Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Whistler - the Southside Diner

Dave Keen runs the Southside Diner in Whistler Creekside. 

We met him when Michelle and I decided to cycle the 8 or so kilometres south of the village to see what the old "Uli's Flipside" had turned into.

I felt a special affinity for Uli's for a couple of reasons: we share the same name ("Uli" is short for Ulrike or Ulrich) and they were famous for their BELTCH (bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, cheese and ham) sandwich. Michelle and I had had a wonderful BLAT at Behind The Grind and when I made a joke about the BELTCH, Alex our server told us, yep, we could still get one at the "new" place.

The "new" place ~ it turns out ~ has been there for at least eight years. Owner and manager Dave Keen told me the place got completely renovated within a year of its purchase, went bankrupt, and that's when he and his partner stepped in to bring the old locals feel back to the landmark building.

I looked around Southside and while the new layout certainly looked clean and jazzy, its booths and smart-ass signs ("this ain't Burger King") harkened back to the place's relaxed ski-bum vibe.

"Who hangs out here nowadays?" I asked Dave as he wiped down a counter. "Oh, the same crowd," I heard him say, "plus a few hookers from the construction sites nearby." Michelle and I had only just grabbed a table outside and this piece of gossip could not go un-investigated. I promptly invited Dave to join us at our table.

We ordered a couple of very reasonably-priced (for Whistler) breakfasts and Dave joined us shortly thereafter with a coffee mug and a to-do list. Originally from Port Coquitlam, B.C., Dave turned his bartending skills and ski habit inot a living when he moved to Whistler in the 1980's. The travel bug bit him hard so he left his job and sold his house in Whistler to backpack several continents for a couple of years. A call home tipped him off that the prime Uli's location ~ right in Creekside Whistler's original town site (the current site is built on the old dump) ~ was up for sale so Dave quit his trip and headed home.

The cafe occupies the ground floor of an old wooden building that provides Whistler with one of its three hostels. There have been some attempts to remove the building and rezone it to match Whistler's new aesthetic but, says Dave, "The only thing you could put here is a photo-mat ~ it's just too small for anything else."

Dave mentioned that he'd just come back from Burning Man in Nevada. he'd been bartending there for Camp Drag Pusher (I think he called it) where ~ in exchange for a cocktail ~ you were directed to visit a nearby tickle trunk and get into drag. Dave's a pretty burly-looking guy and it was hard imagining him in a skirt, but he pointed out that inhibitions do get a little loose around the Burning Man playa so it felt pretty natural after a while.

Over coffee refills we began waxing poetic about life, the universe and everything ~ especially the changes Whistler has been experiencing.

"You know," Dave said, "people say it's expensive to live here and ~ I'm the first to admit it ~ but look around..." We peer into the sunshine at the halo of mountains around us. The air is clean, the economy is booming, and we are drinking excellent coffee at a funky, locally-owned cafe. "...It's what you pay to be able to live and work in a place like this."

Dave's observations reminded me of his earlier "hooker" comment. "Um, Dave," I started, "I was kinda curious about those prostitutes you mentioned earlier." Dave looked at me blankly.

"You know," I probed, "When I asked you about your cafe's demographic, you said 'hookers from the construction sites.'"

He began to grin, then laugh. "Workers," he roared, "I said 'workers from the construction site' not 'hookers'!"

Sure enough, a couple of tables' worth of guys were filling up the patio. Darn, I thought as I packed up and readied the bike for a day ride down to Brandywine Falls. I guess the only dirt I'm going to get in Whistler is the gravel-road kind.

September 12, 2007
The Southside Diner, Whistler Creekside