A pithy quote scrawled on a wall in the Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ is my introduction to “dining in the oldest operating building in Whitehorse”. It says, “Be grateful for luck, pay the thunder no mind – listen to the birds, and don’t hate whiskey.” That sounds like reasonable advice.
It’s my first meal since arriving in the Yukon capital and I find this popular restaurant, open only during summer, is packed at an early evening hour. I wash down my halibut and chips with draft Yukon Gold while musing about my surroundings.
I’d imagined Whitehorse to be a rowdy frontier town in keeping with its gold rush history and location in northern Canada where many a hard man has ventured in search of gold and glory. Given this history of struggle, suffering and disappointment I’d expected to find a town that truly tests one’s mettle.
To the contrary, I find myself in a rather docile and very tidy town, a sense of order and respectability pervading its wide streets. This calm repose is only slightly jarred by the stream of testosterone-fuelled big-wheeled trucks and enormous house-sized RVs that trundle through town en route to wide open spaces further north.
Instead of raucous saloons and rumbling in the streets what I find is a colourful mural of old times decorating one alley wall along with cosy, modern cafes serving cappucinos and gluten-free muffins. Instead of Deadwood it seems I’ve ended up with Yukon Lite!
For any sense of frontier spirit I need to go where Tourism Yukon suggests we don’t. So in the company of Canadians Robin Esrock and Ken Hegan, brothers-in-arms at the GoMedia travel writers’ get-together, I make tracks for the 98 Hotel Bar.
The setting is perfect. A brace of rifles hang above the bar. The pelts of various animals are stapled to the opposite wall. They include a wolf, wolverine and lynx.
Hunched along the bar or sitting around the rooms low wooden tables are a dozen flint-eyed denizens who seemed screwed to their chairs. Everyone turns to stare as we interlopers walk in. It feels like anything might happen – and soon it does.
We take seats at a table in the rear and the owner ambles over to introduce herself. “Hi boys, I’m Angel, where you all from?”
We tip our hats, introduce ourselves and state our business, which is seeking a taste of an unadulterated Whitehorse, and we then order beers. We’re chatting away with amiable Angel when suddenly there’s a commotion and shouting at another table.
“S’cuse me gents,” says Angel. She and another beefy lady from behind the bar approach a customer, lift him off his chair and throw him to the floor, after which they pick him up and toss him through the front door onto the street. Just like in the movies!
Angel returns to our table, totally unperturbed. Meekly we inquire what happened. Did the guy refuse to pay his tab, perhaps?
“Nope, he’d drunk too much,” she says. “We have a policy of responsible consumption here.”
Angel also tells us that a special “grandfather clause” in local legislation allows her to open her bar at 9 in the morning. She points out that some of her customers, those who’ve slid to the bottom of the social totem pole, often have nowhere else to go at that time.
Thus we learn that the 98 Hotel offers much more than just drinks and a few simple rooms out the back. It also provides a needed social service, offering at least some comfort to the less fortunate. We raise our glasses to that and Angel pins yellow badges to our shirts. She’s made us honorary members of the 98 Hotel Breakfast Club.