For decades, the ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway System have been home to some of the most gloriously quirky bars in the 49th state. As the ferries, 11 of them now, make their runs along Alaska’s south central coast, the Aleutian Islands and the Inside Passage of southeast Alaska and British Columbia, they collect all manner of passengers, from fishermen, oil workers, military personnel and adventure travelers to big fans of the ferries’ communal watering holes. The bars came with names like the Pitch & Roll aboard Motor Vessel Tustumena, and some had deliciously divey décor, as on Motor Vessel Columbia: shiny lamé wallpaper, gold Naugahyde booths and dimmer bulbs across the ceiling.
But the bars are no more. In April, faced with a $3.5 billion budget deficit due to falling oil revenue, state officials shuttered the last of the bars on the six ferries that had them.
During summer’s high travel season, travelers wanting to wet their whistles on long journeys (some as long as four days) have had to make do by brown-bagging it in their staterooms – a luxury not enjoyed by the many ferry passengers who sleep in tents, deck chairs or observation lounge seats to save money.