For TNL: The Writer’s Block and the Spenardian Renaissance

Alaska, Print, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light.

In October of 2015, Vered Mares purchased Adults Only, a pornography shop in the Spenard area that had been in business for decades. Mares had the idea and business model of changing it into a bookstore with a full service cafe and art space. The current building, which is two trailers hooked together, will be demolished this May. After, she will begin construction on a new building twice the size of the current one.

“it’s sort of the last vestige of the Spenard old red lights district, you know, that’s what this place was back in the heyday. It was a pornography store, but I think it was also a whole lot more than that. What was once a fairly undesirable business in a neighborhood is being turned into something that can really be part of the neighborhood,” Mares said.


Spenard is known for its scandalous past as the place on the outskirts of tent city where people went to have a good time. From crack houses, rowdy bars and pornography shops, Spenard has rejuvenated itself in recent history to be known as a funky and engaging part of the Anchorage community. With the introduction of specialty shops, popular bars and restaurants the neighborhood is being transformed in a Spenardian Renaissance. Mares, her many business partners and volunteers have been working since fall of 2015 to transform what was once an element of Spenard’s less than desirable past, to something that will benefit and engage the entire community.

“This neighborhood has a history and whether we like it or not it’s part of Anchorage, it’s part of Spenard, it’s part of Alaska,” Mares said. “It wouldn’t have the same interesting and quirky flavor without that history.”

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The Spenard Renaissance is made possible by the creative people who live, work and play in the neighborhood. With boutiques, local bars and restaurants, and the introduction of Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe allowing a place for people in the community to come out and freely express themselves the neighborhood is changing from the inside out.

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“It’s easy to be excited with change. What’s really interesting is that the groups of artists that are engaging in these events are looking at the neighborhood on the whole as a place of creativity, as a conglomerate of creative resources. It’s easy to see what’s there. But it takes artists to see what’s more,” Sarah Davies, local artist and creator of the 100 Stones project, said

The idea for Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe came from Mares’ frustrations on what the community offered and didn’t offer.

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“When I first moved to Alaska, almost 10 years ago, what really irritated me was that I couldn’t get a really great cup of coffee after 8 p.m. There also weren’t any independent bookstores. These were the three things that sort of ruled my life up until they were gone,” Mares said.

The bookstore will have a full service kitchen and cafe, selling an eclectic mix of international dishes and comfort food. Mares hopes to incorporate dishes less commonly found in Anchorage while infusing foods from her Israeli and New Mexican heritage. The cafe will have a typical coffee menu as well as a sophisticated selection of coffee from around the world. The cafe will also hold a beer and wine license.

In addition to the cafe, the space will also allow a place for artists of all types to congregate and share their art. Whether it’s writing, sculpture, painting, photography or music, Writer’s Block will have a space to showcase local artists.

“We are trying to keep as much as our business as local as humanly possible, from where the food comes from to where the books come from to who we hire and how we engage in the community. Anchorage has an incredible creative community that I think is still untapped and is underrepresented,” Mares said.

With an emphasis on local artists, it is Writers Block Bookstore and Cafe’s number one priority to give preference to Alaskan authors. Mares wants to feature local writers in her bookstore, but will also provide a myriad of other literature. All books being sold will be new.

“Right now we don’t have an independent bookstore in Anchorage, there’s not really an avenue for new literature that’s not in a large corporate model that exists in Anchorage,” Mares said. “We want to engage with our local literary community first and foremost. We’ve got some amazing writers here and we want to be able to showcase them here. Some of your favorite writers might be down the street from you and you just never knew it. We want to support our local writers as much as possible.”

Before construction even begins the business is giving a place for artists to thrive. While Mares and her team are waiting for the construction to begin and the old building to be demolished, local artists were asked to occupy the building as an interactive community art piece.


Three events are taking place this month to allow the community to engage in the installation and the vision of “Transforming ADULTS ONLY,” as the series of events is being called. For three consecutive Fridays, starting April 15, the community is invited to participate in the events featuring local artists, food trucks, musicians and performers from around the city to pay homage to the past and get involved in the future of the neighborhood.

“These three events will be celebrating what Spenard once was and where it is going. As far as I know, this is really the last iconic reminder of Spenard’s past and it will be torn down in May for the Writer’s Block, a business that seems to better represent the residents and frequenters of Spenard these days, as many creative types choose this part of town for their homes and places to spend time…” Val Svancara, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator for the Transforming ADULTS ONLY events, said. “In fact, many of the artists working on this event are Spenard-based.”


Many have seen Mares efforts as gentrification of the neighborhood. Mares wants Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe to be a place for her neighborhood to enjoy and be a part of.

“It’s not about gentrification, this term gets brought up a lot when I’ve been talking to people. It’s not about gentrifying, I don’t want to change Spenard. I want to bring more of the fun, quirky, unique elements of Spenard and bring them into a central location. This is where I live too, I don’t live in another part of town or even outside of town I live half a block off of Spenard road.” Mares said.

Mares is currently raising money through a GoFundME account ( which has raised over $20,000. All of the proceeds of the GoFundME account will go towards construction and opening the doors of Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe. With certain awards offered for particular contributions patrons will receive more than just a good feeling for contributing to Mares efforts. From a cup of coffee to having a bar stool dedicated in your honor, those who donate will receive more than just a thank you.

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The series of Transforming ADULTS ONLY events will take place every Friday for the rest of April: April 15, 22, and 29 from 6-8 p.m. The events are free of charge and will provide local entertainment, lawn games, food trucks, a beer garden sponsored by Spenard Roadhouse and community involvement. The Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe plans on opening their doors this fall.

College Cookbook: Aphrodisiac Alaskana

Alaska, college cookbook, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light.

 It seems like the last thing college kids need is a list of foods that will make them horny. Aren’t our hormones rampant enough already? The desire for sex is evident across all cultures spanning over thousands of years; as has the desire to find the perfect potion to get anyone in the mood.

An aphrodisiac is considered to be any substance that’s consumed to increase libido. Popular aphrodisiacs you may have heard of before include oysters, dark chocolate and red wine. With little research on the effect of aphrodisiacs, most evidence is subjective. Whether it’s a placebo effect or the real deal, a delicious aphrodisiac inspired meal this Valentine’s Day is sure to please any date, in or out of the bedroom.

From the dangerously delicious to the down-right disgusting, aphrodisiacs vary and may even be counter-intuitive. Balut, the Filipino delicacy that is fertilized duck egg, is famous for its aphrodisiac qualities. In my travels to the Philippines, I tried Balut, and the only desire I had afterwards was to vomit. If you’re curious, or desperate, you can find Balut at the New Sagaya Midtown Market.

For an Alaskan themed Valentine’s dinner, focus on fresh seafood, especially oysters. Make your way over to the Bubbly Mermaid in downtown Anchorage where they have a monopoly on the best oysters and champagne in town, creating the perfect recipe for a romantic evening. Legend has it that Aphrodite arose from the sea in an oyster shell as the Goddess of love and fertility. Salmon is said to have aphrodisiac elements as well. For the adventurous eater, crushed up caribou antler and bear claw are sought out by the Far East as a powerful aphrodisiac. I do not recommend trying to get your hands on it, but the oosik bone — the baculum or penal bone of walruses, seals, sea lions and polar bears — is sold on the black market by Native Alaskan’s to buyers in Asia who prize the bone as an aphrodisiac, according to Jeremy Sacks, author of “Culture, Cash or Calories: Interpreting Alaska Native Subsistence Rights.”

Champagne and red wine is a Valentine’s Day classic, but don’t totally rule out the power of beer. Before beer was made with hops it was produced using gruit, a collection of herbs used to bitter and flavor beer. The use of gruit was left to the wayside when the puritan and protestant brewers wanted to phase out the, apparently, aphrodisiac qualities that gruit supposedly possess. Using hops grew in popularity and has been the norm in beer ever since. However, modern brewers are looking to this old fashioned way of making beer as a unique way of flavoring their ales. Breweries in Alaska, in fact, are venturing into the gruit world. Alaska Brewing Company’s Alaska Winter Ale, is made with a combination of gruit and hops, as is the Baranof Island Brewing Company’s Sitka Spruce Tip Ale. The aphrodisiac qualities of these specific beers are unknown, but it’s worth a shot.

Whether fact or fiction many of the above mentioned foods will make for a great dinner, snack or even conversation starter.

Inspired by a recipe I found on Pinterest, this recipe was posted on the food blog “With food+love” and was titled Pomegranate brownies with cacao nibs and sea salt. I decided to give it the college student spin and make it for myself. I used a box brownie mix and dark chocolate chips instead of cacao nibs and bought pomegranate seeds already harvested from the fruit, which made the process much simpler. I also opted out of the sea salt as I felt there was already so much going on with the brownie as is. Don’t forget to account for the ingredients needed as part of the box brownie mix. This usually includes one or two eggs and oil.

Red wine and dark chocolate brownies with pomegranates.


One box of brownie mix and ingredients that correspond with the mix (I used a dark chocolate brownie mix)

1 and 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips

1 cup of red wine (I used a red blend)

1 pomegranate or 1 package of pomegranate seeds


1. Spray the baking pan with cooking oil and preheat the oven to the temperature indicated on the box.

2. Prepare the brownie mix as indicated on the box.

3. Pour one cup of the chocolate chips into the brownie batter and stir them in until mixed well.

4. Pour the entire bowl of batter into the oiled baking pan until all the batter is evenly distributed into the bowl.

5. When the oven is preheated cook the brownies for the time indicated on the box.

6. Check the brownies periodically by putting a fork in the brownies and seeing if the fork comes out clean.

7. When the brownies are done immediately sprinkle the 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips over the brownies.

8. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the brownies.

9. Let brownies cool for about 15 minutes and serve to the one you love.

For TNL: Record revival: Music’s comeback kid

Alaska, News, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light.

In an age where virtually all music is in the palm of our hands, it’s hard to believe why anyone would opt for an outdated analog format of listening to music. Despite Apple music, Spotify, Tidal, good ol’ fashioned YouTube, and other music sharing software and apps the vinyl revival is well on its way into 2015 and is spearheaded by an unlikely generation – the millennials. Those late teen to thirty-something-year old’s are putting vinyl LP’s (long playing albums) back on the shelf in a neighborhood near you.

One half of all record purchases are by people 25 and younger according to research done by Music Watch. With over 13 million vinyl albums sold in 2014, this is the highest vinyl sales have been since 1989, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

In Anchorage, vinyl records are available in multiple locations; Title Wave, Barnes and Noble, and Anchorage’s newest record shop Obsession Records. Obsession Records opened its doors on Nov. 28, 2014. Verna Haynes runs the shop alongside her husband and son where they buy and sell vinyl records as well as electronics, turntables and speakers.

Nostalgia was the main proponent in Steve and Verna Haynes conception of Obsession records. Their collection grew as did their desire to share with the community their love of vinyl and music.

“Years ago, my sister dragged home a few boxes of records and we had this nostalgic moment and had so much fun looking through them. All of the sudden, it became this thing and he [Steve] just sort of took off with it. All of a sudden he’s out there and he’s chasing records and collecting, and then we had this huge collection. He wanted to be able to communicate with other people that like vinyl, that like music,” said Vema.

The shop has all walks of life come through the doors, but it’s the millennials that want to take vinyl to the next level, with better sound quality and modern music.

“I’ve got that 20-30 year old range and they got jobs and they can invest in the better turntable and better components, and they are at a point where they can take it a step further. They want better sound, that kind of thing, invest a little more money. They are serious about their vinyl, they want quality vinyl, they want it to sound good. Then you have people like me in their 50’s who are coming back to it.” said Vema.

Hannah Dorough, UAA English major with a love of vinyl, can thank her parents for introducing her to the record world. Dorough doesn’t think vinyl is coming back, but that it never left.

“I mean, I like it because vinyl is cool. And you get this awesome feeling when you listen to them. It’s like the musical equivalent to opening that old, dusty book, you know? It’s just cooler to have on vinyl and just feels good to listen to. Honestly, they never truly went out of style. Like the people who love vinyl still love it, still buy it. Even CD’s are rarely bought anymore, but the people who love them go out and buy them,” said Dorough.

Local musician Ian Wahl, age 21, grew up listening and playing music. Wahl appreciates the opportunity vinyl gives you to listen to the music as the artist intended, something Wahl believes is hard to come by.

“I think the appeal has a lot to to with the look and feel of vinyl. I also tend to only listen to older records so it kind of makes me feel closer to the artist that recorded the tracks because that is the way they heard their music and the music that inspired them. In this day you can go online and find almost any song ever recorded and released, but with vinyl you have to hunt through second hand stores and garage sales to find a certain artist or record which makes listening to it more rewarding. I also like having a whole record because I hear songs that I might otherwise not have on B sides of albums that weren’t remembered. When you go online and look for a certain song you find it and play it and you get the other top 40s hits from that artist and genre but you don’t hear the song in the context of what that artist was feeling and creating at that time.” said Wahl.

With a nostalgia transcending generations and a sense of pride, vinyl gives millennials a fascinating and traditional format of listening to music and expressing themselves. Whether you’re a 50-year-old whose always had a love for vinyl and never believed it went out of style, or a 22-year-old with a box of old records your grandparents gave you, vinyl is here to stay