The Sportsman offers Whittier charm
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Hidden away down Whittier’s Depot Road is a bar called The Sportsman Inn. Nobody uses the last word of its name, and no signage announces the bar’s location. It’s tricky to find because the building is nondescript, and nothing from the exterior indicates the drinking establishment resides within. A small, thin, red-lettered neon sign says ‘open,’ and on a gorgeous sunny July afternoon, the main doors were propped wide to invite people in.
After walking up the brown-stained wooden steps to the second floor, the first thing one sees it a big silver barbecue across from the doors. Since The Sportsman doesn’t serve food, guests are allowed to bring their own for grilling. Take-out from other establishments is welcome too.
Once inside, there is a spacious enclosure featuring different sections for people to sit and recreate. Cynthia Monrean has been the manager for eight years, yet she calls herself the party coordinator. She greets me warmly as I choose a stool at the bar. Then she shows me how she introduces herself to first time customers. She creates a friendly atmosphere by asking what brings them to Whittier because people are visiting for a variety of reasons.
“People are here because they know we’re here,” Monrean said. “This is what I call the locals and seasonal locals bar. We’re kind of way out of the way, and if you don’t know it’s here, it’s not quite so easy to find. There’s not a map or any sign saying ‘right here.’”
During the course of our conversation, she explains to me the niche The Sportsman fills in Whittier. People work there every summer for cruise outfits, fishermen, tendermen, dock crews for fish companies, people on the ferry from Cordova, weekend boaters and random visitors. The Sportsman is a venue for locals wishing to avoid heavy tourist traffic.
It is the atmosphere that Monrean has helped create that entices visitors to return for more. She has made it a point to have a variety of games and complex puzzles around to keep customers amused. She tried a couple out on me, and I failed miserably at solving them.
“I enjoy getting things together so people can have a really good time. It’s not so much about the drinking as it is just coming in and relaxing and having a good time, having a place to come and hang out with each other. Sometimes people come in and don’t have a drink. They want to play pool, and they’re welcome.”
The Sportsman has three pool tables, free darts, and free shuffleboard. A piano is available for anyone to play available for anyone to play, as is her acoustic guitar, which she is willing to lend. There is the occasional, unadvertised potluck.
The game room is a separate area from the main bar. Monrean said people typically go back there for a quieter space and once a week to play Dungeons and Dragons. There are two large windows nearly side by side overlooking Passage Canal, the barge dock, the ferry dock and the mountains across the way. Once in a while a whale is seen.
Just because The Sportsman may take a little effort to find, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit the next time you’re in Whittier. Just don’t be deceived by the old, faded sign for a long defunct Chinese restaurant and expect to eat. Every once in a while the sign lures people in who have the expectation of food, not drink.
Monrean said, “My favorite are the people that are walking around and they see the completely weather beaten sign that says Chinese food upstairs. They come up the stairs and say, ‘We want some Chinese food.’ I tell them it’s my ploy to get them in here to drink and play pool. There has not been a Chinese food restaurant here for quite some time.”
Once you’ve been to The Sportsman, it’s hard to forget how easy it is to get to.
101 Depot Road
Open 3 p.m. to closing, May to September
On Saturday July 30, The Sportsman’s house band Captain, Cook & Crew will be playing.