For the first time in decades, Kotzebue will have a drinking establishment.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board unanimously approved the license for a city-owned bar and grill at its meeting in Fairbanks this week.
The city opened a liquor store almost four years ago after voters approved changes in its local option law, which also allows it to open bars.
Bob Beasely, the interim director for the ABC Board, believes Kotzebue has done a good job of managing the liquor store and seems ready to take the next step.
“I know they’ve done a lot of homework, the citizens and the city government there,” Beasely said. “They’ve looked into this deeply. They’re taking this one step at a time.”
For more than 50 years, many rural Alaskan communities have wrestled with how to deal with alcohol. Some have a back-and forth-between dry and wet. Others are damp, which means alcohol is legal but can’t be bought or sold and must be ordered from outside the community.
All too often, Beasely said, communities that outlaw liquor sales don’t get any of the benefits and all of the problems.
Beasely, who has worked as an investigator for the ABC, says he’s watched Kotzebue and believes the community’s new strategy has helped to reduce binge drinking. He’s impressed the city has its own commission to regulate alcohol, and said Kotzebue is a model to other communities looking to liberalize alcohol laws while maintaining better control of the problems it causes.
The city says the liquor store has raised millions in revenue and hopes its new drinking establishment, a combined restaurant and bar, will also be a moneymaker.
When it opens, possibly as early as November, it’ll be called the Kotzebue Bar and Grill and will be the northernmost drinking establishment in North America.