On February 16, Spenard Roadhouse will be having a party to celebrate its 10th Anniversary as the premier location on the West side of Anchorage for bacon, tater tots, and most importantly, whiskey. For those who don’t partake in the fun and creative cocktails at the Roadhouse, they may have never noticed the expansive selection of whiskey on the back-bar area, but it is quite impressive.
“We chose that when we first opened because it because it’s an American spirit that has some weight to it. It was on the upswing 12 years ago.” Says Bar Manager Shawna Calt. “It’s something that we can be proud of. There are laws governing bourbon that you can’t mess around with. It’s a respectable beverage. People that don’t think they like whiskey just haven’t found the right one. There is beginner’s whiskey out there.”
Calt has been with the company for the 10 years that it has been open and takes pride in more than just the libations. She knows the importance of the food menu as well and enjoys that almost anyone can find something to enjoy when coming out to dine.
“We try to have comfort food with a twist and still be approachable,” she said. “Anyone from a vegan to a meat eater can find something to eat here. We always try to have fresh fish. We have weekly specials like the Sunday TV Dinner, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday.”
A newer favorite is also Throwback Thursday with items that are no longer on the menu or have been changed because of the seasonal menu shifts. Many of the Thursday offerings are due to requests from customers, whether on a comment card or relayed directly to the staff. The restaurants social media plays a big part in letting customers know when their favorites are available, and the regulars come pouring in to get one more taste of a dish that they love.
While the food is the reason that many make the family friendly location a habit, Calt is especially fond of the bartenders that she can work with on a regular basis. “I’ve got some really talented bartenders back here. Brandy Thompson was known from the downtown scene, and I was blessed to get her.”
Calt and Thompson create many of the drinks that become specials or find their way on to the permanent menu. “We also have Drew who worked at the speakeasy downtown and helped open South Restaurant. We have had a great run of bartenders working at Roadhouse.”
It isn’t just the experienced or well-known mixologists that she enjoys, either. Some of the people working for her are newer to the career and she has found that having staff of different experience levels keeps everyone fresh. It can also bring new ideas and passions to the table when creating menus and providing great service for the clientele.
“It’s a very collaborative bar that we have,” Calt said. “I encourage everyone to play around and make up cocktails.”
One of the most well-known bartenders from the Roadhouse will also be the entertainment for the anniversary party. Orion Donicht, also known as “Straight RJ”, has often found himself the winner of Press Picks for not only his musical abilities, but also his skills with the daytime customers at the bar.
“He played the first anniversary, so we thought it only appropriate that he play the 10-year anniversary,” Calt said as she pointed out the flyer touting “Orion Donicht and The Hot Derelicts” as the headliners for the 9 p.m. bash.
One of the drinks that gives each person working a chance to flex their flavor skills also happens to be a favorite of Calt’s.
“One of my favorite cocktails that we have on the menu is the Bartender’s Manhattan,” she said. The concept is simple, you choose the whiskey; the bartender does the rest. “We will complement it with a really nice vermouth, or amaro, and we probably have about 40 types of bitters behind the bar from all over the country.”
The crew has also been experimenting with fat-washing, a process that creates a special treat that fits nicely into the “comfort food with a twist” concept. The process involves cooking down fats like butter until they brown. Then mix the whiskey and freeze. When the fat separates you are left with a delicious, creamy, whiskey or other liquor.
Another concept that has always fit in well at the Roadhouse is their continued support of other small businesses and quality local products. With eight taps containing local draft beers, including one that changes out weekly, and the always popular Roadweiser Golden Ale from Kenai River Brewing Company people can always try out beer that they can purchase in state. That same idea is present in the can and bottle offerings, as well as the base alcohol for the current Drink of The Week. Denali Spirits out of Talkeetna contacted the Roadhouse for the launch of their coffee whiskey collaboration they had done with Kaladi Brothers. Calt jumped at the chance, especially after learning of the 10-year business relationship between the two business. Spenard Roadhouse was one of the very first locations to carry Denali Brewing Company beers when each was just starting out. This coffee whiskey became the base for the Morning in Talkeetna cocktail which is currently on the menu. The Roadhouse also carries many of the other offerings from the new Denali Spirits line including the Single Malt, Gin, and Vodka.
Spenard Roadhouse is a model for Alaskan businesses with their support of small business and fresh local products. The collaboration and teamwork extend out into the community, and right now you can taste an offering that displays in all nicely.
Morning in Talkeetna
Denali Spirits Coffee Whiskey
Butter Fat Washed Whiskey
Kaladi Brothers Coffee, Sacks Blend