Joey Gibbons, the newish owner of Garfinkel's, has spent eight months rebranding and revamping the legendary Whistler nightclub from top to bottom and he wants to tell the world about it.
"The biggest thing that we've done is gone in there and spent a bunch of money and cleaned it up and we're continuously doing that," Gibbons says. "We're trying to get the community to trust us again. Once the community trusts you, then business becomes easy."
Garf's, as the club is affectionately known, is the latest in Gibbons Hospitality Group's string of Whistler entertainment locations, which include The Longhorn, Buffalo Bills, Tapley's and The FireRock Lounge. Gibbons purchased Garf's in May 2013.
People didn't trust Garf's?
"No, I don't think so... (Visitors would) finish a nice dinner at one of the restaurants and ask 'Where should we go?' and their server would send them to, say, Buffalo Bills, because they trusted that environment. I feel like we've earned that trust at Buffalo Bill's over time, where with Garf's it was 'Oof, I don't know if I'd go there.'"
But Gibbons says the tide is changing.
"When we bought the place in May and even right up until this Christmas, I haven't really put it out there because I didn't know if we had earned the trust yet. But I'm ready to talk about it now," Gibbons says. "We're slowly investing back in it."
The list of improvements is long. They've repainted the washrooms and have washroom renovations pending. They've brought in a pool table, added carpet and hardwood flooring, added TVs, revamped the sound system and plan to bring in food, a first for Garf's. The hosts now wear vests and the bartenders wear ties.
They also brought back the old Garfinkel's Moose with a draft beer in his hand – and they brought back draft beer.
"And we got away from the fancy private booths, I've never done VIP areas or things like that," says Gibbons. "I find that in Whistler, if you don't treat the whole group like a VIP you won't have a business. As well, people visiting Whistler during the busy season are usually all VIPs from somewhere, right? We don't like the segregation, or any of that stuff."
They're also supporting local sports teams and bringing back the beloved Garf's Cup ski race.
"I think to be successful in Whistler and the community, you've got to really be around the community and support the community, then the community supports you in return. That's what I found with businesses around here. Back in the day, Garfinkel's had a hockey team and a softball team. And we do that with all of our bars," Gibbons says.
And don't forget the music. Gibbons explains locals have a specific nightclub they prefer on a given day.
"Mondays it's Tommy's, Tuesdays it's Maxx Fish, Wednesdays it's Buffalo Bills... it's been going forever," he says.
And Garfinkel's — which can fit in 340 guests — is no different.
"The Thursday night for us has been massive for us," he says. "It's an industry night, a local night, a younger night. We've had huge support and it's been even bigger than our other local night at Buffalo Bill's."
The rest of the time, they've tried to listen more to what the clientele wants.
"Friday and Saturday, it's music that's more sing-along, dancey, fun music, not edgy stuff that people won't get. People on the weekends want to hear music they hear on the radio and I think Garfinkel's had earlier gotten away from that. They were bringing in DJs who played B-side tracks that nobody knew what was going on. It was nice for it's own thing but it wasn't what the clientele was looking for," Gibbons says.
The company also owns the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, which they can partner with to bring in live acts.
"Performers like to put Whistler on their sheet of places they go to and we are able to get them to Whistler at Garfinkel's at a price that might not normally make sense. It's a good way for us to get them by piggybacking on the Vogue," he says. "Because of all the great free live music that happens everywhere in Whistler, it's tough to sell a ticket."
The history of the club is tied in closely to not only the current Whistler Village that everyone walks through, but to the Gibbons' family, too.
Garfinkel's came to Whistler in 1990, originally located where Maxx Fish is now in the Village Stroll.
"My dad (businessman Dick Gibbons), when he was my age back in the 70s, he built that building," recalls Gibbons. "Downstairs was Club 10, probably the first dance bar in town, in around 1980. The space was Club 10 for about 10 years, then Mitch Garfinkel from the States, who started Garfinkel's in Vail, he came up and opened up Garfinkel's here with a bunch of guys.
"They created this legendary bar and it was at that location for nine years. It opened in the summer of '99 where it is now. Garfinkel's was the first bar I got into. I grew up in Whistler and that made it important."
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