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A post-powder playground in Whistler

The ski village in British Columbia is all about the slopes -- until the chair lifts stop. Then it's all about the nightlife peaks.

March 07, 2004|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Whistler Village, Canada — Inside a disco-light-spotted cage, a beautiful couple writhed. He, an Adonis-type with tattooed biceps, gyrated while she, lithely petite in low-cut jeans, shimmied suggestively to the thumping beats.

Welcome to Buffalo Bill's at Whistler Village, where the apres-ski scene is as prodigious as the legendary downhill terrains nearby.

Whether you're into dirty dancing, chi-chi restaurants, pool-sharking, pub-hopping or all of the above, Whistler Village offers something for almost everyone, even for non-Adonis, buttoned-up types. The Village, at the foot of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, is a charming knot of meandering streets and gabled buildings that sparkle to life after the chair lifts shut down at 3:30 p.m. The upside to the early Canadian sunsets: They leave more time for off-slope frolicking.

The Whistler-Blackcomb resort is best known for skiing. Its glacial slopes, a two-hour drive north of Vancouver in British Columbia, recently were chosen for the 2010 Winter Olympics ski competition.

But for my six friends and me, Whistler's packed-powder action became secondary to its off-slope diversions, because the frigid temperatures during our January visit made it almost too cold to ski.

Our merriment began promptly after the last run of each day, when we would snap out of our skis, ditch the poles and toddle like Sasquatch in our big plastic boots like everyone else to one of several pubs or restaurants facing the foot of the mountains.

Village bars

LONGHORN Saloon's Western theme starts with its name and ends with its cowboy decor: The DJ is more likely to blast Metallica and the Cure than country music. Baby-faced guys and gals huddle over small round tables, flirting when not distracted by sports on TV or plates of burgers and buffalo wings. At the pool tables, crowds throng two or three deep to watch flannel-wearing Gen-Y hunks and babes bend over in studied poses to angle their shots. There are arcade video games, darts and pinball. A sign at the saloon's entry bars anyone younger than Canada's drinking age of 19.

More upscale, with an older clientele, is the Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill -- GLC to locals. This lodge-like hall has spectacular views of the slopes and village. Savor the good life at an elegant table near a glowing fireplace, where you can order an assortment of tapas to accompany your martini.

Our favorite was the quirky Dubh Linn Gate, a festive Irish pub with live folk music that kicks into high gear as soon as the lifts grind to a halt. The nooks and crannies make this place seem inviting and cozy, despite the loud red- and green-striped walls. This is where meaningful conversations are possible without shouting, where cheerful fiddle music elevates spirits without overpowering thoughts and voices.

The folks who gather here are a friendly lot. It could be because the frothy Guinness comes in 20-ounce Irish pint glasses, making everyone happier and chattier. Or maybe the buoyant Irish theme is contagious. Everything is unabashedly, jovially Celtic, from the menu of steak and shepherd's pie to corny proverbs hanging on the wall ("As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point in the wrong direction").


WHISTLER Village is quite a social place. By your second or third day, you may be bumping into the same people repeatedly as you navigate the tangle of pedestrian-only streets, taking the circuitous route to your destination every time because you're constantly getting lost.

So when a cute guy sidles up to you with the line "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" he's probably sincere.

When it comes to dining, the village can be a foodie haven. One of our favorites was Quattro, a stylish Italian restaurant.

Our dinner began with delicious focaccia. The classic flatbread was still warm when it arrived at our table, each slice dusted with a nutty assortment of seeds. The crust was light and crispy; the middle, satisfyingly spongy.

Next came plates of appetizers. A standout was the sliced calamari steak, which had a delicate texture reminiscent of abalone, served with a light, slightly pungent pesto sauce. Another was the polpette di mare, Dungeness crab and scallop cake. We moved on to main courses: The lamb risotto was a favorite. The rice, cooked with white truffle oil and garnished with wild mushrooms, was soft and creamy; accompanying it were tender medallions of braised lamb cheeks.

At Bearfoot Bistro, skip the expensive prix fixe menu in favor of the dazzling champagne bar, where oyster maestro Chris Field reigns supreme.

Field prefers the simple title of "oyster shucker," but that belies his encyclopedic knowledge and passion for scraggy mollusks. He kept us enthralled for more than an hour with tales about his chosen craft.

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