Bigger in Blaine

Peace Arch City Cafe

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It’s a Wednesday night in Blaine and from the sidewalk I can hear the melodic voice of a vocalist filling the Peace Arch City Café & Bar with music. The 5,000-square-foot building on Peace Portal Drive is full of appreciative diners who’ve come for the combination of food, atmosphere and entertainment and as we wait to be seated I overhear one of them declare, “This is my favorite place!”

Owners John Quimod and Kylie Bestul started out their business at the Little Red Caboose in 2009, and then moved to a 1,500-square-foot space on H street to broaden their menu. When Rodney and Christy Longquist ended the tenure of the Pastime Bar & Eatery, the two entrepreneurs jumped at the opportunity to expand to their location on Peace Portal drive.

“A larger space allowed us to upgrade our concept to include burgers and fries, fish and chips, and a full-service bar, as well as dinner,” Quimod says. “All those opportunities were out of reach in our much smaller previous location.”

Built in 1905, the building has had many incarnations over the years, including a horse stable, a retail space and a cafe. The Hill family had ownership from the 1970s, when the Pastime Bar & Casino began. It became the Pastime Bar & Eatery in 2015 and closed its doors in October 2017. John and Kylie quickly got to work making the space their own.

“It was obvious that the brick work was the main aesthetic and characteristic of the space, so we removed all the oak paneling on the walls, which had covered the wonderful brick work under it for many decades,” Bestul says. “We upgraded the bar area with modern treatments, removed all references to the building’s past as a casino and pull-tab operation, and removed walls that separated the main dining space from the bar area, creating a more open and inviting space.”

The menu runs from breakfast through dinner and the wine list features a broad selection of martinis, cocktails, wine, cider and beer. Burgers, sandwiches, ribs, and fish and chips are the predominant items on the dinner menu.

I chose the barbecue salmon burger with grilled pineapple ($14), a substantial meal with toppings of avocado, spicy slaw, Swiss cheese and a side of salad or fries. My partner chose the spicy chicken breast sandwich ($14) and from the speed at which it disappeared, I know it was a favorable choice.

The other selections are mostly traditional comfort foods such as mushroom Swiss burgers, panini sandwiches, baby back pork ribs, tacos with Spanish rice and black beans, and a good selection of salads for those looking for lighter dining. The most expensive menu item is the pan-seared maple glazed salmon at $18. Everything else is priced $14 and under.

The couple has committed to featuring live music weekly on Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30pm, and has plans for an evening of Trivial Pursuit on Thursdays. So far, the roster of performers has included classic rock musicians Wicked Timing, Chuck Dingee, Sher Vadinska and Patsy Thompson, and classical guitarists David Feingold and Jacob Seyer.

Our meals arrived quickly and our server was welcoming and friendly. On the usually dead-quiet strip of Peace Portal drive, it felt great to have the option of a well-priced dinner menu with live music, while still being in the sleepy city of Blaine.

As we drove into town, the busiest store was Mail Boxes Plus, where Canadians lined up patiently to pick up their online purchases. Edaleen Dairy is easily the second-busiest stop on Peace Portal, a popular choice for its selection of well-priced milk, cheese and ice cream. And the construction of a new 2,650-square-foot Starbucks location a few steps away, which will feature a drive-thru and seating indoors and out, is concerning for some.

“Many say that Starbucks is here to attract the Canadian customer,” Quimod says. “It’s very much a David versus Goliath story. It’s an interesting position to find a small, very conservative city so excited about the arrival of a business centered in the liberal stronghold of Seattle. Its obvious affect is potentially to force the closure of small, community-driven businesses whose owners are everyday people invested into Blaine’s very identity and core. My own business was built on espressos and sandwiches back in 2009, and I know other business owners are certainly concerned.”

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