Bar Review: Golden Saloon (McCarthy, AK)

Bar Review of the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, AK.

Part #12 of the Alaska: The Last Beer Frontier Series.

We managed to go to 11 craft breweries on our most recent trip to Alaska, and somewhere around brewery #9 we started thinking that Alaska must offer so much more than just breweries. Of course they do, they have bars too! (There is also all that tremendously majestic scenery and wildlife, if you’re into that sort of thing).

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Which brings us to how we ended up in McCarthy, Alaska. For those of you who don’t know, McCarthy is a small town in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This town can only be accessed by driving down a 63 mile dirt road, parking your car in a lot and crossing a river by footbridge. The current U.S. census population for this town is 28. So why would anyone go through the hassle of going there? Is there even any place to stay or eat? What’s the bathroom situation?

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For those that are drawn to McCarthy, the allure is the unsurpassed access to Wrangell-St. Elias (which is an undeveloped national park), along with the historic Kennecott Mine Area, combined with the seclusion and remoteness that are so elusive in today’s world. Not to mention you don’t have to camp to achieve this. McCarthy does have a place to stay and a place to eat, and I promise you that you’ll be using bathrooms with indoor plumbing. On of it’s best features is that after a long day of hiking, climbing or just plain exploring Wrangell-St. Elias there is a prize awaiting you back in town,… The Golden Saloon.

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Yep, there’s a bar. This was my second visit to McCarthy, and the first time I just remember being excited that cold beer was an option at the end of my day. I would’ve settled for anything, I was just impressed that it existed here. Now, however, I know how good this bar really is and therefore I’m excited for a different reason. The owner of this bar (who I get the impression owns most of the town) takes the time to truck in/fly in draught beer, which is the last thing I expected this bar to offer. On top of that, it’s quality craft beer and there are 10 of them to choose from!

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Under normal circumstances a bar with 10 draught beers wouldn’t be worthy of a glowing review, but these are not normal circumstances. Finding 10 quality craft beers on draught when you’re at least 100 miles from anything in all directions, after driving down a dirt road for 2.5 hours is the equivalent of a bar with 100 awesome draughts in a city like Portland, OR or Atlanta, GA. It really has to do with the effort that’s involved in serving craft beer here, which shows you that they really care about it. They could have easily just offered bottles and cans, and no one would’ve complained. In fact, since they are the only bar, I doubt it would’ve hurt their bottom line one bit, but it wasn’t good enough for them and that’s why this is a great beer bar.

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To be more specific they had beers from Arkose Brewery, Denali Brewing, Alaskan Brewing, Midnight Sun Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas & More. Clearly there is an emphasis on local Alaskan beers (as there should be), but there were nice options from the lower 48 as well. The atmosphere is what you would hope for from a frontier bar in an old mining town. It has original finishes from those days gone by, including an enormous back bar mirror that is quite impressive. The bar itself is small with maybe a dozen stools, but there is a also a room with pub tables where people can sit and even get dinner (yes, they serve food). The size is adequate considering the amount of people that could be in the town at any one time.

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Which brings us to the most magical part of this bar, which is the fellowship of all. I’ve now spent four different evenings in this bar, from dinner time to closing, and it always seems to fill up regardless of circumstances. You get all sorts of people (a local bush pilot, a contractor that’s working on restoring the Kennecott Mine, an avid hiker from England, a beer-blogging tourist like myself and even a young couple that hitch-hiked their way into town with only the clothes on their backs and a Bohemian dream in their heads. The amazing thing about this is that all are embraced. Different age groups, different philosophies, different backgrounds, different nationalities, it doesn’t matter. We even took in an open-mic night which featured everything from folk-singing/guitar playing to stand-up comedy to a hula-hoop routine. It’s surreal and at the same time it feels right. It makes you wonder why more places in the world aren’t like this, or at least it makes you wish they were.

If any of this feels familiar it could be because the area of McCarthy/Kennecott is featured on the Discovery Channel show Edge of Alaska, or it could just be your spirit animal (mine is a goat or elk depending on who you ask) guiding you to this place. If it is your spirit animal you’d be unwise not to listen. If it’s because you watch too much reality TV then you may be beyond help, but should try to snap yourself out of it by coming here anyways.

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