Thursday, May 8, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Board of Trade Saloon

If there is still a bastion of the American wild west, it is located at the historic Board of Trade saloon (BOT) in Nome, Alaska, "Headquarters of the Sin City of Nome." Siberia is only 164 miles away, so you can't get much further west.

It's easy to forget a night at the BOT, but not because the BOT is forgettable. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. What happens at the BOT is common knowledge across the Seward Peninsula the next day. The annual Iditarod dog-sled race essentially ends at its doors on Front Street, which is convenient for thirsty contestants after a long race, and their handlers too.

Not much has changed since I visited here in 1992, except maybe some of the endorsements, and the bar is now smoke free. The bay windows to the right fronted (or at least used to) a gift shop specializing in locally-carved walrus ivory or an oosik.
Inhibitions are often left at the door, and there were times I wished for Windex and a full body covering of cellophane. I have clear memories of some patrons wandering out onto Front Street in a stupor beneath the midnight sun. Summer's light made it easier to drive around the prostrate, unconscious bodies. But I mostly remember a motley, cross-cultural gathering of collegial people looking for a spot of company in a climate that encouraged neighborly individualism. Any visitor to Nome is a local attraction, but stay for any time and you'll be absorbed into the fabric, a familiar cheechako. I was never wanting for a dance partner at the BOT, of any age.

There are plenty of other things to do in Nome than drink, particularly if you are a birder or gold prospector, or look for adventure in the nearby Kigluaik Mountains. And inebriation isn't my idea of a good time, except for its opportunities for sociological commentary. But there is always the bingo hall upstairs, free food on bingo nights (but not the drinks) and the other eight saloons, and no visit to Nome is complete without a visit to its oldest saloon, established in 1900 at the height of the gold rush.