Money Covers the Walls at Salty Dawg Saloon
July 28, 2021
When visiting Homer, Alaska, tourists often drive out to the Spit-an approximately 4.5 mile piece of land jutting out into Kachemak Bay-to stop at the Salty Dawg Saloon.
Once they arrive, some visitors order the saloon's signature cocktail made with grapefruit juice and gin or vodka served in a glass whose rim has been garnished with salt. Others add a dollar to the thousands tacked onto the walls and ceilings. In July 2021, the interior was furry with bills; almost every available space on the walls and ceilings was decorated with currency.
Legend claims that the tradition started when a patron stuck a dollar to the wall for his fisherman friend to buy a drink when he arrived to the harbor later in the evening. The tradition has continued but mostly with a twist. Now, the bills are frequently signed or imprinted with a message and then tacked up by visitors hoping to be remembered.
Bar staff remove most of the dollar bills each year in November. A bartender reported that they unpin $3,000-$4,000 every year but leave behind "the breeders." The "offspring" cash is taken to a local bank that turns the defaced bills into donation dollars. Some of the recipients who have benefitted from Salty Dawg patrons are Special Olympics, the Homer Hockey Association, Popeye Wrestling, and the Fishermen's Retirement Fund.
Owned since 1980 by John Warren and his family, the Salty Dawg has lived a lot of lives - first as a post office, then a railroad station, a grocery store, and a coal mining office. Its history dates back to 1897 when the first building was constructed. In 1957, another building was tacked onto it. After the March 1964 "Good Friday" earthquake, Earl Hillstrand, the late State Representative who had purchased the structure in 1960, moved it to its present location on the end of Homer Spit. The distinctive lighthouse tower, which was added to cover a water storage tank, also serves as a signal to potential patrons since it is lit when the saloon is open and dark when it is closed.
One of Homer's more historical and recognizable landmarks, the Salty Dawg Saloon has appeared on nationwide "best bars" lists and was featured on the Deadliest Catch, a reality television series that premiered on the Discovery Channel.