Beyond the Ale wrapup: Empire writers look back on their favorite foods and bars

There were lots of great options, but everyone has favorites

Crunchy Wrap from Imperial Grill at Imperial Billiard and Bar downtown. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Crunchy Wrap from Imperial Grill at Imperial Billiard and Bar downtown. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

At the conclusion of Beyond the Ale, we asked participants to look back on their favorite bars and bar food from months of sampling Juneau’s bar cuisine scene.

Along the way, we reviewed seven bars and restaurants across Juneau, examining both the establishment and their fare on our own internal criteria. We thought that an exploration into Juneau’s burgeoning food scene, recently host to celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri, was worthwhile.

Juneau’s bar food scene is evolving into something new, with new kitchens in places like Red Spruce, and more coming, like at the Viking Lounge.

Juneau’s food scene is fun and expanding every month, and we hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as we did exploring it.

Here’s our favorites, and some final thoughts.

The loaded fries basket from Devil’s Hideaway at Squirez Bar in Auke Bay. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

The loaded fries basket from Devil’s Hideaway at Squirez Bar in Auke Bay. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Ben Hohenstatt

There are certain pieces of art that feel like they were made with me or people like me in mind.

The sprawling and jangly garage rock of Guided By Voices album “Bee Thousand,” and the deadpan and bleak humor of “The Lobster,” are two examples of man-made works that speak to my goofy, off-kilter soul.

Well, the loaded fries at Devil’s Hideaway belong in the ranks of those maybe not perfect but perfect-to-me efforts.

They’re a blend of all that is fatty and savory — meats, dairy, fried potatoes — with just enough spicy green and red veggies to count as a health food under certain lunch plans.

Like the film and album referenced up top, these not at all humble fires are an underappreciated masterpiece I can engage with and appreciate on a new level again and again, provided there are copious napkins on hand.

I’ll also pick Devil’s Hideaway as my favorite venue that we visited in the Beyond the Ale series. I’m a valley kid, and it takes minimal effort to get there. It also has a nice view of the bay, choice tunes and on some Sundays some of the most passionate football fans I’ve seen in Juneau. I don’t really care enough about Da Bears to scream at a screen, but I love that other maniacs do, and it really drowns out my own internal voice advising me against ordering both loaded fries and a basket of wings.

Michael S. Lockett

There are a lot of things I look for in a good bar: location, willingness to play country music, clientele, amount of sunlight, likelihood of being bothered while I drink, general suitability for a bar fight, typical ambient noise level, other things.

The bars we examined for Beyond the Ale ran the gamut, from Imperial, where I could see a fight happening before being swiftly dragged out onto the pavement by a crowd that doesn’t want its drinking interrupted, to the Hangar on the Wharf, where any fight would have to be accompanied by pratfalls and Benny Hill music, to the Bubble Room, where any fights would lurk under the surface, exposed only in the icy barbs thrown as the inevitability of the breakup reveals itself to both halves of a couple.

As in most civil wars, there was no obvious winner, only the loss of innocent lives as I pondered the criteria. Eventually, I arrived at a compromise answer that I’m not proud of.

Imperial and Squirez hold the joint title of superior bar food establishments, to my mind. They are not identical: Imperial is more accessible to other bars, Squirez offers the best view of anywhere we reviewed. Imperial’s Crunchy Wrap is a gift of benevolent gods to undeserving mortals, so is Squirez’ Purgatory Burger, but in a different way. I can drink in either and not be bothered. Ambient noise is good. Level is sunlight is good, a bit better at Squirez. Imperial is a bit better for nightliving.

It’s not to say the others don’t have things to offer. Louie’s is the coziest bar on this list, a good counterbalance for downtown’s frenetic atmosphere and just a generally good spot. Hangar was definitely more on the restaurant side of things, but what a view, goodness. Bubble Room is tucked away, Forbidden Peak was posh, and Sandbar transported me magically to Cincinnati, somehow, with its perfect mix of ancient Budweiser decor and functional bar space.

For food, hands down, no question: the Crunchy Wrap from Imperial. Wholesome Taco Bell-esque goodness, where and when I need it. The Crunchy Wrap gets me. It comforts me. It completes me.

Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire Bubble Room’s filet mignon.

Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire Bubble Room’s filet mignon.

Emily Russo Miller

Tucked away from the snowy city streets, in a dimly lit bar on Franklin Street, I swirled a chocolate espresso drink in a martini glass, watching the motion of the spirits circle endlessly. I tried to pay attention to every detail: My desire to lift the glass to my mouth, the motion my arm made while lifting, my anticipation of the first sip, the fragrance of chocolate, and finally, the pleasure of the taste.

Drinking and eating mindfully is harder than it looks. There’s distractions in the environment itself (in this case, bars) as well as your own mind, and it takes a sense of purpose that requires mental energy.

I’ve never reviewed food or drinks before, so writing for Beyond the Ale presented a perfect opportunity to attempt mindful eating.

Slowing down to ponder what flavors are in a dish and how the different components work together, and contemplating what I liked and disliked, was essential to coming away with enough information to pen a short review. I prodded food the way I’ve seen Gordon Ramsay do on TV, examining not just the outside, but its exposed innards and checking how the meat was cooked. I took notes and pictures, and tried to memorize the listed ingredients before the menu was taken away.

After all is said and done, though, what I remember most is not the intimate details but the overall experiences from each of the three places I visited.

What I appreciated most about Red Spruce was the care and thoughtfulness that went into creating the meal, which was wildly above and beyond the others I reviewed. I left feeling grateful that Juneau has chefs who want to express themselves creatively through food, and to share that experience with others.

Nano’s to me was just normal bar food, but nothing quite beats hanging out at Louie’s with friends and a pitcher or two of beer.

Walking into the Bubble Room hotel bar whisked me away to a different world, making it my favorite locale.

It’s old-fashioned but not dated, and made me feel like I was in the Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks.” That illusion was only reinforced on the walk home, as snow lightly drifted down, each flake glowing and illuminated under the streetlights.

I’m not sure how successful I was in allowing food reviewing for Beyond the Ale to become a transcendental experience. I will keep at it. But damn, that was a good martini.

Peter Segall

The best thing I ate during this whole foray in Juneau’s bar food was probably the super french dip at the Sandbar.

It was hot, gooey, greasy and not a single ounce of it could in any way be considered healthy; exactly what you want from bar food.

My favorite venue would have to be Squirez. Not being from Alaska, it’s exactly what I pictured an Alaska bar being like. Just a no-frills bar.

A little funky but not dirty and the fact that you can see fishing boats out the window really gives it that Alaska feel.

Super French Dip from Sandbar & Grill. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Super French Dip from Sandbar & Grill. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

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