SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Is Ketchikan Still High In "Spirits?
By Dave Kiffer


August 17, 2008

Ketchikan, Alaska - I visited with some old friends recently.

jpg  Is Ketchikan Still High In "Spirits?" By Dave Kiffer

It was their first visit back to K-Town since the early 1980s.

"Where are all the bars?" They asked.

"Where's the T-bird, the Pioneer, The Rainbird, The Frontier, The Alaska, The Shamrock?"

Where indeed?

Ketchikan has changed a lot in the last 20 years.

Remember when the joke was that Ketchikan had more bars than churches?

Now it has more jewelry stores than both bars and churches combined.

But - as usual - I digress.

Ketchikan is probably no longer "the drinkin" capitol of the US of A.

But once it was.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Ketchikan had the highest per capita number of liquor licenses of anyplace in the country. State agencies determined that the city had the highest rate of alcoholism in the state.

Since Alaska had the highest rate in the country. That meant one one thing - we were number one!

Perhaps that isn't as good a thing as being the national champion in basketball or watermelon seed spitting, but you take your accolades where you find them.

It's hard to say whether Ketchikan still holds that lofty perch. There is still a lot of drinking going on here, but not much in the bars anymore and that makes it harder for the social sin chroniclers to enumerate.

I was reminded of our once upon a time national championship when I saw a recent headline in Forbes magazine about "America's Drunkest Cities."

Of course, labeling any community a "drunk" city immediately calls into question whatever methodology was used (and the hours of on-site research that staff had to do to reach any conclusion!).

Does a high volume of use necessarily mean that "drunkeness" results?

Only if the blood alcohol of every resident is then sampled. You can't really be a "drunk" city unless every resident has a .08 blood alcohol now can you?

Not that we residents of Rainbird Acres don't all have a blood alcohol that high (I saw in the trooper report a couple of months ago that a drunk driver in Ketchikan was pulled over with a blood alcohol of .412. Once upon a time, that would mean you were dead, but this yahoo was actually still driving, sort of).

We just don't know for sure.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), Ketchikan is not on the Forbes list of "drunken" cities.

And why not?

Ketchikan is not one of the 40 biggest population centers in the country. Nowhere in Alaska is. And only those 40 cities were considered when Forbes royal-crowned its "national champion."

Frankly, I bet there still are places in Alaska that would qualify if Forbes didn't hold to such a narrow definition of "city." Talkeetna comes immediately to mind as a place where 100 percent of the population is probably currently drunk right now.

So just how does Forbes determine whether a city is "drunk" or not?

The research involved three questions, that had previously been asked by one of those obscure federal research agencies whose name is a jumble of letters slapped together by someone who had obviously been drinking (BRFSS -admit it, it sounds like a belch!).

"Have you had an alcoholic drink in the last month?"

"Do you have two drinks a day (men) or one drink a day (women)?"

"Have you ever had five drinks in one sitting?"

The numbers were tallied up and Austin, Texas was proclaimed "drunkest city in America" outdoing the perennial previous "champeen" Milwaukee.

And what were the big numbers that put Austin over the top?

Sixty one percent (61 %) of Austin residents say they have had a drink in the last month.

Eight point eight percent (8.8 %) of the residents admitted to having one or two drinks a day depending on gender.

Twenty one percent (21 percent) of the residents of Austin admitted to having had at least five drinks in one sitting at some point in their life.

In case you're wondering, San Francisco, Providence, R.I. and Chicago rounded out the top five.

So let's go to the tape, shall we?

First of all, just because 6o percent of your residents have had a drink in the past month, it doesn't mean they are all drunk.

Yes, it is a high number. But in Ketchikan's glory days, you could argue that percentage was probably 75 percent. Imagine a hot August day like those we've had recently. Even if Ketchikan had any teetotalers, the hot muggy weather would be enough to drive them to drink.

And then there was the month and a half of summer rain previous to that August heat wave. If that @##@*@#%$@#!@ weather wasn't enough to drive you to drink, well then you better check your pulse.

So no matter what the weather is here, it encourages drinking. It would certainly make you want to have a least one drink a month.

The one or two drink a day benchmark is also a little weird. How does that equate to drunkenness (unless you are in some Southern Baptist stronghold like Waco, Texas)?

You'd have to have a couple of pretty grande glasses to get plastered after two drinks a day. Heckfire, that was what my Dad used to have with his breakfast eggs.

So that leaves the "bingers."

I'll admit that five drinks at a sitting would probably cause most folks to be drunk.

Geeze, I'm at the point now where anything more powerful than two drinks of water in any sitting puts me to sleep half way through the festivities.

And any survey that determines that one fifth of a town's population has been seriously hammered at least once deserves some merit.

The only problem is that (A) Once means once in your entire life not once in the last 24 hours and (B) Austin is a college town in which just about 30 percent of the population is either in school or just recently out of it.

Once means once. Most of us have done just about everything in the world once. And if we were in college then we did everything in the world twice just to confirm our initial results. So maybe 20 percent bingers is not that high after all.

While the percentage of people who regularly imbibe five drinks at a sitting here has probably decreased with the jewelryfication of Ketchikan's bars, the percentage of residents who have imbibed five drinks at one sitting at least once in their life is somewhere just south of 100 percent.

I arrived at that figure with these "guestimates."

I believe that 94 percent of the female residents of Ketchikan have binged at least once (and not just on Earl Gray and dark chocolate!). I believe that 105 percent of the males in Ketchikan have binged at least once. Or twice. Or three times. We also like to confirm our earlier results.

And there you have it.

Besides, you can't convince me that I'm the only one who pounded down a kegger or two in hopes of passing a miserable October in a blissfully unaware state.

Of course, even Forbes notes that its methodology could be a little skewed.

Perhaps all those drinkers do not a "drunken" town make.

"A top-drinking town could be populated by health-conscious adults who sip a glass of wine a day in order to keep their hearts healthy," the article authors conclude.

I'll drink to that.


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

Dave Kiffer ©2008

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