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Vanishing Places: The Southside Deli

Nursing a hangover on a drizzly morning, I step across the threshold of the Southside Deli. The sign above the door reads "Skiers Make Better Lovers."

Over my shoulder, a crane elbows into the skyline. Reminds me that this side of town is finally in the cross-hairs of The Company. There barely seems room for a ramshackle building in a master design plan. But they still come – drawn towards the lure of all day eggs, one of the last true locals’ hangouts, a remnant of ski town authenticity. A genuine hard-core greasy spoon.

A row of booths. A cook, with a reputation for crankiness, rocking to cranked tunes behind the bar. The décor here is not contrived to convey a Pacific-Northwest-Mountain feel – it’s an ad hoc reflection of Whistler’s glory days. Pictures and posters tacked to the walls at the home of breakfast under $10, unofficial sponsor of many a ski bum, the only place in town where you can trade a joint/some skituning/some swag from your sponsor for coffee and eggs.

It’s the end of an era. On April 23, 2003, after over 20 years in business, the Southside Deli will close its doors to Whistler’s freaks and ferals forever. When it reopens, it will have had an extreme makeover, and become a gutted and refurbished Oyster Bar.

Grill cook, Frank Deshaies, was kind enough to step out from behind his apron to reminisce about his time at the SouthSide Deli. CBC had broadcast its morning show from a booth in the Deli earlier that morning. The staff were trying to clarify whether or not a final showdown for the Deli was going to happen or not.

"Cal’s worried," he says of owner Cal Schacter. "Look what happened at Dusty’s. He doesn’t want to lose his liquor licence."

There’s so much history tacked to the walls of the Deli, it’s bound to be a bash that goes "Baghdad-style."

Deshaies started working here seven years ago. It was the first job he rocked up to, and though he’s run the gamut of employment options, the Southside Deli has been one constant. Why is it such an iconoclastic place for the local core, that an out of bounds run on Blackcomb would be named for it, that Parental Advisory would shoot segments of the movie here?

Breakfasts at 6 a.m. appealed to the powder freaks, who could enjoy a big feast and still be first on the lift. It’s not fancy. It has no pretensions. Big names would gather for a feed, some java, and shed their pretensions as well. It was a longtime site for a pot-latch Christmas dinner for Creekside orphans.

The word of mouth on the Southside Deli is global: "My buddy from Germany said to come here," said one tourist. Another visitor said: "My buddy ate here 15 years ago. He said the cook will yell at you if you don’t pick up your food, or you take the wrong stuff."

The chef calls a spade a spade and an idiot an idiot: "They piss me off, some people are so dumb. I mean, I know you’re hungover, but you ordered two eggs, so why are you grabbing a burger?

"One time, these people were hungover and here at 6 a.m. when we opened. They were so hungry and still drunk. I made them their food and they passed out on their table. Other customers were showing up, their breakfast was ready, and they were out cold.

"Another time, we were closing, and a crew of pro-skaters and such who had been filming a movie showed up. There were three guys and a girl they’d picked up from somewhere and they all piled out of their van. I turn around, and two of the guys at the table are laughing their heads off. They’re the last customers of the day. We’re practically closed. Cal is talking with the producer. And I realize that the girl is under the table giving one of the guys a blow job."

Seedy tales aside, the Southside Deli has been the first port of call for many a Whistler newcomer. A second employment centre. Newcomers would be pouring over the paper and someone would come in, "anyone looking for some work?"

But, as Dylan foretold, the times they are a changing. The old buildings are being chased out of Whistler "by the rich people and their ‘style’." Deshaies ruminates, "It’s the local joint. People grab their java here every morning. All the weirdos. I don’t know where they’re going to go now. Those freaks and hippies and homeless. This is the last joint where you can hang out and be free."

The Southside Deli will close April 23. Another little piece of Whistler history vanishing, except in people’s memories.

To share your memories of the Southside Deli, e-mail the Whistler Museum and Archives Socity at info@whistlermuseum.org , and be part of the Vanishing Places project.

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