A&W Drive-In Memories

by Michael R Dougherty

“Our lunchtime destination was A&W Drive-In, where we always ordered the same thing. A bold tasting barbecue sandwich, warm french fries and a cold, smooth A&W Root Beer.”


Do you remember Anchorage's first A&W Drive-In?

It all began in 1951.

My dad, Ray Dougherty, was a heavy equipment operator. He cleared some land off Mountain View Drive, not far from Merrill Field. The area he cleared became a significant place in Anchorage history.

That same year, Leon and Lois Brown and Burt Johnson built Anchorage's first A&W Drive-In on the land my father had cleared.

it featured two drive-in windows where you could order your choice of burgers, a barbecue sandwich, fries and that delicious A&W Root Beer.

Mary of Anchorage Memories recounts her A&W Drive-In memories -

“We all bolted for the classroom door. Lunchtime had finally come. I was a sophomore at East Anchorage High School in 1968. My older brother Norman, who was a senior, was waiting for me in the school parking lot in a 1968 Camaro.

Our lunchtime destination was A&W Drive-In, where we always ordered the same thing. A bold tasting barbecue sandwich, warm french fries and a cold, smooth A&W Root Beer.

A&W was always a family favorite for lunch or dinner. Our family would meet with friends at the drive-in where we would hop from car-to-car, listen to music on the radio, and watch the lions as we ate.

Later, my future husband Mike and I would go to A&W on dates. After we were married and had our children, Nikki and Chris, we would take them to A&W for lunch. They especially loved the Root Beer and watching the lions.”

As you have just read, like many who either have or still call Anchorage home, the first A&W Drive-In restaurant in Anchorage, holds countless fond memories.

Leon Brown and his partner Burt Johnson also built B&J Surplus, which was next door to the drive-in.

Then in the late 1950s, Brown and Johnson decided to split up. And with the toss of a coin, Burt Johnson took B&J Surplus and Leon Brown took the A&W Drive-In.

!n 1959, Leon Brown started a salvage business that became Brown's Electric.

But there was something else at the A&W Drive-In that became an Anchorage legend.

Their names were Timbo and Princess, and they were lions. What were lions doing in Anchorage, Alaska? Well, visitors to the A&W Drive-In could order their tasty treats, then park their car in front of the viewing trailer that housed the big cats. You could just sit there and marvel at these remarkable wonders of nature as you nibbled on your french fries.

After many years of being a part of the A&W Drive-In experience, the two lions, Timbo and Princes, passed away. They were then mounted and put on display in Brown's Electric. Later, they were put on display at the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature. As of this writing, the lions are no longer on display.

Back when my dad was clearing the land just off Mountain View Drive, he had no idea that he was preparing the site for a business that would become a fondly remembered piece of Anchorage history.

What are your A&W Drive-In memories?

By the way, Leon Brown's brother, George Brown, owned another Anchorage icon, the one and only Lucky Wishbone.

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I Worked at A&W
by: Cheryl Hartley

I worked at A&W in 1972 when my then-husband was stationed at Elmendorf.

Terry was the manager and Susie and Dee worked there, too.

Loved the lions and dearly loved Mr. and Mrs. Brown.

Wonderful friends and good times.

A & W Memories
by: Anonymous

Loved reading these memories posted by others.

I, too, loved the A & W.

Loved their grilled tuna fish sandwich, curly fries and root beer.

I went to school with Chip Brown and Bruce Johnson. My Dad was Jerry Boyle, he had Boyle Roofing. Some may remember our store, Jerry’s Worldwide on N.L. next to B&J Surplus, before C Street went through.

A&W French Fries
by: Dallas

The French fries were like no other.

Loved them.

They were mashed potatoes pressed into fries.

An Anchorage icon.

Thanks for the Memories!
by: Anonymous

I will never forget this iconic place.

I arrived in Anchorage in 1979.

My new wife and I would go there (A&W in Mountain View) and eat and enjoy the lions. So many memories.

The post I read compelled me to respond and brought back so many memories.

Thank You

Fond Memories of Big Kitties and Mashed Potato Fries
by: Richard Scott

I remember the drive in well.

I, like almost everyone here, misses those mash potato fries. They were the best.

I always remember the lions.

A story that most don’t know was that hunters used to donate Portions of their kills to feed the kitties.

My father Walter Scott, Bob and Bruce Yanny and others did such.

I appreciated the lions being there but felt a bit sad that they were in the modified boxcar with so little room. Other than the anchorage zoo where else would you see such majesty up so close.

Lions at Night
by: Anonymous

I grew up in Mt View and loved A & W.

I would ride my bike over there every time I got a few cents and drink an ice-cold root beer.

But what I really loved were the cats.

At one time I lived on Richmond Avenue and in the summer, when my bedroom window was open, I could hear the cats roaring!

It was a wonderful sound to go to sleep with.

Brown's and A&W
by: Anonymous

I worked there for 3 years.

Loved the mashed potato fries. Always wondered what they did to the fry machine after they closed.

$1 dollar gallon of root beer if you had your own jug.

The burger patties were pressed fresh every morning, and the soft serve ice cream was the best.

I made $108 a week, every Thursday. Then McDonald's opened across the street.

If I remember right, Terri was the manager and worked there for almost 30 years.

Great place to work.

Sunday Drive
by: Anonymous

We used to go there mostly on Sunday for our family drives.

Loved the French fries still miss them, wish they would make them again.

Wonderful memories with my mother and father and my 4 siblings.

A&W Memories
by: Bill Stock

I also was a sophomore at East High in 1968.

About 3 times a week we would zoom to A&W for lunch!

Batter Fries
by: 68 West High grad

Graduated from West in 68.

It did not matter if it was a dance at the teen club on Elmendorf or a dance at AMU we would hit the A and W for the killer batter fries. Yum yum.

Everyone went there. We could keep up on who was dating who when you saw them in line.

A&W lions
by: Anonymous

I played with the A&W lions when they were cubs.

I Worked at A&W and Brown's Electric
by: Marie Allred (Tuck)

I actually worked at Browns A&W.

I loved working and eating there.

The fries were mashed potato fried fries, the root beer and root beer floats were the best and the hot fudge sundaes were to die for.

Loved that experience.

The Origin of Princess the Lion
by: Jerry Wertzbaugher

The origin of Princes.

Princes the lion was originally owned by '50s actress/bombshell Jane Mansfield. (mother of Law & Order actress Marisa Hargitay.

Anchorage businessman Bill Shirley met Jane on a trip to Los Vegas promoting his subscription Sportsman's Lodge, Russian River Rendezvous, an old roadhouse on Lower Russian River near the Falls (the old roadhouse burned down in a forest fire in the mid '60s).

Jane and her husband Mickey Hargitay gave Bill & Betty Shirley a lion cub named Princes.

Princes as a cub lived at the remote Russian River lodge the summer of 1959.

As Princess grew up she became unmanageable for Bill & Betty. They gave her to the Browns when they moved back to California in the early '60s.

The A&W Fries!
by: Mike Garner

We went to Brown's weekly, if not more often, throughout my high school years and up until they closed for good.

They had the best fries ever!

Yes, they were a processed mashed potato product, but they were the best.

The Burgers were inexpensive, and you had a front row seat to the Lions to boot.

Many a cheap date we would wind up there because of money, and the biggest reason because we liked it.

Thanks for posting this memory. Oh, to be able to have those fries again.

The Big Cat
by: Dominic Mauricio

I've the same wonderful memories of the A&W.

But this story was told to me from my friend Bones at Brown's Electric.

As the story goes, one of the lion was on display (not sure which one) at the front of the electrical supply house and Bones was at the counter when in walked a customer and his dog.

The dog was friendly and like most dogs he was just happy to be included in his owner adventure. after he concluded his business, the dogs' owner turned around to leave and the poor pooch saw the Big Cat at the door.

Needless to say the dog was not going out that door or anywhere near that door.

Bones told me that they had to lead the poor dog out the back door and everyone had a good laugh... well except the dog.

Awesome Owners and Great Burgers
by: Chris Kosinski

When my Mom and Dad went on a once in a lifetime trip to Europe, Mrs. Brown watched over us great kids during their trip.

Mr. Brown brought the lions over to the house during a weekend. We were so excited along with all the other kids in the neighborhood.

Great people

A Couple of Many Memories of A&W Drive-In
by: LeRoy Strong

In 1950 to 1952, my family lived right off MT.View Drive on North Bragaw.

One day my Sis and I walked down Mt. View Dr. and visited with a nice fellow that was building A&W Drive-In.

He was using wooden boxes he had obtained from the Mt. View auto shop that contained dummy blue Military bombs and was stacking them for walls.

He even gave my Sis one that she turned into a standup ashtray.

Years later working for the City of Anchorage, I drove the truck picking up their garbage. One day I was contacted and told that the paper cup A&W was using to keep money in had gotten thrown into the garbage by mistake.

We met the A&W Manager at the City dump and helped him look for it. We found it and all ended well.

Always enjoyed stopping there.

Growing Up in Mountain View
by: William Glenn Reynolds

I remember growing up and having pizza from Uncle's.
And sitting down behind the Fireweed Drive-In before Cal Worthington Ford was there.

I had birthdays there every year. It was awesome.

We lived in the Martin Arms apartments, and on Sundays we would usually go have breakfast at Peggy's Airport Cafe on 5th or go to the 10-4 Cafe in Mt View.

I have a lot of memories from growing up in Anchorage between Spenard and Mt View.

I lived in Alaska from 1969 to 2001.

I Remember A&W
by: Donna Barrett Millwood

If I recall the cheeseburger, fries and small root beer was $1.05.

I also heard that the fries were mashed potatoes with a batter and deep-fried. They were amazing.

A&W - The Fries
by: Dominic Mauricio

The fries were like no other.

I'd love to have just one more order. A burger and of course a root beer float.

Thanks for the memories.

I Remember A&W Drive-In
by: Marci Peterson

My husband and I went to the A&W often for a quick and delicious meal.

I remember parking in front of the trailer to look at the lions on display.

We quit parking after ordering our meal because it made me uncomfortable to see such magnificent animals so confined.

A&W Drive-In
by: Keo

I lived in Mt. View so visited this A&W often.

Fond memories.

A & W Drive-In
by: Dennis

In the late 50s and 60s the A&W was the favorite place for my buddy's and I to grab a burger.

As I recall back then they were 50 cents.

For a young teenager trying to keep some gas in his car, a 50 cent burger was just the ticket.

Our dates enjoyed eating there as well, or at least they seemed to. We were all on a very tight budget back then. I guess they weren't very picky.

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