On Monday as the owners and staff made final preparations for reopening Alice’s Champagne Palace, the atmosphere felt like final rehearsal week for the Nutcracker Ballet.
On a chalkboard by the bar a checklist showed items still to be completed, like “ribbon lights done” and “glass storage shelf, liquor shelf.” Chef Ryan Lee ran the kitchen crew through the updated menu. On the back porch, carpenters put the finishing touches on a bigger, beefier outside deck. Server Laura Hupp painted a new coat of red paint on the front door. With a cry of “order up,” server Jill Gunnerson picked up the kitchen’s first order, three plates of hot pretzels with honey-mustard sauce.
Meanwhile, the ringmasters of the circus, co-owners Matt North and Dr. Todd Boling, kept answering the thousand-and-one questions that remodeling and running a bar involve. What kind of plastic cups? Is the bread oven running? How many coats of paint on the floor?
North is a financial adviser with Edward Jones. Dr. Boling is a general surgeon, and his wife, Beth, also is a partner in Alice’s and manages Dr. Boling’s practice.
After being closed since Super Bowl Sunday this year, Alice’s, the classic Pioneer Avenue bar that has run in various incarnations since the late 1940s, reopens at 4 p.m. Friday under its new management and owners. The weekend includes music at 10 p.m. Friday with Blues Troller, 10 p.m. Saturday with Los Holy Santos Gang and 7 p.m. Sunday with Conway Seavey.
The Bolings bought the liquor license from English Bay Corporation and with North also own the building and lot. Before selling, English Bay had already redone the drainage and torn down a back deck one big earthquake from turning into kindling. After announcing the sale in July, Todd Boling had said Alice’s might reopen in October. Maybe November. OK, December.
“This has been a lot of work,” Boling said. “We knew it was going to be a project. We had no idea.”
English Bay had closed Alice’s as a regular bar for three years after buying it in 2004. The corporation hired Tiny Nolan to manage it in 2007, and Nolan did a major remodel. The Bolings and North have kept many of Nolan’s touches, like rustic metal siding on the walls. The bar preserves details like the stage, chandeliers, dance floor and disco ball. Outside, the signs remain that artist Brad Hughes painted for the late Alice Cochrane after she bought the Club Bar from Billie Bledsoe and renamed it for herself.
The latest incarnation of Alice’s has these improvements:
• For the women, a remodeled downstairs bathroom, including doors on the toilet stalls;
• A dumbwaiter to haul food and dishes up from the downstairs prep kitchen and wash area;
• A shiny copper front for the bar;
• A bigger back deck with stairs from the upstairs lounge and a handicap accessible ramp to the parking lot, and
• Sixteen draft beer taps, including three taps for beers from Homer Brewery and a tap for a hard cider.
Alice’s is open to ideas and suggestions for beers and ales, and will look for Alaska and western beers, Boling said.
“We’ll see what the people are drinking,” he said.
“We’re about taking care of people,” said Phil Eherenman, Alice’s spirits consultant.
Boling said remodeling the bar and kitchen meant a lot of delays and frustrations — and running back and forth.
“We were at the hardware store five times a day,” he said.
For example, when a bread oven that had been back ordered for eight weeks finally arrived, it came damaged when a forklift speared it. With a lot of menu items based on baked goods, Alice’s really needed a bread oven. Harmon and Pauli Hall, the couple who remodeled the old Pioneer Building near Alice’s, happened to have a bread oven that only needed some rewiring.
“They saved our lives,” Boling said.
One of the biggest changes is a revised menu. Chef Lee, formerly the cook on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ship, the Tiglax, has kept classics like burgers, onion rings and specialty fries, but expanded the menu. It includes Carolina style ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, Scotch eggs, Buffalo, N.Y., style wings and grilled portabello mushrooms. Burger and brew Tuesday specials also will be back.
Not all former Alice’s workers will return, but expect familiar faces like some of the servers. Boling said he defers to their expertise. At the same time, they’ve filled open slots with “people who were the right person for the team,” Boling said.
Alice’s also will bring back Michael Hayes of Downward Dog Productions to help book musical acts and run the sound system. Hayes is the music promoter responsible for bringing musical acts like Janis Ian, Michelle Shocked and Ellis Paul to Alice’s. Hayes’ most recent booking is Conway Seavey, 18, of the championship Iditarod sled dog racing Seavey family. Hayes heard Seavey sing at the Kenai River Festival.
“Right away, I said, ‘If I have a chance to book him as an opener, I’m going to do it,’” Hayes said. “His voice knocked me out. … I was happy to get him down here and get him out playing.”
Although earlier this week it might have seemed like chaos, things appeared to be coming together. The ordering system worked. The chalkboard punch list had more items erased than to be done.
“We’re ready, but there are so many things to find,” Boling said.
“We’ve gotten all our parts and pieces together. We’re cruising now,” North said.
Alice’s is open seven days a week from 4 p.m. to midnight, and will open for longer hours in the summer. It has a Facebook page at facebook.com/aliceschampagnepalace.
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