By David Branigan
Despite the brutal rain-soaked, siege mentality of the past few months the future for existing nightclubs in Whistler looks exceedingly bright.
With restaurateurs and retailers facing more and more competition as construction booms, one would expect a similar increase in the number of bars. But that is simply not the case, and with the exception of three already-granted licences, it will not be the case this decade.
The existing licences in the village look to be future gold mines because all the zoning in the village proper has been done and nowhere is there room for another "C" cabaret licence.
After the beds and bars debate of the early ’90s it would appear that the municipality has come up with a solution, already implemented, that includes all the major village cabarets (Tommy's, Garfinkel's, Buffalo Bill's, Savage Beagle) being underground to reduce noise complaints. The 30-minute closing extension granted in '94 has diffused after-hours rabble rousing, somewhat, and the bar association has an agreement in place not to deep discount drinks. So noise, over service and mob scenes have been dealt with.
Whistler's Director of Public Safety, Tony Evans, says there will be no re-zoning inside the village, meaning the current licenses are the only licenses we will see in the foreseeable future in the village proper.
The big five in town — the Longhorn, at ground level, being the fifth — have been here for a decade. Garfinkel's used to be JJ Aaron's Club 10 while the license Tommy's currently holds reincarnated regularly before finding a niche in 1989. So while Whistler has gone from bright light to incendiary this decade with massive growth in all sectors, the bars have been left alone to prosper.
Yet with an exponentially-growing local population base and more tourist visits every year, amazingly the only full-on live-music bar — Buffalo Bill's — closed for two years. And when the Beagle went down for renovation in the fall of ’95, there was a time when only three clubs were running in Whistler Village. Now we're back to six, with some sharp renovations at Bill's and the Beagle plus Whistler Mountain's Garibaldi Lift Co. But the number of clubs is almost identical to 1986.
Despite this profit-friendly scenario, at a workshop on April 23rd, attended by the bar association, B.C.'s Liquor Licensing Branch, various municipal departments, bylaws and the RCMP, the local owners expressed concerns about the dangers of over licensing when the new "C" licences came up.
With the exception of the new Garfinkel’s, which will be in the basement of the Mont Blanc building, Whistler nightclubs will be confined to the original village. They will form a strip, running from Bill's and the transformed Peter's Underground, down through the current Garfinkel’s, the Beagle and Tommy's to the new Garfinkel’s. The noise associated with clubs will be confined to that area and the duo of the Longhorn and Garibaldi Lift Co.
One source who attended the April 23 meeting said the municipality had assumed that by granting Garfinkel's a new 350-seat licence that the original Garfinkel's licence would be revoked. But it's generally believed that the owner of the current Garfinkel’s space intends to open a new cabaret there.
The two remaining licences that have been granted are to Peter's Underground and to Larco, for a space in the basement of the Whistler Village Centre.
"Pete's Underground will be staying open for the summer of '96," says owner Ron Knodler. "I have most of the approval for my cabaret licence but I'm still awaiting final processing from the Liquor Licensing Branch, which should be completed very soon. It's my intention to close Pete's in September and renovate the room, with a planned opening, hopefully, for World Cup. The bar will be targeting whoever has money in their pockets, but more an adult, Bill's-Beagle crowd. It will be a 180-seater with live capability but DJ-based."
Knodler feels confining licences to the original village is in the best interests of everybody. But after a rough ride through the processing, due to resistance from the bar association, he raises the point that even with the new licences Whistler is still playing catch up in night life per capita.
Meanwhile, Larco has shown no signs of putting its licences to work. The company has held two "A" licences and one "C" licence since 1994. It could be another couple of years before anything happens underneath the Hard Rock Cafe.
Evans doesn't have a single application for liquor licensing on his desk. The B.C. Liquor Licensing Board and the municipality are collaborating on how to deal with future applications but realistically the only applications are years away, with the full Creekside re-development.
There are plenty of "A" and "B" licence's coming on stream, including the Mark James Brew Pub, but lounges and restaurants are a different market niche than nightclubs, notably much more competitive.
The Boot Pub operates outside the bar association agreement due to its location. The Garibaldi Lift Co. is the only addition to the original village club scene in nearly 10 years of unparalleled growth. Garfinkel's has the peach location of the future, but knowing Whistler it could be quite a gap between their current lease expiration in September and the new location opening.
Years from now, in the booming metropolis of the Resort Municipality of Sea to Sky City, people will say "I wish I would have gotten one of the 10 original money-printing liquor licenses granted back in the ’80s and ’90s, just like they talk about real estate in the ’70s. But then again, by that time governments may have taxed liquor out of existence and killed the industry with a smoking ban.