A Whole New Carousel
By Sue Todd
From a recent conversation:
Me: Have you been to The Carousel?
Friend: No way! I’d never step foot in that scary bar.
Me: No, it’s different now. You’d like it.
Forget its history of being a rough bar with head banging rock music and fist fights. Owners Paul Berger and Linda Bucinsky Coffer reopened The Carousel in April 2018 with a vision to create a friendly neighborhood bar. What we have now feels like a living room, a game room, a community hall, a music venue, and a safe hangout, all wrapped into one.
Berger jokingly says, “There are two types of bars….the kind where you look at last night’s camera footing and see fighting or the kind where you see hugs. This is a hugging bar.”
Berger is a businessman, not a bar man. He has been known to take old buildings, turn them around and hold them while he waits for the right opportunity. He bought The Carousel a few years ago, and used the bar as his man cave while he pondered what to do with it. Several people came to him with ideas – a pool hall, a coffee shop, even a furniture store. However, changing the use of the building with the Municipality was no easy task and would be costly. It needed to be a bar. In a light bulb moment he called Coffer, who had previously managed The Carousel, to see if she was interested in reopening the bar. She enthusiastically jumped in with both feet. In the planning days, the Spenard community weighed in and asked them to keep the name, and the owners agreed. Berger laughed when he told me it was an easy decision, since the signs were already in place.
Their focus from the beginning was to be a positive addition to the Spenard community. Judging from the comfortable atmosphere and easy conversations I had with patrons, that is the case. Within minutes of entering the bar, the bartender helped me, and three patrons introduced themselves.
I asked another bar patron, Roy, what he liked about The Carousel. He told me, while he munched on free popcorn, that it was safe, close to home, has a good atmosphere, and he likes the music. He stops by a couple of times a week. No doubt, the other patrons would say the same.
The music program has grown organically. Coffer, who manages the bar and books the music, excitedly told me her plan for music was coming to fruition. At first, she started with live music on only one weekend night. Then she brought in karaoke on Thursdays. Gradually, she began to book music on Fridays and Saturdays.
In November, open mics began on Wednesdays. Now, Motown Fever has taken over Thursdays, and karaoke has moved to Tuesdays. The best news – there is never a cover. Never. Coffer has been open to musicians who come to her to pitch their acts. She gives them a venue, watches to see the crowd they draw and proceeds from there. Open-minded and fair, she is giving lesser-known bands an opportunity to shine.
At The Carousel, there truly is something for everyone. Bar patronage has a certain cycle throughout the day. It starts with the day-timers. These folks may never visit the bar in the evenings, but for them, The Carousel offers daytime viewing of The Price is Right Monday. What a clever idea for keeping the living room atmosphere alive.
To make sure everyone is fed and comfortable, food is provided for free. Most days it is fresh, hot soup. On Tuesdays, naturally, tacos are on the menu.
During warm months, the patio out back is open. Coffer told me the barbecue grill is available for those who want to bring steaks or burgers and have a cookout. Coin-op laundry is also available on premises, so you can complete your chores while you’re there. And let’s face it, laundry is much more fun if you’re lubricated.
The Carousel is spacious, and you can book the venue for events. A celebration of life, a graduation party, a holiday bash, or an anniversary, you name it. Bring your own food and use their kitchen or have The Carousel do it for you. Again, there is no charge.
Every day something is offered. On Sunday during the football season, there was free brunch. Soon it will be a karaoke contest. On Mondays, it’s pool. On Taco Tuesday, it’s darts plus Matt & Company. Open mic is on Wednesday with Jake and Logan hosting, as well as darts. Motown Fever with Tyson James and friends is on Thursday, and assorted live music is offered every Friday and Saturday. It is a virtual hub of activity.
Community is the theme at The Carousel. Building relationships with the patrons and providing a safe space is their goal. Coffer and Berger not only know their patrons, they care about them, and they encourage their staff to do the same.
The servers and bartenders are exceedingly friendly, helpful, and always on the lookout to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable. Patrons and staff alike will band together at the first sign of trouble to return The Carousel to its peaceful state. It is community at its best.
The bar sports three pool tables. A Dragon Punch 2 machine is available to relieve stress at $1 for two punches. Seating includes several high top bar tables and stools, standard sized tables with comfortable cushioned seats, and plenty of chairs at the large square bar.
There are four brightly lit dartboards. While there is no pay phone, there is a phone booth where you can make a cellphone call in relative quiet. The self-serve water station, endlessly refilled, ensures that you never have to wait at the bar for water. The spacious bathrooms are single occupancy and always clean.
Outside, the building is painted a rich charcoal color. Berger told me they plan to have a mural painted on the south side of the building. It is intended to add to the beauty and community spirit of Spenard. Community is truly what it’s all about. Next time you are in Anchorage, stop by The Carousel and let them make you feel at home.
The Carousel Lounge
Sun.-Thur., 10 a.m.-2:30a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-3 a.m.
3206 Spenard Rd, Anchorage
Facebook: @The Carousel Lounge
The Carousel never closes early, and there’s never a cover.