Roland’s Pub, Whistler

By: Amy Watkins

Warm welcomes and cold beers are two things that Karen Roland, owner of Roland’s Pub, credits for the success of her pub in Whistler’s Creekside. “It’s a friendly neighbourhood pub just like Cheers,” says Roland. “You come in five times, and we know your name and your drink.” She takes pride in the pub’s reputation for having the ‘coldest, freshest, cheapest beer in Whistler’, cleaning the pipes every three weeks and keeping pint glasses chilled to perfection.

Roland has been an integral part of the pub for many years. She moved to Whistler in 1988 and started working as a server and in banks and credit unions.

In 1993, Roland began working for Ron Hosner, owner of the Creekside Pub and neighbouring Florentina’s restaurant, starting as a hostess and working alongside him for more than 14 years. She played an integral role in 1996 for the big transformation when the restaurant and pub switched sides. She worked her way up, starting as a server, bartender, supervisor, and even bookkeeper due to her banking background, and eventually to manager.

Roland oversaw the addition of the private liquor store when the first private retailer licences became available in BC. As the pub and restaurant continued to grow, she worked alongside Hosner until he decided to sell in 2007. Sensing this was a unique opportunity in Whistler, Roland convinced her father to purchase the business and they renamed it to Roland’s Pub. “It was a community of blue-collar workers, a real local’s place that was busy enough year-round,” says Roland. “Back in the day, there was a big shoulder season between the ski and golf seasons, which is quite small now. The locals continued to support us, so we made sure to focus on the local population and be a part of the community.”

The pub continues to play a key role in Creekside’s community. It is a gathering place for local characters, being a favourite spot for events and celebrations. Roland also sponsors sports teams such as the local softball team.

Sports are a big draw at Roland’s Pub with nine TVs and five receivers ensuring that customers can watch any game they are interested in. Superbowl Sunday has always been a jam-packed day with locals eschewing Whistler Village to cheer on their favourite teams with their community.

“We’re a smaller community in a big resort,” says Roland. “Being outside the village in Creekside can be an advantage and disadvantage depending on the time of year. Local people keep me open.”

Local love for the pub has also helped Roland weather the COVID storm, which reduced capacity. The team turned the pandemic challenges into opportunities by giving guests more room and improving the flow of the pub and allowing faster service. For example, they started using trays instead of arm-stacking; a move that was popular with all but the most old-school of staff. While the dynamic was altered by not having a jam-packed pub, the atmosphere has survived and thrived.

COVID highlighted an existing issue that many tourist towns share. There are plenty of people wanting to come and work in Whistler, but affordable accommodation is hard to find. Currently Roland houses four out of her 42 staff in converted lofts, but she knows this isn’t enough and wishes she could house them all.

Roland’s generous spirit expands beyond housing her employees. She will often provide gift certificates for local fundraising events and host live music events to raise money for charities such as the Red Cross or WAG, the local animal shelter where her two rescue dogs came from.

The pub’s staff share Roland’s kind nature and are known for giving everyone a warm welcome. “Our bar manager Big Rich is one of the friendliest guys you’ll ever meet,” says Roland. “He makes sure you have the best time, whatever that takes.” A welcoming and community-focused atmosphere is top priority for everyone at Roland’s Pub.

Food has also been a key component in attracting return customers and keeping regulars happy…and well-fed. Roland’s Pub’s chicken wings have garnered much attention, with Roland making sure customers get a full pound of wings and a house-made barbecue sauce that has become a fan favourite. This ethos extends across the menu with as many things as possible made from scratch and sourced locally, like the hand-cut fries, homemade veggie burgers, or the fresh fish and chips, featuring a special beer batter, that keep reeling people back in to enjoy a great meal and cold beer at Roland’s Pub.