By RJ Johnson
4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage is a street full of history, scandal, and legends. Everyone has a family member that will tell them tales of the wild days and nights spent on this block or that, or of the crimes that they have seen take place. The most famous pictures of the 1964 earthquake look down the street, the historic 4th Avenue Theatre has been in and out of the news for years now, and you will also find some of the best shopping, food, and drinks that can be had in the downtown area.
Stretching from C street to L, you will see a bustling courthouse during the day, and at night it becomes the circuit for lively drinkers to be able to find exactly what they are looking for in fun. Whether it’s stopping at F Street Station for late night eats, or dancing with DJ Covy at the Avenue, or hitting up the Gaslight Lounge for some mechanical bull riding.
Tina Durbin has been a bartender for over ten years, and for the last three and a half, she has been a mainstay at the Gaslight. Whether it’s answering the sass given to her by daytime regulars or getting drinks out as fast as possible for the capacity weekend crowds you can recognize her easy, natural smile and charm. She enjoys both shifts, but mainly it’s “All the fun people!” that make it worth it for her.
There are some bartenders that can spend hours perfecting recipes and be completely satisfied, but for Durbin, she prides herself more on skills like accuracy, volume, and satisfied customers. “I am not really a mixologist; I am a speed bartender. I don’t have a lot of time to play, this is a different kind of bar,” she says. “During the daytime, you don’t get a lot of people that want that creative side.”
When Durbin is off work, she enjoys a refreshing vodka and soda water, and this led her to start playing with this week’s drink. Recently the bar started to carry the new Smirnoff Zero-Sugar Vodka Infusions, and when mixed with some soda water, and possible a splash of juice, they make for a low-calorie, low-carb refresher. “It’s summer; it’s that lightness.”
It’s also a spirit she is comfortable with because of its versatility. “Vodka is so diverse; you can do anything with it.”
Another skill that the mixtress brought with her to the Gaslight is an element of fun in the form of the Tuesday Bar Olympics.
“It’s something that I took from when I used to work in Wisconsin. We used to go between four or five different bars. We would have teams of bartenders and patrons going bar to bar playing different games. You would get prizes from each bar,” she said. Now the activity only happens in one location. “We were looking for a way to make it smaller for one bar, just a way to increase traffic on Tuesday nights. It has been going on for a couple years now! Brian, Trevor, myself and some others sat down to figure out how to make it work. In June we threw in some cornhole and some four square, and different games.”
Each of the activities that people participate in will be familiar for regular bargoers. “It’s teams of two, and you get a minute and a half to make three balls on the pool table, a minute-and-a-half to make a bullseye on the dart board, and then the same time to make three bags in the cornhole, and then you move to the Beer Pong.”
Each week the teams are regulated to only two people, so depending on how many pairs attend, the games could go on for quite a while.
“We have had four teams and we have had fourteen teams, so it’s always different how long it lasts for. A lot of teams will have two people running. It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of people like it. We see several repeats, and then people walking by on the street get drawn in because they hear it.” Durbin related. Usually what they are hearing is the calming Southern drawl of Tina’s husband, Matt. “He sits and yells and taunts and teases, making it more difficult,” she said. “It’s really fun!”
Another fun aspect of the bar is the large, mechanical bull that takes up the center of the room. This beast, which gets turned on immediately after bar Olympics are over, might be used as a tiebreaker in the future but for now it’s just another fun aspect of this location. Order up a Wet, Hot, Alaskan Summer, or try one of the shots off the $3 Shot shelf. If you come in for one the slower day shifts, ask about the pair of 10-ounce beers for $4. “We are still one of the fairest places in town price wise.” Durbin says. Add in some bar tricks, the bull, and a sweetheart of a bartender serving you, and the Gaslight is a great choice for a night out.