In the Middle East and Europe you can visit places built over 2,000 years ago. In Alaska you are unlikely to see anything older than 50.
That’s what makes the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer such a rarity. It possesses a history that goes back to 1897, when the first building was built, and it holds onto it.
The cartoonish lighthouse that looms over the building tricks you into thinking it’s bigger than it really is. Once inside, you can feel the 19th century. It is cramped, dark, and dangerous for someone over six feet tall. In fact, “low ceilings” is one of the most common comments on TripAdvisor.
This seems to disappoint some of the tourists who arrive at the Dawg in droves each summer. But this is history as it is, not as we hope it to be. Building in Homer in the 19th century meant crude methods, simple designs, and the absence of building codes.
The Salty Dawg has lived a lot of lives — first as a post office, then a railroad station, a grocery store, and a coal mining office. It took on its current form as the Salty Dawg Saloon in 1957.
Come early enough in the season, before dollar bills cover everything like the termination dust that covers the peaks across Kachemak Bay, and you can experience another uncomfortable aspect of Alaska’s history. Over 100 life rings adorn the walls, many of which feature the names of fishermen and vessels that were lost at sea.
In recent years, it seems Alaskan commercial fishing has been rebranded as some kind of mystical seafaring fantasy. Young, good-looking fishermen and fisherwomen on Instagram showcase a lifestyle that connects people to the sea and the earth — a shining example of sea-to-table goodness in a modern culture that wants to know its food sources and craves the experience of biting into pristine wilderness.
And this is all true. There is something magical about fishing salmon in the remote reaches of Prince William Sound. But the Salty Dawg Saloon reflects a different side of the industry; an older perspective, equally true. It remembers why Alaskan fishing was named in this century as the most dangerous job in America.
No matter how many tourists it attracts, The Salty Dawg remains inextricably tied to the Homer fishing scene, and retains its authenticity because it remembers its history and who it serves.
The atmosphere imparted by the low light and low ceilings make it the perfect place for fishermen to stoop over a beer, hide from the relentless summer, swap stories, and remember those who came before them. It is a place to be grateful for a break from the backbreaking work of commercial fishing, and put two feet on solid ground for a time.The lighthouse shines as a beacon to those who crave a drink and human connection after time at sea. Fishermen coming into Kachemak Bay look for the light, which is switched on when the Dawg is open and off when it is closed. And if they know it is almost closing time, or if they see the light go out as they round Nanwalek and Port Graham, they might call the Dawg and plead with them to stay open.
The lighthouse shines as a beacon to those who crave a drink and human connection after time at sea. Fishermen coming into Kachemak Bay look for the light, which is switched on when the Dawg is open and off when it is closed. And if they know it is almost closing time, or if they see the light go out as they round Nanwalek and Port Graham, they might call the Dawg and plead with them to stay open.