Reclaiming the old 202

It's an old bar with a new name, but for Debbie Welch, it's opening the taps on a long-held dream. Welch has been working in the hotel and lounge industry of Whitehorse since she arrived here nearly 30 years ago.

It’s an old bar with a new name, but for Debbie Welch, it’s opening the taps on a long-held dream.

Welch has been working in the hotel and lounge industry of Whitehorse since she arrived here nearly 30 years ago.

“I’ve always been interested in doing something on my own,” says the single mom. “I have the experience, and the opportunity finally came up.”

Her career began at what is now the Town & Mountain Hotel on Main Street with then-owner Tippy Mah. Welch eventually moved over to the 202 Motor Inn, following Mah a little after he established the hotel.

“She’s a good friend and she will be great,” says Mah. “She will be a success. I have known her for more than 25 years and she’ll have fun with it.”

Having fun is what makes a bar successful, Mah says. He used to do it himself, but he says he is too old now.

“It’s a young people’s game,” he says.

Welch is taking over the site from Keith Jacobsen, who previously leased it from Mah.

The 25-year-old Jacobsen took over Sam McGee’s Bar and Grill, an old country bar, and turned it into a hot spot for young DJs and dancers.

But after three years, Jacobsen closed the doors this July.

His Coasters sign was taken down and the Sam McGee sign went back up.

Now, that sign will be taken down too.

Jarvis Street Saloon is the new, official name of the bar on the corner of Jarvis Street and Second Avenue.

The saloon’s official grand opening is this weekend. Rock musician Tim Naylor plays Friday night, and Saturday will feature the Yukon African Caribbean Association.

“The challenge is the identity,” says Kerry Thiessen, Welch’s right-hand at the saloon.

Some people haven’t been coming in because they didn’t like Coasters. Others say they don’t want to come in if it’s reverted back to McGee’s, while many people don’t even know it’s open, he says.

“If you look at our grand opening weekend, it’s incredible variety,” he says.

Weekly events haven’t been completely scheduled yet, but Thiessen says there will be some ladies’ nights, men’s nights, pool and crib nights and every Wednesday will be an open jam night with a full band backing.

Getting people back in has been a challenge, says Welch, whose establishment has been open to customers for about a month now.

“I want this to be an everything bar,” she says, unwilling to label it country, rock or anything else in between. “I just want it to be a fun place for people to go.”

Dave Barrett, known as Kokanee Dave, is back.

And so is bartender Grace LaCouvee.

Sitting on the bar stool he says he used to sit in as a regular at McGee’s. With LaCouvee back in her corner of the bar – her workspace for 13 years – the two reminisce about old times.

“Keith (Jacobsen) was young and brought in all the young kids,” she says. “We’re going to get our 202 regulars back. We’re going to get back people that like two-stepping and country. It’s going to be the original 202.”

“I’m glad it’s back to the way it was and all the old people are back together, ‘cause we were all split up,” says Barrett. “It’s like a family brought back together. It’s like it hasn’t changed at all.”

Turning back time and bringing back these people, Barrett says gesturing to LaCouvee and the five other regulars in the otherwise empty bar, is what brought him back.

“After work, you don’t want to hear a bunch of screaming people,” he says about his preference for a quieter space.

It takes time to build a business back, says Carel Alexander, Mah’s business manager. But she is confident it will happen for Jarvis Street Saloon.

Going back in time is a great choice, she says.

“That segment of the market was missing here once the old Sam McGee’s closed down – for the older population who doesn’t want to listen to modern music. People who like country western and old time rock and roll.

“We used to come dancing here all the time. The place used to be packed.”

It will be again, she says.

The 202 is a landmark for downtown, says Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

“Any new business, any business that rejuvenates itself is welcome,” he says. “I don’t see a problem with stepping back in time in terms of decor and theme. A lot of good can come of it. It’s up to the competitive market to decide who stays open and who closes.”

Karp says the chamber’s only real concern is the same they have for all other bars in town: the responsibility of the owners to keep public drinking safe.

“The federal government tells us Yukon consumes a lot of alcohol; it’s a big business,” he says.

Safety isn’t a problem, says LaCouvee. Two doormen from Coasters have stayed on as staff.

The location has always had some problems with destitute people taking refuge inside. It’s still a bit of a problem in the day because the staff are new, she says.

“It doesn’t bother me at night; I can take them,” she says.

LaCouvee has been working in the industry for a little more than 40 years.

The older crowd and community is being embraced by Welch, and they are supporting her right back, she says, gushing about all the support from friends and her son.

“I feel great,” she says. “I love doing this and I am so thankful I have help. They’re coming in and doing this and not expecting anything back. They just want to see me succeed and it’s a great feeling because they’re all behind me.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at