New owners tempt locals with food and drink, a giant TV screen and Costa's brunch
After years of catering primarily to Juneau's summer tourists, the Red Dog Saloon is under new ownership and ready to fully embrace the locals. This year the bar and restaurant will be open all winter, offering good food and music - and the largest television screen in town.
"We have new, young, invigorated owners that really want to embrace the local crowd," said Red Dog's general manager Mike Denny.
In the past, the saloon hasn't always been a hot destination for Juneauites, as Denny recently found out.
Working the door incognito during this year's Boardwalk Boogie fundraiser, Denny said he was surprised by the number of long-term locals who commented that they'd never been to the Red Dog before.
"The locals don't come down in the summer because we are so crowded, then they forget about us in the winter," Denny said. "Last year we were closed for the winter while the liquor license settled, so locals don't know that we are now open year-round."
"It's a warm, inviting space, and if you have out-of-town guests it's kind of a must-see," he said.
Founded in the 1940s, the Red Dog has occupied several different locations downtown but has maintained its gold-rush theme. In the early days, "Ragtime Hattie" drew people in by playing the piano in white gloves and a silver-dollar halter-top. Now the red saloon-style doors, Alaskan beers, wildlife trophies and charismatic musicians - such as honky-tonk piano player Tag Eckles - uphold the frontier feel, making the spot a hit with the tourists and creating long lines in summer.
Realizing that the long wait kept the locals and their out-of-town guests away, the new owners came up with a plan.
"If there's a line to get in, just come to the front and say you're a local and they will let you in," Denny said.
There are five sets of new owners of the Red Dog, hailing from Juneau and Ketchikan. Juneau couple Eric and Tracy Forst are former owners of the Subway sandwich shop, and Eric Forst has been general manager of Gross Alaska Theatres for the past five years. Neale and Toni Murphy are owners of the Juneau Trading Company and Franklin Street souvenir shop Alaska-Juneau Mining Co.; and new partner Doug Trucano, also of Juneau, owns Trucano Construction. Two Ketchikan couples, Dave and Lori Coates and Gary and Meeta Jethani, complete the group.
A new menu was created by the management which Denny claims is excellent.
"We have a small menu because everything on the menu is good," Denny said.
After 16 poultry tastings, Denny said they settled on an organic roasted chicken dish.
"We serve dinner every night and feature a slow-roasted prime rib dinner on Friday, which is sliced at your table. All entrees come with soup or salad, our special sourdough bread and butter, starch and vegetable, and we have cheesecake for dessert," Denny said.
They also have cheese sticks, chicken wings and sliders to go with their full line of Alaskan beer.
Another draw is the likelihood of Collette Costa's involvement in the restaurant and bar. Although the dates haven't been firmed up, Costa was invited to host her Sunday brunch at the Red Dog beginning sometime early next year.
"The worst thing about Costa's brunch was that there were no mimosas and no Bloody Marys, so that's one of the beautiful things about this place - you can have a full beverage bar alongside Costa's famous brunch," Denny said.
Sports fans might enjoy watching football and hockey on the six-by-10 foot flat-screen television, which can also be used for PowerPoint presentations.
Although The Red Dog is already open and serving lunch at 11 a.m. every day through the winter, it will be closing at 6 p.m., for holiday parties for the next two weekends.
After that the doors will be open to welcome weekend revelers, Monday night footballs fans and hungry locals.