What makes Golden so golden? You'll hear the answer again and again: the people. These are the folks whose dreams and doings give Golden its spirit. In this series you'll get the long & short of it, a glimpse into the people who've created the places that you come to visit.
First up: The Island Restaurant.
The Island Restaurant
Credit: Dave Best
If you’ve ever driven over the bridge in downtown Golden, you’ve most likely pondered, even briefly, at the giant log cabin squatting on the banks of the Kicking Horse River. This is the Island Restaurant, and yes, it’s really on an island. To looker’s right are the glacier tides of the Kicking Horse River that, when high, actually fill an overflow channel around the lefthand side of the building, entrapping the restaurant every spring on either side with water.
If you stop for a bite to eat during the day, you’ll likely encounter Sly, a bright-eyed server with the energy of a thousand fireworks, who’s been working the day shift here for 3 years. He took a quick break from his duties to give me the rundown on the Island.
This big log cabin has a deep historic tie to the town of Golden and has gone through many facelifts and occupancies, and even a demolition or two. Originally, it was home to a local newspaper called the Golden Gazette, then a You-Brew where folks made their own wines. Next, it became a heli-lodge, office buildings, and a daycare. In 2009, Aaron and Petra, the current owners, bought the building and transformed it into the restaurant you see today. They built a kitchen addition and patios (there are four dining rooms in the Island, two inside and two outside) and have been running it ever since. (Fun fact: Aaron actually grew up on the homestead behind the restaurant and so lived a large portion of his life on the property).
Walking into the Island is like walking into a memoir, the place is an ode to the mountain lifestyle of Golden’s bygone days; the Swiss Guides, the CP railway, and the rustic small-town lifestyle of a town tucked away in the mountains. The walls are a curated gallery decorated with antiques and mountaineering equipment, like old leather boots, clamps, and a grand piano. You’ll sit at one of many mix-matched thrifty tables on a chair that’s the only one of its kind. Big windows and yellow bulbed lamps with floral shades cast easy-going shadows on the log walls, which are hewn out of massive timber from local forests.
“This bar,” says Sly, with his hands on a massive halved piece of timber, “was a log struck by lighting that one of our local workers decided to refurnish and make it into this brilliant piece.”
When Sly talks about food at the Island, he explains it as "european-australian". Entree dishes take inspiration from European cuisine, the Geschnetzeltes, for example, is a German-oriented dish. You also have the option to dig into classic Canadian grub like burgers, pasta, and pizzas. There’s flair here though, pineapple and beetroot are burger toppings. The duck salad has glazed pecans and pomegranate vinaigrette. And the quesadilla is stuffed with grapes and mozzarella cheese. Drinks have a twist too, they range from local beer to home-recipe cocktails, like the strawberry basil gin lemonade.
The vibe that you’ll find at the Island, according to Sly, comes from the people that work there.
“We’re just one big tight family. When you’re coming in here on your days off it’s because you love this place. You love the people that surround you. We don’t hire employees over here, we hire family members. People that are gonna stick around because they want to stick around and because they love the vibe.”
The biggest takeaway from the Island is its versatility. You could go in with a friend for dinner and wine, a group of eight for a reunion get-together, or sit down with your family of four and have a great experience each time. The staff are high energy and the food can satisfy any appetite. The views, too, are something special. In the summers, sip a cocktail on the top patio overlooking the Kicking Horse River and a backdrop of the Purcells.
Now that you've got the long and short of it, all that's left is for you to visit the Island yourself!