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Historic Alice’s gets new life

Posted: July 23, 2014 - 1:56pm
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Todd and Beth Boling, left and center, and Matt North, right, pose in front of the Alice's Champagne Palace mirror on Monday. The Bolings and North have purchased the iconic Homer bar from the English Bay Corporation.  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Todd and Beth Boling, left and center, and Matt North, right, pose in front of the Alice's Champagne Palace mirror on Monday. The Bolings and North have purchased the iconic Homer bar from the English Bay Corporation.

You just can’t keep a good bar down.

Yeah, that was the story in 1976, when the Club Bar rose from the ashes after a fire destroyed it. That was the story in 2007, when after three years Alice’s Champagne Palace, its name since 1980, once again reopened. That was the story in 2009, when after a summer hiatus, it opened for the fall.

And now, that’s the story once more, as Dr. Todd Boling and his wife Beth and partner Matthew North have announced they have purchased Alice’s Champagne Palace from English Bay Corp., which has owned the bar since 2004. 

The Bolings are buying the liquor license and North and the Bolings are buying the building and property. Next door to the iconic bar on Pioneer Avenue, English Bay also owns a lot, an old building on it and the Heritage Hotel. Boling and North said they plan to open the bar as soon as they can get the liquor license transferred, probably in October or early November.

“We’re in no hurry. We’re going to open when we get it right,” North said.

The idea to buy Alice’s came about from some nostalgia the Bolings and North had about Alice’s closing.

“We were kind of sad to see it close, and then when this came up, it was too good to be true,” Boling said.

North, a financial adviser with Edward Jones, serves on the South Peninsula Hospital board of directors with Boling. The two would drive by Alice’s.

“I said, ‘I just really miss the heck out of that place.’ The conversations started,” North said.

Boling said his idea of buying Alice’s began when he thought of starting a brew pub. He looked at buildings with Angie Newby, owner of Homer Real Estate, and wondered if Alice’s would be for sale. Newby called Don Emmal, president of the English Bay Corp. board of directors.

“I told him I had a client who was a perfect fit,” she said of Boling. “A lot of the qualities that he would bring to the acquisition were things that were appealing to English Bay Corporation.”

“She did some sort of magic, because it just happened,” Boling said of Newby. “The deal as an investment made a lot of sense. The deal made sense from a real estate standpoint, just a community standpoint. I’m happy to see it happen.”

Alice’s traces its history back to 1946, when it was built next to the Heady Hotel, now called the Heritage Hotel. First run as a café, it became a bar in 1955. Alice Cochrane bought it in 1968, and then sold it to Billie Bedsworth. The Club Bar burned down Sept. 2, 1976, and reopened in its current structure on New Year’s Eve 1976.

Brad Hughes painted a mural of a phoenix flanked by two nude figures on the barn-like front. Unveiled for the New Year, the mural ignited one of Homer’s more memorable controversies when some citizens objected to the art. That lead to a rowdy community meeting, the largest ever for its time.Bedsworth agreed to have the nudes painted over.

Eventually, Cochrane reacquired the Club Bar, and named it Alice’s Champagne Palace. Dave and Trudy Ritchie bought Alice’s from her in 1998 and English Bay bought it in 2004.

Over the years, Alice’s became known for showcasing everything from local musicians to legends like Janis Ian and Michelle Shocked and international acts like South Africa’s Vusi Mahlasela. Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul even wrote a song about Alice’s, with such lines as “Raise a glass, tip the chalice, welcome to Alice’s Champagne Palace / the finest bar in the strip in Homer, Alaska” and “Everybody’s got a story here in Homer-town / I guess sometimes you gotta go to the end of the earth just to turn yourself around.”

North said he wants to keep that history and spirit alive.

“I want it to stay friendly. I think it’s important to be proud of things we have in Homer, history in Homer,” he said. “A big part of that building is its history.”

In asking people on Facebook what they like about Alice’s, Boling said he kept getting the same response.

“This is Homer’s living room. It’s a defacto community center,” he said. 

Before selling the bar, English Bay made some improvements, like fixing the drainage so the basement wouldn’t flood. A rickety old back porch was torn down, but will be replaced. New gravel was spread on the parking lot.

Boling has talked to some of the old crew, including manager Cindy Burns and bartender Daniel Norton, to see if they would be willing to come back. Beth Boling and North have some experience in restaurants and bars. Beth Boling came to Alaska 33 years ago at age 15 to work in sister Gerry Litzenberger’s Soldotna restaurant, the Four Seasons.

“She’s all for this project,” Boling said of his wife. “She reminds me of how much work this is. She’s not as starry eyed as Matt and I.”

North managed bars and restaurants while going to Valley City State University in his home town of Valley City, N.D.

“I kind of get how it goes,” he said. “You’ve got to watch your p’s and q’s. … Todd’s really good at figuring out the big stuff. I’m going to be the guy who figures out how it operates.”

The Bolings met in Soldotna, when in 1997 he came up to Alaska from Indiana to do a surgical residency. He’s had a practice as a general surgeon since 1999, first in Soldotna and in Homer since 2007. Beth Boling also works at his clinic, Peninsula Surgical Clinic. 

Boling was born and raised in Salem, Ind., where his family has been farming for generations. Boling bought a farm next to his father’s farm. At the Homer Street Faire, the Bolings sold maple syrup made on his Indiana farm. He also raises wine grapes there. 

Boling said he’s welcome to ideas about the bar. The brew pub will have to wait until the partners get Alice’s up and running. They also want to find any old photos of Alice’s. People can contact Boling at the clinic, 235-3225, or email North at mcnorth@hotmail.com.

Boling and North said they’re excited about buying and running Alice’s. 

“It’s the biggest project we’ve done,” Boling said. “We’re nervous but very, very excited. I think it’s going to be a great thing to open it.”

“It’s going to be kind of a cool road,” North said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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