Owner Barry Van Dusen says the Whistle Stop Neighbourhood Pub in Courtenay is known as "a working man's pub," and the well-known pub is kind of like that working man — friendly, reliable and consistent.
Van Dusen has owned the Whistle Stop, a fixture at 2355 Mansfield Dr., for the past eight and a half years and is proud of the popular establishment.
"We've got the best pub food in the Valley," he says. "We have fantastic staff. We've got very cold beer. We try to maintain a nice, safe, friendly atmosphere for our customers, and we're the only place in the Valley that has live music every Friday and Saturday year-round. Our prices are very customer-friendly."
The Whistle Stop's house band is Big Fun — John Mundy, Bob Johnstone, Barry Polichek and Rob Petrie — a band Van Dusen calls "a group of the best musicians in the Valley."
Speaking of live music, the Whistle Stop is a major sponsor of the Vancouver Island Music Business Conference (VIMBC), and each year during the conference, it hosts five showcase nights for experienced musicians and up-and-coming artists in a variety of genres.
"To me, the Whistle Stop has been known for many years as a place where some locals who have gone on to become recording artists get their start — Sue Medley will tell you this stage is where she got her start," said Van Dusen. "I know there are a couple groups who have performed here during VIMBC that I'm sure you're going to hear a lot of. If the Whistle Stop can say we were in any way part of them getting their break, that means a lot to us."
Helping the community is important at the Whistle Stop, and the pub hosts a variety of charitable fundraisers throughout the year. One of the local Lions Club holds meat draws every Saturday afternoon, and the Whistle Stop has partnered with Soldier On for the past three years to raise money to help injured or ill Canadian Forces personnel.
Soldier On provides resources and opportunities for serving and retired Canadian Forces personnel with a permanent or chronic illness or injury to actively participate in physical, recreational or sporting activities, and the Whistle Stop recently hosted a fundraising weekend featuring live music by three-time BC Country Music Association award-winner Karen Lee Batten and a silent auction.
Backed by Big Fun, Batten wowed the crowd with her beautiful voice during her two sets Friday night, and the dance floor was full. Many people bid on a wide variety of silent auction items, and by the end of the weekend, the Whistle Stop had raised more than $5,000 for Soldier On. This brings the Whistle Stop's three-year contribution to Soldier On very close to the $20,000 mark.
Van Dusen says his vision for the Whistle Stop is to continue providing the service and great food the pub is known for and to give customers a reason to keep coming back.
"Our customer base is from 19 to 90, and with a base like that, you're trying to satisfy many different appetites," he said. "The Whistle Stop Pub has always been known as a working man's pub, so we look around for ideas to improve what we're supplying to our customers and for new ideas to entertain them and keep them coming back many times."
"If people come here for a meal, I want them to have enjoyed the meal and not go away hungry," he added. "I want them to be able to tell their friends this is a nice place to come, and when they have people visiting, to bring them down and not be disappointed."
In January, the Whistle Stop will have been in Courtenay for 36 years.
"It was the first neighbourhood pub in the Valley, and it has a lot of tradition and a good reputation, and we work hard to maintain that," said Van Dusen.
The Whistle Stop offers a deck that looks out over the Courtenay River Estuary and the Courtenay Airpark, as well as a patio.
The Whistle Stop has a big menu filled with appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pub fare, pastas and entrées.
The pub also offers Sunday brunch.
There are daily specials, and Friday's prime rib special is especially popular.
It comes with "the best Yorkshire pudding in town," roast potatoes and vegetables.
I recently visited the Whistle Stop on a Friday night and just had to try the special.
A generous serving, the meat was cooked just the way I like it and tasted great, and the potatoes were cooked perfectly. While I'm no Yorkshire pudding authority and can't compare it to others in town, the Whistle Stop's is definitely delicious.
The service was very friendly, and there was a fun atmosphere in the pub, as it was the Friday of the Soldier On fundraiser.
There's always something fun going on at the Whistle Stop Neighbourhood Pub, and Van Dusen is looking forward to the pub's New Year's Eve celebration. There's no cover charge, and guests receive free party favours and free champagne at midnight.
For more information about the Whistle Stop Neighbourhood Pub, visit www.whistlestoppub.com or call 250-334-4500.