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 après-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.
LONGHORN Saloon's Western theme starts with its name and ends with its cowboy décor: 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.
As he described it, oyster shucking is a combination of sport and artistry in which true professionals strive to improve their speed as well as the graceful manner in which they sever the delicate flesh from its shell. A highly competitive lot, oyster shuckers engage in what can be a perilous race to the top. He told us about a hapless contender at an international shucking contest who grew so nervous on stage that he punched his knife blade through his palm instead of prying apart the shell.
Field launched into a lecture on eight varieties of oysters. Pulling one shell after another from a fishing net, he regaled us with stories about their provenance and taught us to distinguish each by flavor and appearance.
The perfect accompaniment to oyster-tasting is a flute of champagne, and the Bearfoot Bistro's unique bar makes bubbly sipping a sensory delight. The sparkling wine is served in glasses with stems that end in a point; there is no round base on which to set down your flute. So you either have to keep your drink close at hand, or make use of the trough of crushed ice rimming the bar. The ice is poked through with holes perfectly sized for holding your flute and keeping it cold while you reach for another oyster.
Our next dinner stop was Araxi, an oenophile's heaven with a 29-page wine list touting the restaurant's 13,000-bottle collection. The restaurant bills its cuisine as having French and Italian influences; we detected a strong Japanese undercurrent as well.
My entree of seared albacore tuna was so sublimely rare that it could have been sashimi. The fish was accompanied by an oversized vegetable sushi roll atop a heap of stringy black seaweed. Another delicious dish was the sablefish, served with soba noodles and edamame beans in a mild broth.
AFTER dinner, we headed over to Tommy Africa's, an underground dance club.
We had been told that the crowd here might be a tad on the young side, but we hadn't expected tadpoles. On this particular night, we walked into what seemed like a bad junior high school dance. As hip-hop music blared overhead, the boys stood cowering in the shadows with hands in their pockets while girls roamed the room in packs. Eyes fixed on the empty dance floor, but no one made any moves.
The adolescent angst was leeching oxygen from the air, so we grabbed our jackets and ran — literally. It was so chilly for us Southern Californians that we often launched into a trot when going from place to place. To avoid slipping on the icy snow, I shuffled a lot, flopping my goose-down parka-sleeved arms to maintain balance.
We finally found our groove at Buffalo Bill's. The clientele was more diverse, from hotties in their 20s to women and men well into their 40s.
Maybe that's why so many people were boogieing up a storm — the '70s and '80s music reminded them of their youth and all those days of carefree abandon. And because they've lived long enough to have grown comfortable in their skin and not give a hoot about what anyone else thought of them on the dance floor.
After the lusty couple tired of Buffalo Bill's dance floor cage, a patron of a different breed climbed in.
He was pudgy, with a receding hairline and a bushy uni-brow. Clenching the cage bars with both hands, he tossed his head back, thrusting his hips this way and that to the booming music as if gripped by muscle spasms.
The joke was on anyone laughing at him; he obviously had much better things to do than care. He was having a terrific time, and so were we.
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Making the scene in British Columbia
From LAXto Vancouver, nonstop flights are available on Air Canada and Alaska airlines and connecting flights (change of planes) on United and America West. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $260.
Airport express buses and shuttles to Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort start at about $50 one-way for adults. Reservations required, (877) 317-7788, http://www.perimeterbus.com .
The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere, from airport restaurants in Vancouver to stores to pubs at Whistler, but exchange rates vary. The current rate posted by the Bank of Canada gives you $1.33 Canadian for every $1 U.S. But nightclubs have been known to charge desperate patrons a flat 1-to-1 rate.
The following prices are in U.S. dollars.
WHERE TO STAY:
Fairmont Chateau Whistler, 4599 Chateau Blvd.; (800) 441-1414 or (604) 938-8000, http://www.fairmont.com/whistler . Luxury hotel within walking distance of the Village. It has a gracious downstairs lodge and slope-side views. Amenities include health club, indoor heated pool, spa services and baby-sitting. Double rates start at $300.
Best Western Listel Whistler, 4121 Village Green; (800) 663-5472, http://www.listelhotel.com . This 98-unit hotel is in the heart of the Village. It has an indoor hot tub, sauna and heated outdoor pool. Doubles start at $74.
VIP Mountain Holidays, 102-4369 Main St., Suite 973; (888) 246-7003, http://www.vipmountainholidays.com . Offers midlevel to luxury condos and chalets within walking distance of lifts and the Village. Prices start at about $300 for a two-bedroom unit.
Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill, Whistler Village Gondola Building; (604) 905-2220, whistlerblackcomb.com/nightlife/glc.asp. Sometimes has live bands. The tapas menu starts at about $4.
Dubh Linn Gate Old Irish Pub & Restaurant, 170-4320 Sundial Crescent; (604) 905-4047, http://www.dubhlinngate.com . Live music begins daily at 3:30 p.m., when the lifts close. Sandwiches cost about $9.