Dispatches from Juneau: Tying one on in the capital city

If you’ve lived in Alaska for any length of time, you’ll be familiar with those bumper stickers for Homer, “A Quaint Drinking Town With A Fishing Problem.” A similar slogan could be written about Juneau: “It’s a small drinking town, with a serious legislating problem.” During session, Juneau is a little island packed with big personalities and drenched with booze. It feels like a frat party, where incredible sums of money are thrown around and the liquor–if you’re invited to the right places–flows like water.

There are two bars here where I’ve already spent a good amount of time (and money) in the past few days. Luckily they’re within about 20 feet of each other. One of these bars, the Narrows, has ambiance: Edison light bulbs, a bartender who plays Pharcyde and Pharoahe Monch indiscriminately (I’d recognize that “Passin’ Me By” bass thud a mile away) and exotic twists on the Manhattan cocktail, which, prior to last night, I’d only known from the Simpsons episode where Bart joins the Mafia.

The other bar, the Triangle, has Rainier, in the can, for cheap. The deck, in other words, is stacked pretty evenly.

I’m drinking a White Russian with the Alaska Stalker, alternating between my Peter Griffin voice and a Trump impression I’ve been trying to get right, and eavesdropping on two House members (one from the majority and one from the minority) arguing about the PFD and the Federalist Papers over blueberry mojitos. It’s the Alaska Political Report mixer, and right now, at about a quarter till 6, the small, terminally hip bar is packed to critical mass with lobbyists and legislators. It’s like a scene from a Tom Wolfe novel – “Bonfire of the Vanities” or something.

Despite some conspicuous absences, more than a third of Alaska’s 60 legislators and their respective staffers files through the bar door to snag a free drink from the Political Report and mingle. The makeup of the event is about as bipartisan as the Capitol itself. Members of various political parties and factions seem to be proportionately represented. Everyone drinks.

After a few cocktails, either I start sounding like Max Headroom, or everyone else does. I can’t tell which. “C-c-can I get another Rainier, please?” Events take on a speed that isn’t quite in keeping with the traditional understanding of linear time. At least, that’s what the voice memo I left for myself on my phone that night says, and I trust that guy pretty implicitly with metaphors and comparisons.

Now it’s 8:30 or so – I leave to go smoke my pipe outside, and the second, Rainier-stocked bar is packed with staffers. The contrast between the two venues is stark. If were more of a hack, I would title this column “A Tale of Two Bars” or something.

People come up to me now, occasionally, and ask if I’m the guy from the Landmine tweet. Sometimes they recognize my name from a byline and ask if I’m “that writer.” Usually they seem to like what I’m writing – which is both surprising and reassuring. Someone’s reading besides my mom.

With that said, the experience totally erodes my belief that I might be able to remain semi-anonymous in Juneau. For one, this makes it harder to eavesdrop when people know your face. It happened on Thursday night. I was, to be fair, listening from the next bar stool to nothing particularly journalistically groundbreaking, until a staffer pointed out that I was the Landmine’s new guy. Nobody had forced them to have that conversation next to me, but I still felt like Sam from “Lord of the Rings” caught listening in – I weren’t dropping no eaves, sir!

I have a proposal: if you’re in Juneau in the next few weeks, and you read my stuff, come up to me and say “Bababooey.” That’s the secret word, and you don’t even need a decoder ring to get it. It’s a secret club, my friends, and it’ll just be you and me. It’ll also give me some kind of idea of how many people are reading, rather than just relying on website metrics and Twitter views. Numbers lie, but secret Howard Stern code words haven’t failed me yet.

I’d like some python boots, I realized this week, having seen Representative Frank Tomaszewski’s (R – Fairbanks) swearing-in footwear.

I wear a size 10.5, if anyone out there has the financial means to support me in my goal. People already call me the Python, in conversation- “Did you read the Python’s new column?” – so it fits. Alright, so maybe nobody calls me that, but if I had some python boots, maybe they’d start calling me that. Or the Rattlesnake. Or Cobra. Maybe even Anaconda.

I still have my wallet, my phone, my hotel key, and my press pass when I wake up – so all in all, Thursday night was a success.

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Paul Laverty
1 year ago

Dude, stay away from python boots unless you want to have to deal with some serious bromhidrosis. A better choice for boots would be ostrich or aardvark. Trust me on this one.

1 year ago

I like the cut of your jib but I fear your access may be short lived if you continue to speak so freely about the frat party and summer camp approach to governing. Every single night of the week you will be able to find some free steak, maybe some crab, and plenty of free drinks courtesy of one lobbyist group or another…but only if you keep the honesty to a minimum. Welcome to the exclusive club that we call the Alaska State Legislature. P.s. Please report back how many legislators, who otherwise would not give you the time of… Read more »

Veteran Staffer
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott

Many people have tried to speak up and speak out about various aspects of life in Juneau, yet the things you complain about still go on. Maybe the “summer camp approach” is not a problem exclusive to “the exclusive club.” Maybe that isn’t the problem you are trying to point out. Then… what problem are you really trying to point out? The problem that you do not feel like you “fit in” when you come to Juneau? You can easily access all those things you mentioned by simply showing up to a reception. They are for the community. Are you… Read more »

1 year ago

You have a fun column going. I enjoyed the first night’s and hope you keep it going.

Podbean Enjoyer
1 year ago

I can’t help but think this column would be improved with a supplementary podcast for my listening pleasures on the podbean app

Veteran Staffer
1 year ago

We are all so glad that you are enjoying your first-ever session. The problem is that this is what you will focus on for years in Juneau, maybe even over two decades, until you’re there long enough to look past the party to see the work. It is easier sober. Many people make bad choices that severely affect the quality of their work under all that fun you are feeling out. Watch things more closely.