A life ring onboard the Matanuska in May 2021 (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The Alaska Marine Highway System has reopened bars on two state ferries this year.

The state ferry system in late May and early June started serving beer and wine on two ships, the Matanuska and Kennicott.

Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Sam Dapcevich said existing personnel are able to open the bars on those two ships for limited hours.

“And we’re serving like Alaskan Brewing Company beer in bottles and cans,” Dapcevich said. “We have some wines, seltzers. We’re also serving like popcorn, chips and pretzels and we’re working towards offering pre-packaged mixed drinks. And so far the response has been very positive. We’ve collected through our online survey system we’ve collected quite a few positive comments.”

The marine highway closed bars on its ships in 2015 as a cost saving measure, estimated to save the system three quarters of a million dollars a year at that time. But Dapcevich said this year ferry managers were looking for ways to improve the travel experience.

“I think the consensus from our AMHS team was yeah, if we can do it, let’s do it,” he said. “So we had some discussions with personnel and we also had some logistics that had to be worked out. As you know we’re already dealing with staffing shortages so we wanted to see how we could do it without having to hire specific bar tenders and we came up with a plan, everybody agreed to it and now it’s working and it seems to have been a good decision.”

The Matanuska offers service between Bellingham, Washington, Prince Rupert, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska this summer. The Kennicott has sailings from Bellingham to Kodiak. The service could expand to other ships operating this year.