June 19, 2014

The Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer Spit, Alaska

Credit: Cissy Rockett, Salty Dawg Saloon
The log cabin that houses the Salty Dawg was built in 1897.

If you’ve never been to the Homer Spit, off Homer, Alaska, or heard of a drink called a Duck Fart, you might need to make tracks for the historic Salty Dawg Saloon. Housed in a 117-year-old cabin that has served the town in various capacities as a railroad station, grocery store, and post office, the Salty Dawg, which opened in 1957, is beloved by tourists and locals alike.

“We’re the only bar on the spit,” explains Cissy Rockett, who has worked at the bar “off and on,” she says, for about 32 years. “The spit” is a 4.5-mile piece of land jutting out from mainland Homer into frigid Kachemak Bay. While the Salty Dawg gets an influx of sightseers in the summer months of the midnight sun, it also serves as a gathering spot for locals throughout the equally dark winters, hosting ugly sweater parties and Sunday football celebrations, complete with a Bloody Mary bar chock-full of garnishes like pickled peppers and hot dogs.

The weathered log structure housing the Salty Dawg was moved to its present location by then-owner and Alaska state representative Earl D. Hillstrand after being flooded by the powerful 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, and the trademark lighthouse tower was added around the same time to house a water storage tank. Aside from a few decorative additions in more recent years, like a wraparound wooden walkway, the exterior has remained largely unchanged.

Credit: Cissy Rockett, Salty Dawg Saloon
The interior of the Salty Dawg is covered with thousands of dollar bills tacked to the walls and ceiling.

What is it, exactly, that makes the Salty Dawg feel so authentic, besides its storied history? One contributing factor might be the thousands of well-worn dollar bills signed by visitors covering the interior walls and ceiling.

“Years ago, somebody would leave money for another boat to have a drink on them or leave money if they had a bad fishing trip so they would always have something to have a drink on,” Rockett says. “It started exploding in the early ‘90s, which is when tourism started to pick up. It exploded into money everywhere.”

Rockett says that the distinctive "Duck Fart" was featured, along with the Salty Dawg, on an episode of the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, and has been one of the bar’s most asked-for drinks ever since. It’s a layered shot made with Bailey’s, Kahlua, and Crown Royal whiskey, and Rockett advises against drinking a lot of them.

“You’re just barely floating the Crown on the top. You’re getting kind of that sweet with the whiskey and it’s pretty yummy,” she says.

Providing that no more earthquakes are headed for Homer Spit, the Salty Dawg, currently owned by John Warren, is prepared to retain its title as the area's only bar, as well as its reputation as an always-fun place to gather and share a drink, no matter the weather or time of year.

“Our electricity [on Homer Spit] went off yesterday,” Rockett says. “Everyone flocked up here; it was a blast.”

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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