelet.