Since time immemorial there have been a few features typical of the average après haunt: an endless flow of big-label beer, reclaimed wood as far as the eye can see, and a menu crammed with classic, belly-filling pubfare.
It's the simple reality of serving a diverse clientele looking for comfort food and a stiff drink at the end of a long day on the slopes. When you welcome the world to your ski town, you often have to play to the lowest common denominator.
But the owner of HandleBar, the resort's newest après offering at the base of Blackcomb, is determined to go against the grain in "a village awash with energy drinks and mass-produced beer."
"We've all enjoyed our times at places like Longhorn, we've all had fantastic times at the GLC and wherever else," said Jonathan Law. "But we just felt that those places are kind of playing it safe. They're all the same basic formula, and we thought there should be a little bit more effort put towards the après experience."
The brainchild of Law and managing partner and longtime local "bar wrangler" Nick Dobson, the HandleBar hangs its hat on its exhaustive selection of local, national and international craft beers. It's constantly rotating beer list — updated in real time on the bar's mobile site and website — will feature Function Junction's own Coast Mountain Brewing along with the best in regional brews and European tall boys. There are also plans to roll out a unique bomber program for the more ambitious craft-beer aficionado.
"We want that to be where the real adventurers can go as deep as they want," Law said of the bar's selection of large bottles.
When it comes to its internationally sourced brews, there's a method to the bar's madness: the unique cast of European beers go down nicely with its menu of German-inspired street food. Think regionally sourced artisanal sausages, fresh baked soft pretzels, and every Berliners' favourite late-night guilty pleasure: currywurst, a heaping pile of fries smothered in curried tomato sauce and juicy sliced sausage.
It's another arena where Law hopes HandleBar will stand out from the crowd.
"The obvious choices for après food and comfort food after a day of skiing or biking are the classic chicken wings, nachos and poutine. We wanted to move away from that and this just seemed like a real great fit for beer," he said.
Once inside the Upper Village watering hole, you'll find the '80s-inspired décor is also distinct from the rustic, chalet-chic feel of most Whistler bars. The black interior is accented with pops of neon reminiscent of the most garish Gaper Day ensemble, and the long, communal tables encourage patrons to cozy up to their neighbour in the small, 32-seat room. (There are also plans to open a 42-seat outdoor patio.)
"It was an organic process working with a really unique and small space," Law said. "We wanted something contemporary, a little more modern, but within that, we found inspiration from bright colours, and we realize we were kind of mimicking the old-school, one-piece ski suits."
Located on Blackcomb Way next to the Wizard Grill, Law knows HandleBar is a little off the beaten path — and that's just the way he likes it.
"We didn't look for the space with the most storefront or windowfront," he said. "Having to look for the place a little harder and being fairly tough to find, I think that adds to the experience, you know? It's about more than just drinking beer and eating wings."
HandleBar is open daily from noon to midnight. For more information, visit www.handlebar.beer.
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