Destinations

An Ode to Thorn's Showcase Lounge

A slice of Vegas kitsch in a small Alaskan town.
White Russians are the preferred cocktail at Thorn's. Photo by Ryan Glanzer.
The Vegas-themed signage at Thorn's makes it a can't-miss stop. Photo courtesy of Thorn's.

Paul Bunyan once said, “Build me a house of solid rock and it'll watch the world spin for a thousand years.” Or perhaps it was Abraham Lincoln ... point being, the greatest monuments on our planet are the ones that face the passage of time unflinching. Steady. Not prey to the whims of lemmings, fools, or the technicolored masses –— but fixed upon the course of their own steady starlight, seven knots into the night. Homes of the mind that can fix your position. Assure yourself that the world is still okay because in this place, this flood of joys remembered, all is well. Thorn's Showcase Lounge, a short walk from the shore of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska, within a ring of a hundred mountains, makes my list of monumental bars.

The walls of Thorn's are lined with the owner's extensive Jim Beam bottles. Photo by Ryan Glanzer. Shawn, the bartender, hard at work. The walls of Thorn's are lined with the owner's extensive Jim Beam bottles. Photo by Ryan Glanzer.

Stepping inside, one is enveloped in red velour and invited to rest on a fine vinyl loveseat. You cannot help but ogle the walls, and walls, and walls of collectible Jim Beam bottles, the likes of which you have never seen before. They are the life's work and collection of Gene Thorn, the owner. Even more mind-boggling than this display of fanciful figurine bottles is the fact that Thorn has two FULL bottles in his basement for every one that is displayed. Jim Beam began selling these special decanters filled with Kentucky Straight Bourbon in 1953, and Thorn's massive collection encompasses several decades worth: his ceramic figurines filling the backlit walls range from an upright bear to 1960s presidential candidates to a pair of red dice.

At this point, you might catch a passing déjà vu of the Golden Gate Casino off Las Vegas' Fremont Street, the old Cattleman's Bar in Flagstaff, or even that spot in New Orleans you can only find with the right amount of pluck, bourbon, and unsteady footsteps.

Thorn's sign. Photo by Ryan Glanzer. Thorn's old-school sign. Photo by Ryan Glanzer.

Thorn's has the feel of a place that went out of style so long ago, it is now firmly beyond décor, with the ambiance of heart and grit merrily diffused throughout its glowing walls. It is a place of solid food and fantastic people, where the potent White Russians are more dangerous than the bears in the alley. (Seriously, be careful around a dark alley's dumpsters in the fall. This is Alaska, after all.)

White Russians are the preferred cocktail at Thorn's. Photo by Ryan Glanzer. White Russians are the preferred cocktail at Thorn's. Photo by Ryan Glanzer.

It is a home of history and a (sometimes literal) port in the storm. There are stories of brave souls, caught by the not-infrequent fury of the north wind in winter, blinded by driving snow and yet discontent, unable to keep their elbows fixed upon just one bar's wooden slab. “Another bar! Another bar!” came the call. Rope was gathered, a knot was tied, and though they could not see across the road, boldly ventured into the storm. Upon reaching the other side, they rattled the doors of the local gift shop with great ambition. Not to be deterred, they eventually found the warmth of Thorn's next door, and from there the flow of inebriation continued.

Thorn's signature dish is a bucket of 'but: deep fried Halibut. Photo by Ryan Glanzer. Thorn's signature dish is a bucket of 'butt: deep fried Halibut, as well as Alaskan clams. Photo by Ryan Glanzer.

I can think of no other place I'd rather be when the wind is howling. Find me a spot at the bar, bathed in the light of a thousand gaudy bottles, with a large glass of gin that ducked the splash of tonic, and the night will go on from there. And on, and on, and on. Change can come for others, but let it leave this place as is. A place of kinship, community feasts, heroic cocktails, and the true spirit of Seward.

To Thorn's — may it watch the world spin for a thousand more.



Ryan Reynolds is a freelance writer who spends nine months of the year teaching science in Nashville, and the other three working in Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, AK.

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