When Van’s Dive Bar arrived on the local nightlife scene in January of 2016, people thought they knew what to expect from its self-effacing name. In the three years that it has been open, the thriving music and comedy venue on 5th and Juneau have continued to surprise. Casual and eclectic, they offer some sort of live entertainment seven nights a week, thanks to hard work from Jay Straw, who owner Niki Hale calls “a gift.”
“He is so connected and so talented. His spirit, he is so vibrant and connected with the music industry, and he is artistic,”Niki says.
Art is part of the atmosphere at Van’s, from the bike rack out front, to the metal work that adorns the stage where some of the most talented musicians in Anchorage play regularly. A portrait of the bar’s namesake was created by the Hales’ nephew, and the backlit face welcomes all who enter the establishment. It’s all part of what Niki says drives many of their decisions surrounding the establishment — “art, and family,” she says.
Emily Green has been working at Van’s for almost three years and enjoys each shift that she gets to be behind the bar. Green started her career as a bartender almost two decades ago when she turned 21. She spent some time trying to make it work in the corporate oil world, but it was never quite enough.
“I got tired of selling my soul to oil companies, so I wanted to come back and do something that I love, and I get to sleep in my own bed every night,” Emily said.
She has worked at a few locations in town and is known by patrons of Mad Myrna’s as being one of their regular ’tenders as well. While Green herself doesn’t drink any more, she understands the clientele at Van’s well, and their orders make the most sense to her.
“I am from Wasilla, so the whole blue collar, neighborhood bar — that really appeals to me,” she said. “There is nothing bougie here. They are going to come in and order that tall boy of PBR and a shot of Jameson. That really appeals to me. When I was a drinker, that’s what I would have.”
That isn’t to say the she is not knowledgeable in other drinks as well. Green has trained with some of the finest bartenders in town, and still goes to larger events to perfect her craft even more. Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans is a regular trip for her, and she enjoys when she gets to show off those skills at work, or watch her fellow bartenders do the same.
“People can come in here and get a Manhattan, or a Clover Club or a Bourbon and Sour,” Emily said. “This is nice, because I have all of the tools that I need, and the great bartenders that have a skill set that we can offer both sides of the coin, so it’s really great.” she said, making sure to point out the Hale Yeah! Margarita, a creation of Van Hale himself. This drink is made for those that know Van from his other business, the Marx Bros. Café. It’s cocktails like these that make the location a dive bar, but with a twist.
Green is also wanting people to know that when they are looking for something to do while drinking, Van’s is the place to be. With big screen TV’s for sports fans, especially fans of the Seattle Seahawks, and pool and darts for those who prefer to play instead of watch. Even during the live music events that happen, there is still something special for others, Open Art. Green explained “Seven nights a week we offer some sort of live entertainment, whether it’s open mic on Sundays; Thursdays we do open art with music. People come down and do crafts and local musicians come down for a jam night. We have reggae on a Saturday, and electronic on a Friday. Coming up we have more some kind of local rock, we try to feature local.”
Drink of the Week:
This bartenders drink of the week will probably stay on the menu for a while, because it sums up everything that Van’s tries to be. The Summer in Winter shot is a mix of vanilla vodka, lime juice, Tuaca liqueur, and a dash of cream. It brings the taste of Key Lime Pie, tropical vacations, and a luxurious creamy finish that you would expect from people with high-end taste. It goes down quickly so that you can get back to your game of pool, or dancing to the band.
A dive bar with class, where art meets family. Van’s Dive Bar is redefining what a nice relaxed night out can be.