One part Cheers and one part Central Perk, the newly-opened Watershed Coffee Shop and Bar is aiming to become downtown Whitehorse’s favourite neighbourhood hang-out.
Described by owner Micah Quinn as “someone’s living room, and it’s got a touch of class,” the atmosphere in the Watershed is low-key and doesn’t suffer from trying too hard to be trendy. Large metal prints of Yukon’s de facto photographer-in-residence Peter Mather adorn the walls, each photo vibrantly showing off one of Yukon’s main watersheds. A guitar stands beside one of the black leather couches ready to be played and various magazines such as Maclean’s and National Geographic are scattered across a coffee table.
This is a place to sit down and get comfortable – maybe even start a conversation with your neighbour.
That’s part of Quinn’s vision for the Watershed. “Engage with people,” he says. “This is not a place where you get buzzed through the door.”
That effort to bring people together is deeply entrenched in Quinn’s business model. “You want a place where you can connect with people professionally or personally during the day, a place where you can bring your families.”
By day, families and coffee aficionados are well catered to. There are welcoming couches, a plethora of board games, and popsicles have made their way onto the menu. Most baked goods being sold are local, says Quinn, whether it’s Nanaimo bars from the Airport Chalet bakery, or muffins from Alpine Bakery. Coffee is made with beans from Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters, a choice made to make the Watershed a bit more unique, says Quinn.
Starting at 4 p.m. the Watershed breaks out the craft beers and whisky and becomes a 19+ establishment. Many of the beers are special orders from Outside, and Quinn boasts of the number of unique brews you can only find at the Watershed. He also runs a scotch club in Whitehorse and inevitably has a some excellent scotch available. A fan favourite has been the $9 deal of a slice of Epic pizza and a Pilsner.
This split between family coffee shop and friendly bar wasn’t by choice, but is rather a creative solution to licensing limitations, says Quinn. To get a liquor licence that would allow the Watershed to serve alcohol as well as permit minors inside would require a full kitchen, something the Watershed doesn’t have space for. The result is that when liquor starts flowing late afternoon, those under 19 need to leave. “If that’s basically what my limitation is, what time do you switch that over at? Four o’clock seemed to make the most sense.”
Just a few streets from the bustle of the downtown core, the Watershed is located near the relatively tranquil corner of Sixth and Alexander, in the building formerly occupied by the Rah Rah Gallery. Though it could be thought a risky move to set up an establishment so far from the crowds of office workers and tourists that roam Second Avenue and Main Street, Quinn doesn’t have a problem with that.
“There’s a thousand people who live right here,” Quinn says, motioning out the front door. The key, he says, is catering to downtown residents’ interests. “This is much more convenient for them, whether it’s getting their coffee, getting their off-sales at night, just finding a place they can walk to for food or whatever else.” Weekly events include board games on Mondays, live music on Saturdays and free movie screenings on Sundays, among others.
Being where the people live has been paying off so far, says Quinn. It’s been just over six weeks since the Watershed has been open, but already there have been a number of times that have packed the place out. The grand opening was a shoulder-to-shoulder affair, and Quinn got a pile of positive comments from patrons.
The night of Alberta’s recent election results also drew many customers. “There were 40 drunk socialists here who were really, really excited,” says Quinn. “We got a noise complaint that I’m dealing with, but I mean it was a one-time generational thing.”
Contact Joel Krahn at