By Jason Aigeldinger for SCN –
Chinooks owners Captain Dan Butts and Lori LeMaster are about to take local beverage culture to the next level. Literally.
Earlier this month, the couple opened the Cask and Compass Bar, located on the second floor of the popular restaurant situated in the Seward small boat harbor. Patrons can expect unobstructed views of the harbor as well as the mountains and glaciers situated east of Resurrection Bay. Huge glass windows make up roughly half of the north and south walls and the east wall is mostly composed of large windows. The upstairs room is splitlevel, with the bar, and some seating on the high side. That elevated area’s lower walls are ringed in blued steel with a patina of rusty hues necessitated by the application of muriatic acid. The metal bar shelves and rough cut bar rail were designed by James Minden. Minden is also responsible for the sheet steel marine animals displayed throughout the main floor of the Seward Brewing Company. The north wall above the chair rail is adorned with a whale painting designed and executed by local artist Bethany Waggoner. Below the chair rail in the lower area of the new bar is sheathed in slate. The materials, their hues and arrangement blend well with the surrounding outside land and seascape.Along with the refreshing interior and amazing views, Cask and Compass offers a full bar with 20 stools and outside deck seating for patrons. LeMaster said that she and Butts plan to extend the deck an additional 10 feet to the south for next season.
Butts said that during the busy summer months, the downstairs bar is usually standing room only and that it is so packed that he and his staff are not able to give the best service to patrons. “Now with two bars we are able to have people come in and even sit at the bar versus being able to grab a drink and wait for a table,” he said.
Butts said that he views the upstairs as “kind of a waiting area, kind of a locals place, it kind of relieves stress on this (downstairs) bartender.”
“We want our locals to know they can always find a seat upstairs and grab an appetizer and beverage after a hectic day on the water or in town,” said LeMaster.
Prior to the upstairs renovations, the area was mostly used as a storage area and referred to it as an “odd, out of the way space” that was sometimes utilized for large events. Butts said that he is excited to continue to use the new bar for special events as well as to highlight his establishment’s handcrafted, speciality cocktails such as the Chinooks Pimms Cup.
LeMaster said that the upstairs cocktail menu is different than that of the downstairs and and that it will change as the season progresses. She also said that they plan to have a few wine selections on tap as well.
Chinooks has an extensive scotch collection, with over 30 different brands and still adding to the collection every now and again. “We have scotch from every region of Scotland now,” said Butts. “I kinda want to put it out there and introduce some the different scotches that we have to some of the whiskey drinkers in town”. One brand took two years to get it here in Seward and costs about $40 as shot.
During the summer season, Butts said that they will most likely host one band a month, aligning with the First Friday Art Walks. LeMaster said that the upstairs bar has been open full time since May 2nd, when Chinooks kicked off the summer season’s first art walk by hosting photographer Suzi Towsley, while Blackwater Railroad Co. provided the live music.
On June 6th, Nervis Rex will be playing upstairs. “So far we have lined up Nervis Rex, Woodrow and the Denali Cooks to play our First Fridays, said LeMaster. “Along with (hosting) local artists Kyle Cambell, Nakaii and Carla Rogers and Bethany Waggoner.”
“We are trying to be the new music venue for town,” said Butts, and also said that he has tasked Hank West, the establishment’s entertainment manager with finding some “halfway decent, big named bands” that will be able to play the upstairs during the winter months. Summer is simply too busy to host live music unless “you are a late night bar”.
“We are going to focus on the music in the wintertime,” said Butts, and that he wants to offer a venue to feature and support local music acts. At the same time, he wants to attract some of the big name bands that come through Alaska and he added that now that Blues Central has closed down in Anchorage some of those bands have simply no place to play.
Butts is frank about the prospect of keeping his staff on and his establishment heated and open for business six days a week on through the winter. “To be honest it is tough, for November, December and January we pretty much go backwards. So for anything we save, it goes back out those months.” He feels that it is important to be able to keep his crew on year round and have a place for people to gather “that’s more important to us then really making a buck during those times.”
Butts said that providing a service for town residents by offering another establishment for folks to eat was paramount when he and LeMaster began their endeavor when they purchased Chinooks in the Spring of 2012. “We wanted to bring a different menu to town and expose people to things that they probably have never even heard of or ever tried”. This has enabled the restaurant to really experiment in the kitchen and show its patrons what they can do.
“In the winter we get to play with braised meats, osso buco and lamb shank,” said Butts. “We kind of let the chef go nuts a little.”
His Head Chef Kevin Lane cooked in Greece for a few years and has a lot of Mediterranean recipes as well as Asian recipes so we play with a lot of flavor. In wintertime, we’re hoping this year is even better than last. “We are trying to promote winter more than anything because to be quite honest, there is enough business for everybody in the summertime, we don’t need to promote anymore in the summertime,” said Butts. “We need to promote this place in the winter. “He wants to change what he refers to as the “narrative” in town, that whole idea that “we’re Seward and we close our doors for the winter, the place is shuttered.” This, of course, is not the case. “We are trying to help promote Seward in the off season” he says.
He plans to film a commercial this Fall aimed at Alaskans and hopes that he will be able to slot it sometime during the six o’clock news hour. He said that he hopes to help promote Seward, inviting fellow Alaskans to “come see us on the weekend.” But it’s all business during the short summer season. Butts said that he refers to Chinooks as a seafood place in the summer.
With the upstairs bar project completed, Butts said that his next task is to complete an offsite prep kitchen. More space is needed for Lane and his crew to prepare more meals for hungry patrons. He states, “There is a bottleneck and I can’t physically push anymore food out of this kitchen”.