After two decades in the bar and restaurant industry I am still pleasantly surprised when a new product makes me truly excited to work with it. I experience similar feelings when a new location inspires me and makes me proud to be part of this unique field of work. The Summer Solstice Martini and the location that offers it have managed to pull this off admirably.

The Bear Paw Bar and Grill, located on the corner of Tudor and C Street had their grand opening the day that Anchorage went into hunker down mode, and then had to wait to truly open until it was safer to do so. I was not able to get into the location until recently and it was worth the wait. Owner Bruce Burnett had been a franchisee of TGIFridays but wanted to take the restaurant in a different direction. His statement on the grill’s website states

“After years of being a National Franchise, we wanted to be able to offer more to our guests and create a space that showcases to visitors, a truly Alaskan experience,” Burnett said.

One of the important aspects for the space was to also be able to offer more Alaskan made products as well as create original drink menus. With names like the Ketchikan Maid, the Alaskan Sunset, and the Hair of the Bear, the cocktails have the feel of craft cocktails combined with local whimsy. There is also another side of the menu with five featured margarites to enjoy on a hot summer day, including a Habanero Lime Margarita and the Midnight Sunrise with a house-made agave sour. The drink that caught my eye is the Summer Solstice Martini, which has a base of my current favorite spirit to work with, Empress 1908 Gin.

Gin is one of the most misunderstood liquors. To make a good cocktail with gin you must understand the botanicals and the flavors that each different brand has. The most beloved gins step beyond the strong taste of juniper and add many other herbs and flavors to add to a balanced complexity and interesting taste. Brands like Uncle Val’s, Hendricks, and Bombay Sapphire pull this off very successfully. Empress 1908 has all of these features and more. The gin is a collaboration between Victoria Distillers and the legendary Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. It is handcrafted in small batch copper stills and features a signature blend of black tea that is served at the Empress Hotel and the Butterfly pea flower.

The latter addition gives the gin its naturel indigo color. The flower also adds a combination of citrus notes and earthiness. When cocktails are made with the gin the indigo color transforms into shades of pink or light blue which give this unique product and eye pleasing aesthetic as impressive as the flavors it presents.

For the Summer Solstice Martini at the Bear Paw Bar and Grill, the talented bartenders combine the gin with flavors of lavender and natural vanilla and customers can watch as the colors swirl and change when they are served the delicious libation.

In addition to the exciting cocktail menu the location also features a fun menu that offers classic grill comfort foods like Philly Cheesesteaks and a Reuben. Another favorite item is the Berry Berry Salad which combines fresh blueberries and strawberries with a mix of greens and a poppyseed dressing.

All of these fresh summer features could easily be enjoyed inside the spacious location. The walls the used to separate the building have been removed and the new open concept is welcoming, and leaves plenty of room for all of the rustic Alaskan décor. The bar seems bigger somehow and there is plenty of room for groups of friends to enjoy. Of the twenty-seven tap handles along the bar, 25 feature local beers. This focus even continues onto the wine menu with products from Bear Creek Winery and Glacier Bear. There is also a beer garden option for those that enjoy dining al fresco.

There are plans in place to change the cocktail menu seasonally and to continue to feature local products. With additional plans to start to utilize the stage space that has been created, the Bear Paw Bar and Grill is likely to become more than just a new favorite restaurant, but also the lounge and bar space that was needed in midtown. I look forward to following as they experience what will likely be a very successful summer.

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