SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Some Local History To Chew On
By Dave Kiffer


March 11, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - I was walking along Water Street recently when I noticed The Pizza Mill had closed down.

It gave a bit of a pause, because it had been one of my major high school hang outs.

I can't say I was surprised. The long-lived eatery that had been around more than 30 years had been pretty down on its luck the last few. In Ketchikan, the average lifespan of a restaurant seems to be about six months and the Pizza Mill had a good long run.

But it got me to thinking about the other local eateries that have stood the test of time, or at least my time.

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Time to Eat
Artist Ares,
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

There aren't many. If I go back to the restaurants that were operating when I was in, say, high school, there are only three left, The Pioneer Café, Diaz Café and the Clover Pass Resort.

Granted my time on this rock is only 40 something years. And when I was a youth there were long standing restaurants like the Fireside and the Narrows that had apparently been around from the time that Mike Martin first rowed ashore. But those venerable institutions went away twenty years ago.

I also missed out - for the most part - on legendary places like the original drive-in "Toot and Tell" (the drive in collapsed in the Hurricane of 1968 when I was 9 and it moved across Tongass and became an endless succession of other restaurants until The Galley stabilized the spot two decades ago.).

I remember the Harbor Inn, primarily because it was the only 24-hour place in those days. Nothing like a full meal at 3 am for us night owls. It eventually merged into the Pioneer.

Other historic names like the Blue Fox, the Peter Pan, Howard's Char Broiler, the Northland Café , Hamburger Heaven and their ilk are also just names that may or may not have been still around when I was young, I just don't remember them.

Fortunately, life has a way of jogging one's memory.

Recently, I came across a tattered old copy of the 1978 Guide to Ketchikan, which was a yearly publication - for visitors and residents - produced by the Ketchikan Daily Fish Wrap.

That was the year after I graduated from Kayhi and headed to LA (also known as the Big Queasy) for college. I wasn't here for most of that year, but the list of local restaurants is an ala carte menu of the places that I frequented in high school.

In 1978, the Amphibian Room was still operating. Now, there is a legend I remember. Having a bite to eat while waiting to board the Grumman Gooses and PBYs for the big airport on Annette was always a treat. Same thing if you were waiting to pick some up who was coming back to town. The last arrivals had deplaned five years earlier, but it was still in business.

Of course it then went through a succession of operations - including the once popular Roller Bay. The current restaurant onsite, The Dockside Diner, is a worthy successor to the great Amphibian.

The Anchor Inn was at 832 Water Street in 1978. A previous incarnation had been Myrtle's Confectionary. That was a favorite stop when my mother and I would "walk to town" from the West End in nice weather.

There were a couple of eateries in what is now Jewelry Row on Front Street in those days. Angela's Delicatessen was at least around until I came back to Ketchikan in the early 1980s. The Heritage, next door, morphed in the briefly popular Charlies, if my memory serves me correctly (and sometimes it doesn't).

Also on Front Street was the old favorite - even 30 years ago it had been around a long time - Pioneer Café. The Rendevous was just around the circular corner, I assume that it eventually became Jimbo's before Jimbo's became Tanzanite R Us.

Of course, the Clover Pass Resort, Diaz Café, the Narrows Supper Club, the Pizza Mill, June's Café and the Fireside were also all in operation in those years, as was the that great Bar Harbor favorite, Kay's Kitchen.

Oh, what I would give for one more spaghetti dinner at Kay's (my all-time second favorite Ketchikan meal, behind Mrs. Sund's Friday Baked Halibut of course!). Its replacement "The Bar Harbor" does comes up with some pretty darned good grub, though.

In 1978, what is now called The Landing was Hilltop Restaurant. Of course, the entire hotel (now the Best Western) was the Hilltop then. And it was still at the bottom of the hill. Go figure.

There were several "view" restaurants in town in those days where the food was pretty good, but secondary to the "look". Of course, the Narrows was a great place to watch the twinkling lights of the South End. And the Old Hickory House (originally Yancy Derringers) offered a lovely gaze at Bar Harbor and the waterfront (We had our Class of 77 senior prom there, now it's part of the shipping container lot, so much for history!).

But the best view was from a restaurant that was alternately called The Spar Tree or the Helm. It was on the 11th floor of what was then the Marine View Hotel and Convention Center. It didn't rotate in a circle like the Space Needle Restaurant, but it sure had the best eatery view in town.

And the prices were pretty sky-high as I remember.

One year, I took my mom there for her birthday. My girlfriend mentioned that she had never eaten there, so I invited her too. Big mistake.

My girlfriend ordered first and went for the steak and lobster. My mom, thinking that after all she was the on being treated, also ordered steak and lobster. After pondering my financial situation a few seconds, I ordered the ice and water special for $9.99. I remember paying the tip with a handful of change because it was all I had.

Most folks seem to think that McDonalds invented the fast food restaurant in town, but that's not the case (although the local McDonalds has been dominating the fast food scene here for more than 20 years).

Back in 1978, there local drive ins like Mattle's and the Drift Inn, but there were also some big national names.

Both Dairy Queen and Kentucky Fried Chicken opened up in Ketchikan several years before McDonalds, unfortunately neither one lasted more than a few years.

Dairy Queen - which initially set all-time opening sales records because it opened the week-end that 500 extra teens were in town for Southeast Basketball Tournament - became a succession of other places before becoming a video store.

Kentucky Fried Chicken has been a succession other businesses as well, although most recently it was a barbeque restaurant that unfortunately didn't live to see its first anniversary.

Although there are some consistencies in eating out in Ketchikan (Diaz Café will always have the best cheeseburger!) restaurants in Our Fair Salmon City are much like the weather. If you don't like the current options, wait a little while. Some new place will open up.

Of course, if you do like it will probably go away in six months. Restaurant failures are always on the menu in Ketchikan.


Related stories:

Remember The Fireside? By June Allen

THE TOOT 'N' TELL: Herb and Peg's masterpiece By June Allen

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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