The bright, red barn-like building is hard to miss as you travel through downtown Homer. It’s in rough shape, but despite its age there’s just something about it that makes you wonder about its history. It’s that history that intrigued Dr. Todd Boling, even before he ever lived in Alaska.
“I’d heard about Alice’s long before I came to Alaska from Joe McGuinness’s book and it was talking about the story of the painting," says Boling. "I remember that from when I was in medical school when Alaska was just an idea.”
He moved to the Kenai peninsula in 1997 to do a surgical residency in Soldotna. In 2007, he and his wif Beth relocated to Homer. Like many people in town, he’d go to Alice’s for the unique atmosphere.
“The thing I like most about it is it’s authentic," says Boling. "I trained in St. Louis, where you go to a bar or a restaurant. The inside, the façade is sort of poured out of a can. And Alice’s – you have the real, authentic thing. It’s an Alaskan bar that’s been here for a very long time and you can’t pay for that. You can’t build that and have it be authentic.”
It was erected in 1946 as a café. It became a bar nine years later. Alice Cochrane, the Alice for whom it’s now named, bought it in 1968, when it was called the Club Bar. It’s been through a fire, the Great Alaskan Earthquake, and has changed hands many times. In 2004, the English Bay Corporation took it over. And now, it’s been sitting empty for quite some time.
“When I saw those construction equipment there, not knowing what they were doing, my heart kind of skipped a beat," says Matt North, co-owner with Boling. "[I was] thinking, oh no, I hope this isn’t a demolition crew because that would be heartbreaking, I think for the whole town.”
So, North and the Bolings decided to do something about it. The three of them each have other careers, but earlier this year, Boling says they decided it was time to do something different on the side.
“Matt and I were talking about a brew pub and we had that idea," says Boling. "We were looking at the buildings in town that were for sale and considering building something. Alice’s wasn’t on our radar because we always heard it’s not for sale- it’s going to be something else.”
A friend suggested they just call and give it a shot- see what the plans were for the iconic bar. It turned out to be for sale.
“And that changed our business plan because the brew pub idea went away and we got really excited about Alice’s because of all the history there and all the possibilities for that venue," says Boling "So, as soon as we heard about it, there was no doubt about what we would do.”
Boling says they’re not going to start with a brew pub, though North has tentative plans to start brewing his own root beer. The new owners really aren’t looking to change anything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“There was first dates and weddings and weddings and divorces and all sorts of things have happened there," says North. "I think the biggest thing is keeping that alive. Those places have that history built and it’s important in a community this size to keep building on that and to be proud of it. It’s been doing what it needs to do for a long time. It just has to keep doing that. It doesn’t have to be something new and hot. It’s just going to be Alice’s.”
Boling adds it would be ridiculous to change the name. So that’s staying the same, too. Other Alice’s traditions, like the football brunches, will start up again. So will the live music. North says it’s not about competing with other places in town.
There’s no word yet on if the infamous painting of ladies au natural will be back. Doubtful, as they want to keep it family-friendly. But they don’t want to forget its past, colorful though it may be.
“Back in the day, I mean we’ve heard all these great stories from people that have been here a long time, longer than us, about this painting that was on the outside of the building that was really controversial," says North. "Brad Hughes did this really nice piece and some people found it to be inappropriate. Other people really liked it and this is the stuff we want to see because I wasn’t here.”
They are looking for old photographs of the Palace to put up on the walls. They’d like people to be able to walk around and reminisce.
“You know you go to a lot of towns in the Midwest and they’re just renovated and strip mall-ville," says North. "It’s just gone. All that history is just gone. And as people pass, it dies with them. We need places to stay what they were.”
They are still ironing out the details, but they hope to open Alice’s doors once again sometime this fall.