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The Only Restaurant in Kotzebue, Alaska

Okay, so there's another restaurant in the hotel, but the restaurant above is the only independent restaurant. Its unique atmosphere is hard to miss; in here, it was easy to forget we were visiting in the year 2000. The outdated decor is a consequence of Kotzebue's geographic location. There are no trees in or around Kotzebue larger than scrub, none of which is construction-grade. Permafrost prevents constructing gravel quarries. There are no roads or railroads connecting Kotzebue with the industrial or commercial infrastructure of south-central Alaska. Kotzebue is reachable only by sea or air, and when the sea is frozen for five months every winter, the sea route is replaced by tractor and dogsled trails when the swampy tundra and inlets around Kotzebue freeze solid.

Kotzebue's remoteness translates to high freight costs. Want to buy a car? Add nearly US$2,000 to the price tag. Concrete and lumber can be five times more expensive here than in the lower 48, but there's an additional construction challenge in Kotzebue, which we'll get to shortly.

So the 1960s-1970s decor in Kotzebue's diner should come as no surprise. Because of a time-sensitive tourist industry and the high costs of energy and food, the stir-fry chicken and vegetables with hot and sour or egg-drop soup dinner will cost you nearly $10, plus $2 for (instant) coffee or $2.50 for a soda. Contemporary furnishings would needlessly increase the restaurant's overhead. It's expensive enough just getting to Alaska from the lower 48, or anywhere, for that matter, so trust me on this one - outdated interior design is no big deal, and even a welcome sight in some places! If you have discriminating tastes and insist on fine dining in your travels, take a cruise ship when traveling to Alaska and don't go inland.

Pssst... the "EXIT" sign in the extreme upper right-hand corner isn't lit - don't tell the fire marshal.

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