Another favorite gathering place—and the only restaurant in town opened year round back then—was Al’s Eskimo Cafe. There was a place called Brower’s Cafe, but it only opened in the summer for the tourists. It was tradition to go there at least once a season and eat a bowl of reindeer soup while listening to the tour guides’ latest spiels about Barrow.
Al’s Eskimo Cafe, owned and operated by Al Hopson Sr., was the really special place. It was the original highway greasy spoon translated into tundra ambiance. I wouldn’t have been surprised if, after downing one of those wonderful grease soaked burgers with fries—this was before they invented cholesterol, when you were still allowed to savor the flavor that fried fat brings to food—I went out to find Route 66 going by the front door.
Since Al had some real strong affection for the hospital staff, we were often treated to an extra special meal in the back room. Al would call Ose and ask if he knew any hungry doctors or nurses. Needless to say there were always lots of volunteers. We’d all troop over to Al’s back room where a feast fit for a king was laid before us. There’d be shrimp cocktail followed by shee fish, caribou and fresh salad, topped off with strawberry shortcake for dessert. Al’s wife cooked while Al supervised the proceedings. The whole time you ate, Al would sip from his coffee cup—which did not necessarily contain coffee—and we’d listen to a master storyteller weave his magic as he told tales of a time when life on the North Slope was both simpler and harsher.