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Telling Alaska’s Story: The history behind the Salty Dawg Saloon

Telling Alaska’s Story: The history behind the Salty Dawg Saloon
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 7:51 PM AKDT
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HOMER, Alaska (KTUU) - The Salty Dawg Saloon is a well-known landmark on the Homer Spit and one of the first cabins built in 1897. It looks like your typical Alaskan cabin on the outside, but inside is where the real story begins.

“Shabby, nautical chic. I don’t know exactly what you would call it,” Salty Dawg Saloon Manager Jean Murphy said.

Walking into the small, quaint Alaskan bar is like taking a step back in time. Pictures, trinkets, signed money and more are all part of what make it unique, but it didn’t always look like it does today.

“There are periods where it’s just blank walls, and then there’s periods where the life rings went up and then for years I think there were more business cards and stuff on the walls,” Murphy said.

Murphy now manages the bar, but before that she was a bartender. Her story started like many — after visiting for a summer almost 30 years ago, she never left.

“I think about all the characters that have passed in and out of here over the years. That’s what I think about when I hear the Salty Dawg Saloon,” Murphy said.

A lot of the bar’s history starts in a binder that sits in the saloon. Old photos document its expansion over the years, even withstanding the elements of time including the 1964 earthquake.

“They almost lost the building, but then they drug it here and then started to add the other buildings to it,” Murphy said.

She said it’s important for not just locals, but tourists to know the bar’s history.

“They just know Salty Dawg so they have these like expectations. They don’t, you know, so to show them that this place does have real history, this is not a contrived thing. This has grown and developed over decades,” Murphy said.

Murphy said people started getting away from putting up business cards and then started pinning up dollars.

“Everybody wants to make their mark and so now they’re able to,” Murphy said.

We asked how much money she thinks is pinned up in the bar.

“If I had to guess, I don’t know $50-60,000 maybe, I don’t know,” Murphy said.

Every square inch of the saloon tells a story and holds a bit of history. Writings on the bar’s table tops and walls, messages on money, old art, artifacts and decades-old donations are what make the Salty Dawg a staple, not just for tourists, but for everyone.

“We build relationships with people over you know, over a number of years,” said Murphy.

“Nobody planned this out. Nobody said, you know, I think it’s a good idea if we just put a bunch of dollar bills and some bras and you know, there’s so much crazy stuff in the air. I don’t think you can ever stop seeing something new, " she said.

This year, the Salty Dawg Saloon celebrates its 65th anniversary.

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