The best seat in the house
You are what you eat... and where you sit, too.
By Chris Woodall
"Your usual table, sir?" suggests the ever-sharp maitre d'. He claps quietly to summon a server to guide you to that special place that is to be all yours within the rarefied confines of "Café d'Etoille."
Heads turn. Whispers whisp.
Are you perhaps a mega corporate hoo-ha? That certain famous musician? Maybe you are being pegged as that terribly outrageous author seen on TV just the other night.
You simply must be someone, dahling, because after all you are being placed at the best seat in the house.
Where you sit in a restaurant — or, as we will later explore, in a night club — can be as important for a lot of subtle reasons as choosing the right wine with the right entrée.
It is a powerplay with roots in the oceans of time whose tides have touched the shores of many cultures.
Just think of the whole deal about "sitting below the salt" in medieval times.
The king sits in the big chair at one end of the hall with the then-pricey salt shaker within royal reach. Sitting closest to the action, within fart-catching proximity to his kingness, say, declared your importance in the feudal scheme of things.
Think of big league sports. The best seats in the house are also the ones closest to the action, or were until team owners hoodwinked corporations with too much money that the best seats were a whole box of fancy seats at the farthest distance from the action. Go figger.
In a sense, restaurant seating is a little like that of professional sports venues. The worst place you can be seated is next to the action: a table for two beside the entrance/exit to the kitchen.
As for the best place? Well, let's take a stroll around Whistler's high-end beanery scene.
In Araxi Restaurant & Bar that would be table 31, says manager Darren Gourlay. We agree. The table is against the windows in something of an alcove at that point where the restaurant juts into Village Square. Perched there, you and your squeeze can surreptitiously note how the hoi polloi wandering by are ogling you in your comfort.
Inside, the rest of the Araxi diners can peer your way and go green as guacamole knowing you have a fine command of the room without having to wriggle around much to take it all in, including observing incomers and outgoers at the entrance.
Passing wait staff are easy to signal, too.
Of course, secrecy is sometimes a priority, so Gourlay would probably park you at table 85 — found at the opposite end of the restaurant from the alcove table — surrounded as it is by three walls of wine bottles.
Where Gourlay and I part ways, however, is at his suggestion that table 56 is a fine spot, too.
Gourlay claims it has a view of walkway passers-by and perhaps of Blackcomb Mountain.
The problem is that table 56 is beside a glass door secondary exit. Imagine: your partner and you are midway into the evening and are diving triple somersaults of love into the depths of each other's eyes when some boob grabs onto the door handle, somehow thinking it's an entrance to Araxi, and starts yanking it like it's the last door in a movie theatre engulfed in flames.
Spell broken. Lust curtailed.
But here's something: Gourlay maintains that it is the lady of the pair who picks the seating arrangement.
"She normally tells the husband where to sit," so she can compare style codes and societal pecking orders of fellow diners, Gourlay says.
Our favourite "best seat" is at Umberto's Trattoria. Appropriately numbered "table 1," it, too, is in something like an alcove.
But it is an alcove where there is table 1 and no others. From there you rule the room. All eyes must turn to you at least once to see if you are worth a second look... and you can see them all looking.
If you are lucky enough to be served by the intelligent and talented Angela McKerral, then so much the better.
Table 1 is round and large enough to seat six if need be, but you know someone must be paying attention in this great world when the Tratt lets just the two of you lay claim to it.
And they will... if you deserve it.
"It's the most commonly sought after table in the restaurant," confirms server Michelle Moffitt.
A restaurant's regulars are prized possessions likely to demand certain seating arrangements and Umberto's Trattoria is no different. There's one patron of note, says Moffitt, who can have anytime he wishes a seat by the bar overlooking the hot and furious staff of kitchen dancers.
Speaking of regulars with peculiar habits, the Edgewater's chef is pals with movie legend Tony Curtis. Co-innkeeper Lotte Hobart says he comes here every two years or so to soak up the magnificent view of Green Lake and the several mighty peaks surrounding the Wedgemont beyond, while mere mortals soak up the magnificent view of Tony Curtis and the several mighty peaked hairdos of his surrounding entourage.
The Edgewater's best seat? The whole east side and its windowed scenics are nice, but get the staff to reserve the south-east corner. You can be seen, see the room in return, and you won't have to move too many muscles to connect with the alpenglow pinking the far horizons.
While Hobart is another advocate of the "lady picks the seats" theory of fine dining, back in the village you have general manager Richard Baker of Hy's Steakhouse promoting a different line.
"I think the men are determining who sits where," Baker says.
It is, after all, a steak house with all the machismo that that food item stereotypically has branded on its Grade-A cachet.
Hy's is a territorial kind of place.
"In this restaurant, the gents are squiring the ladies around town," Baker says. If it's not the missus, Buddy may be concluding a bidnizz powerplay of the highest order that started on the slopes earlier that day.
The best seat for either stratagem is a horseshoe-shaped booth in the middle of the room, Baker says. "You can watch whatever's going on, it's romantic, comfortable, and yet you get a good deal of privacy even being in the middle of the room."
Hy's also has a fireplace. Let Baker place you in the horseshoe booth, but if you follow my advice, you'll reserve the table by the fireplace. Not to the side of the fireplace, mind you, but in front. Let the lesser lights settle for the sidelines. You want centre stage. Let the flames in the hearth make you a fuel for love.
Another hot spot for fireplace action is at the venerable RimRock Café down Creekside way. Once again, get the main stage. A little seafood, a stylin' bottle of wine, Drambuie and coffee to finish and the room of green-eyed wannabees will rise as one in reverence.
You and your partner are, for tonight, the gods of fine dining.
Back in the main village, the Bear Foot Bistro is rapidly concluding its development of what will be its future Best Seat.
A nice enough place before, like many restaurants it really didn't have that one worthy spot claiming "best seat in the house" status.
If what Bear Foot impresario André St. Jacques has in mind comes off, he'll have competing "best seats."
"We're doing a big renovation that will create a cellar with a spiral staircase leading down to it from the middle of the main room," St. Jacques says.
That cellar will house the restaurant's main wine stocks and have about 20 seats. Imagine candlelight sparking off classic wines red and supple wines white. Imagine the cosiness. Imagine the stares from the room as you step elegantly yet confidently down to your private cavern. Would you like to join us? You wish!
But where cigar chompers once held forth in their own room at the Bear Foot Bistro, haute brandies in hand, St. Jacques has jumped ahead of the impending January smoking ban to make over the room to a "chef's table" venue.
Open to the kitchen, the chef's table allows participants to put the chef through his creative paces, or rather, let the chef challenge gourmands with an always-novel menu based on what is on hand at that moment.
"It's definitely for people prepared for surprises from the chef," St. Jacques explains. "It's quite popular in Europe."
The chef's table can be divided to accommodate two or three small groups at once, while the cellar will be the site of "very special menus," St. Jacques says. We're not talkin' beans and wieners, you can bet.
We have only to wait a little longer for the chef's table concept. The Bear Foot is scheduled to re-open Dec. 10. The cellar will be actively housing its cache of wines, but St. Jacques says it will be sometime in January before the sounds of gnashing knives and forks will emanate from those depths.
"I'm pretty excited about this, it's been in the works since the summer," Whistler's most avant restaurateur says.
Also keen is one of the Bear Foot's regulars who has already booked the chef's table for New Year's Eve and has laid claim to the cellar's first night, whenever that happens.
Your turn will come. Meanwhile, the dinner having been concluded and the platinum toothpicks handed 'round, it's time to swing to the nocturnal beat of Whistler's nightclubs.
Sitting pretty at Whistler's gin joints
There are a lot of quite good bars in Whistler.
Well actually, there are lot of bars, period. What makes a nightclub fun for the goose may be what brings out the squack from the gander at another locale.
There is a shortlist of hotspots, however, that offer a particular vantage point for the imbiber: that certain "best seat in the bar" that provides the sittee with a large number of the perks any really good bar should have.
This is not to say a tavern not mentioned is a dump just because it doesn't really have a unique "best seat in the bar." It may be there are several close candidates in the ignored establishment, but for whatever reason those vantage points don't measure up.
But let's owl our way through Whistler's dark streets and discover — in no particular order — where the best seats are one by one.
Moe Joe's — The newest kid on the block has done one thing very right. It has a Best Seat. Once in the beer hall, go to the far side of the bar and sit yourself down at what would be the right back corner if you look at the stage, but one seat to the left of the seat beside the pillar.
From here you command a view of the entire bar, the stage and its striving musicians, the fast and furious action of the bartenders, and yet you also have room to yak it up with surrounding bar mates.
Bonus points for women: From here you also get a great look at manager Andy Flynn working the mixology. It is said he has the hardest working butt in all Whistler bardom. Come on down girls, and judge for yourself.
Citta's — One of the originals. There are two Best Seats: just inside the west side of the doors leading to the deck, or at the east window at the jukebox.
Both positions give you a look at all traffic swirling in, out and around Whistler Village and from all directions that the other nearby bars don't offer.
In the summer, especially, it is nice for the casual observer to get a lengthy look at the hunk or sweet thing striding up the Stroll (depending on your inclination). Being on the deck itself is nice, but it loses points for all-season availability, which is why other Whistler bars with decks also lose out as offering Best Seats.
Having stellar bartender Colin Pine pouring the suds is the kind of bonus that separates Best Seats from also-rans.
Black's Pub — Speaking of stellar bartenders, the tag team of Marg and Zoo helps this second-floor beer hall earn a Best Seat. Proceed to the windowed east corner under the TV. From here you can see up Whistler Mountain, left over to Blackcomb, and down on the tourists shambling along to points unknown.
Sitting at the bar is good, too, but the view is limited to a delicious row of scotches, and we can't be having that, eh?
Amsterdam Pub — For a lot of the reasons that Citta's has a Best Seat, you want to sit at the end of the bar nearest the Stroll. Not only can you look out the windows next to you for a fine view of the moveable feast that is Resort Whistler, but you can also take the long view through the main doors on down toward Starbucks. A busy place, watching the bartenders do their thing has its pleasant aspects, too.
Being close to where folks line up to pick up drinks means being able to strike up a lot of conversations.
The Crab Shack — It's Sunday night, or Wednesday night, or fight night, or Hockey Night in Canada night... either way, what you want to do is get the Best Seat — at the bar beside the server's pick up station. You are at close and easy viewing distance to the big screen, being perched on the bar stool gives you an edge to observe the impassioned antics of the musicians over at the stage, and because customers have to pass you by on the way to the bar or washroom, you get to meet them all, should you so wish.
Garfinkel's — It moved from its original home where Maxx Fish now rules, but it took its Best Seat with it to Village North. The always-packed gallery that was on your left on entering old Garf's has been placed before you as you make your way into new Garf's.
Sitting high and pretty gives you a wide scan of the rest of the joint, front row seats on the hustlin' bartender action and access to a steady stream of fellow Garfers parading by.
Savage Beagle Bar — Go upstairs. Get one of the bartenders to crank up one of the Beagle's excellent martinis (shaken, not stirred) and plump your buns down on its Best Seat: halfway down the bar rail from the stairs.
Look worldly and the world looks at you.
Tommy Africa's — What you want to do is to jungle up at this famous/infamous bar's Best Seat which would be, if you are on the dance floor, to the left of the stage. The main bar side is too hectic to qualify and the "other" side of the main bar is too quiet. Nope, you want the Best Seat and stage left is it. Settle back for some big game viewing.
As for trolling for swinging singles, any veteran fisherman will tell you sometimes the calm pools are where the trophy fish are. Dig it.
The Boot Pub — Whistler's oldest bar has a Best Seat? Damn straight.
You want the bar stool to the left of the one right on the corner of the bar rail.
Face the bar and it's as if you have your very own TV to watch Don Cherry spout off on.
Spin around and you get a high sightline at the vidz flashing on the big screen. For the "ballet"-minded, this Best Seat is, well, the best seat there is. The ballet stars may play one main table off against the other, but you won't miss a thing.
When the action is live and on stage, your Best Seat gives you the periscope perspective that the Boot's unfortunate pillars deny so many others.
And when the glass is empty, the Boot's bar crew — tenders or servers, they all rank high — are sure to remedy the situation toot sweet like.
If the Boot is the "Local's Livingroom" then you are the Dad in the comfy chair.