Venerable bar goes for cool redo

Century-old watering hole looks to provide city with something new

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

Juneau residents who want to go "clubbing" in the style of young people in cities all over the United States have few options other than staging a private party or heading out of town to a larger city.

Jack Tripp, owner of the Viking Lounge Pulltabs and Billiards, set out last July to change that. He plans to open the Back Alley - the result of his vision - on the weekend of Feb. 21.

The Back Alley is in the area at the back of the Viking that once was the bar's kitchen. Instead of food, it now will provide music, a dance floor and a martini bar and lounge for patrons of the century-old establishment on Front Street.

The area is a dance/jazz club with a warehouse look and a metropolitan feel.

"We're trying to get a whole new segment of the population," Tripp said.

The area will serve as a dance club, complete with a disco ball, light shows and a disc jockey booth, on the weekends, and will convert to a jazz club during the week.

"I think there's a real need for jazz in this town," Tripp said.

Although he has no live artists scheduled yet for weekdays at the Back Alley, he envisions buying a baby grand piano and having live entertainment in the future.

The new area consists of a swanky bar that will serve more than 50 types of martinis, a martini lounge where people can sit and sip their drinks away from the dance floor, a D.J. booth that overlooks the dance floor, and a raised seating area that lines two walls. It has a capacity for about 95 people, Tripp said.

The dance floor will be dark gray with speckled black-light-sensitive paint, and the music will be spun on state-of-the-art stereo components, Tripp said.

"This is a real sophisticated room," he said.

The Viking's expansion coincides with that of the Imperial Saloon, another downtown establishment with an expanded seating capacity and a different feel.

The Imperial has changed its atmosphere to attract a different crowd in recent years, said Rob Daniels, who owns the bar with Tim Kirtley.

"It's been changed around quite a bit and pretty much one of the places to go on weekend nights," he said.

The owners converted an area adjacent to the bar into a seating area.

"Years and years ago it used to be a cafe/restaurant," Daniels said.

The front area of the bar served as a soda shop and restaurant, while the back half was a bar.

Work began last summer, when the front of the Imperial building was renovated and garage doors were installed as the front walls. The garage doors will be changed in the next year, though, because they do not fall under guidelines issued by the city for the downtown historic district.

"They just didn't build what they said they were going to build," Chris Roust, a city building official. "The plans that came in were approved and then the garage doors appeared, which were not on the plans."

The downtown historic district is the only historic district in Juneau with building design regulations, said Mark Jaqua, a city planner. The siding of a building, along with its windows and canopy, are important aspects of the historic district regulations.

"They wanted to put the garage door features on there, and we allowed it but only if they looked a certain way, that when they were down they'd look like the rest of the building," Jaqua said.

But Daniels said he received permission for the doors and was told he was out of compliance only after the doors had been installed.

"They approved initially, but then they looked at it and said, 'Well, this doesn't meet our historic standards,' " Daniels said.

Daniels has told the city he will put a new siding on the garage doors as soon as he has the money to do it. He anticipates having it done by the end of the year.

"It's a pretty big process," Daniels said. He is working with a window company to create a special laminate to put on the doors that will bring the doors into regulation - a process that may require him to dismantle the doors and ship them to the company.

The establishment also is required to put a canopy on the building's exterior. While renovating the exterior last summer, the former canopy was determined to be unstable. Daniels removed the old canopy, but does not have the funds to buy and install a new one, which may cost more than $25,000, he said.

Daniels and Kirtley began renovating the interior of the Imperial in early January, and did most of the work themselves. It opened to the public last weekend.

"People have been telling us that it feels like it's been here all along," Daniels said. "I think that's a nice compliment."

Decor in the remodeled area includes an antique milkshake blender the owners found in the bar's storage area, a framed menu he believes dates to the 1960s, framed reproductions of turn-of-the-century newspapers from Skagway and Dyea, trophies from the bar's billiard team and antique kegs. The area also features a new 60-inch television.

The area can seat 40 people and has a capacity of 75. In addition to easing congestion in the bar's entryway, the new area will serve as a space for wine and martini tastings, a quieter area when bands are playing, and a lounge for watching major sporting events.

The bars have attained permits for all of the renovations, although the Viking began construction before applying for its permit, Roust said.

Christine Schmid can be reached at

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