The pending closure of Citta'. What!? And Araxi Restaurant + Bar cut loose from Jack Evrensel and the resto's namesake, his wife Araxi, with the official announcement of its long-rumoured sale to the Aqualinis?
The changes afoot with these two literal cornerstones of the Whistler scene since not the beginning of the resort itself, but at least since the beginning of the village, have left many long-time Whistlerites feeling a little, well, adrift. Some kind of undefined curtain being drawn on some kind of undefined era whose definitions, if they come to me, I'll get back to you on.
But they also remind me that, like pretty much everything in life, our modern versions of movable feasts move on. After all, we're human beings and as verb forms — "being" is a gerund, after all — we're all about change.
Consider all the other hang-outs, restos, bars, clubs, cafes, joints and more with bigger-than-life personalities that have come and gone or morphed into something else over the years at Whistler — The Boot Pubs, the JB's (RIP Jack Bright), the L'Apres's of life.
Then there's that other, much bigger cultural narrative that changes continually, and that's the style and nature of food itself. Our responses to same are as interesting, if not more so.
Sometimes it makes you glad you don't have to face another lunch of Libby's tinned spaghetti with the neon orange tomato sauce. And sometimes it makes you sad. The same thing will inevitably happen to every nut-crusted fish steak or dynamite roll you face today that will morph from chic to chuck-it-in tomorrow.
Just look at the food arc in my own little life. We prairie people of a certain vintage grew up on meat loaf, tuna casseroles, crusty stuffed pork chops and mashed potatoes. Everything was beige, like the living rooms. It was no joke.
Then, post-Libby's and around the '60s, there rose up in our fair nation, as if by some cosmically pre-ordained directive, a collective urge to reach beyond tinned spaghetti and casseroles.
Suddenly, or so friends agree whenever we've drunk enough wine to share such embarrassments, our Canadian moms ventured into what you couldn't necessarily call international territory. Maybe "alternatives" was more like it. Spanish rice (made with Minute Rice). Eye-talian spaghetti sauce with hamburger and pronounced just like that. Chow mein topped with those goofy tinned noodles kids would sneak for snacks.
It was as if moms across the nation were suspended in some gelatinous foodland limbo — not quite letting go of the Miracle Whip, not quite moving on to the balsamic vinegar. This was due in large part to the tightly tied apron strings of food editors and advertisers in homemakers' bibles like Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle.
But maybe it was also because Canada was so big and floppy and unsure of herself that we couldn't find anything as fragile and exotic as a starfruit or as assertive as a Nonna Pia chili/lime reduction. But even if we had, no one would have known what the hell to do with them anyway.
Then in the early '70s, as the very young, flamboyant global village blossomed along with the groovy peace flowers, black light posters and rise in leisure travel, there developed an obsession with the exotic, the mysterious, the "other" we'd been missing all those years in the beige food wilderness.
Bragging rights went to those who "discovered" a new restaurant or a new dish, the harder to find, the better. The mysterious Doors — the Red Door, Orange Door, Green Door — in Vancouver's creaky Chinatown alleys earned big points. Even Pierre Trudeau "discovered" the lemon chicken at the On-On, likely on his way back East after skiing with Jack Bright.
By the '80s, people were literally lining up at funky places dishing up all things international. Some of the biggest lines wound round spicy Nick's on Commercial Drive and Orestes, the longest running show on Broadway, renowned as much for its Greek food as the booze that oozed from the ouserie.
Even though its population was small (say 1,800 on a good day), Whistler in the '80s cut a fine culinary edge since so many locals were from far-flung places, or at least travelled a lot. Nick at L'Apres introduced hoards of hungry skiers to moussaka and tzatziki. Dos Señoritas, which was the incarnation following JB's, served up one mean enchilada. La Crèperie (later the Sundial), La Vallée Blanche, Araxi's, as it was called then, and Umberto's Il Caminetto all redefined early Whistler good taste with couscous, crèpes, and more.
The one thing that held its own — and still does — was the golden comfort of Kraft Dinner. But cheeseburgers and fries hung their heads in despair.
Before you knew it, pesto had outgunned green hot dog relish, and you were tripping over marinated oyster mushrooms and sashimi appetizers on your way to the nearest dinner party.
So it's been ever since: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, with one thing replacing another fast and furiously; some of the changes lamentable, some worth celebrating as foodism ran rampant and cultural change in general followed trending cycles with a span of a nanosecond (On the foodie side, see Ann Barr and her gang in New York's often ironic memoirs in The Official Foodie Handbook, circa 1986, the same year Expo '86 helped tip Vancouver and Whistler out of any lingering cultural provincialism they may have been fondly clinging to).
Whether we like it or not, the hunt for the unusual, the newest, the best in food and drink have had all of us gerunds riding a continuous wave of change in pursuit of the happiest restos, bars, clubs, cafes, coffee shops or whatever hangouts you care to imagine to enjoy them in.
So you see? It all comes and goes, even the places that feel so iconic we can't imagine them transformed.
Not that Araxi will necessarily change, at least as far as the front of house goes. But still, a change in ownership... And it looks inevitable that Citta' will soon be relegated to the deteriorating memory banks, along with that famous, some say infamous patio as we now know it. And that comfortable, super-casual vibe.
Many of us will be sad. But there will always be a few amongst us who'll be just a wee bit glad.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who still likes Kraft dinner. And tuna casseroles.
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