On the corner of Fourth Avenue and E Street, an alternative art venue is being cultivated. Upon entering Bitoz Cafe”s snug, colorful lobby, it is clear that you are not in some cookie cutter downtown cafe.
Although the menu is stacked with tempting pizzas, calzones, soups, salads and sandwiches, it is not the food that is the primary attraction of this eclectic eatery. Customers are drawn to Bitoz because of its alternative atmosphere and artistic opportunities.
Bitoz Cafe and Pizzeria started out as a coffee cart on Spenard Road, owned by Albert Sakata and Philip Stephens. The name Bitoz is a spin-off of Sakata”s nickname, Albito.
E’Bitoz is a place where local artist go. EIt”s where people in this town who enjoy art go to see art,’ Stephens said.
In October of last year, the owners stumbled upon what Stephens jokingly calls a ‘choice location’ in downtown Anchorage, surrounded by souvenir shops with minimal parking.
In less than a year of being in its new location, Bitoz has morphed into a creative arts center. Since the construction of its upstairs stage in May, open mic nights, hip-hop battles, visual art displays and music shows have become a part of the weekly schedule.
Bitoz customers have showed investment in the continuation of these performances by the donation of lighting and sound equipment, which make it easier for more musicians to play.
‘There are not too many places in town that openly welcome new artists, especially ones with a punk sound,’ said Lyddall Bugg, an alternative music fan. ‘Bitoz is a big break for bands and fans.’
The musical events are usually made up of punk, metal and hard rock bands. The majority of booked acts are Alaskan artists. Depending on where the bands are from and how well known they are around Anchorage, cover charges average around $5. E
While opportunities to play at Bitoz can be competitive, Stephens stresses the bands responsibility in landing a gig.
‘We”d love to have you but we aren”t going to call you,’ Stephens said.
New artists have an advantage though. Stephens likes to give new artists a shot at showcasing. Bitoz is a place to find new artists looking to bust into the Anchorage scene as well as seasoned local and guest artists.
Sunday night open mics tend to attract more eclectic crowds. Poets, acoustic acts and even comedians come out for performance experience and pleasure.
‘Spots like Bitoz are rare in Anchorage,’ said Nora Smithhisler, bassist for punk band Citizen Erased. ‘It”s a great place to get a start and get your name out.’
After performing at an open mic night, Smithhisler”s band has been able to play in several shows at Bitoz.
One of the biggest challenges of attracting crowds to the shows is that most of the Bitoz promoting happens by word of mouth. Employee Sef Dionne said that word of mouth will become a thing of the past with an increased advertising effort by the staff. E
Another change for Bitoz will come around mid-September when they start serving beer and wine.EFor the time being, shows will remain dry so as not to deter younger fans and bands from coming out. E
You can catch open mic night on Sundays, chess on Mondays and hip-hop battles on Tuesdays. For more information about regularly scheduled events and upcoming multi-band shows call 646-1242.
Bitoz Cafe and Pizzeria is located at 513 Fourth Ave.