Charlie Hodge column.

Hodge: Memories of Kelowna’s (in)famous Willow Inn

At 20, Charlie Hodge was looking for work and soon found a home at the Willow Inn

I recently met a former co-worker from the mid 1970’s and our brief conversation inspired a flood of fun memories. We had both briefly slung beer at the infamous Willow Inn Hotel, which to veteran Kelowna residents needs little introduction. For newcomers the Willow Inn was a two story facility tucked behind what is now Kelly O’Bryan’s along the bottom end of Queensway.

The Willow housed the Greyhound Bus terminal for years in addition to being a popular restaurant and working guys’ pub. It was also a strip bar and not exactly the tamest place in town.

But it sure was an interesting place to work.

At age 20 and already frustrated with life as a journalist I decided to take a bartending course. The job was no safer but the pay much better. I entered my new career with a brave step and a bundle of energy. I had teeth then. Oh man, what an education in life.

In no time the Willow Inn became a huge part of my world. Not only did I sling in the bar but wound up working in the lounge (which turned out to be even more dangerous sometimes than the pub). As well I wound up serving food and occasionally cooking in the restaurant (we used to produce all the food for the RCMP lockup cells) and eventually lived in the hotel for half a year.

At first this wide-eyed lad was taken aback by my exposure to the seedy side of the Willow. However I came to know the many patrons: Real bikers, wanna-be bikers, First Nations, regular blue collar boys, the lunchtime pop-in workers in suits and ties, and the strippers.

I was soon the toast of my friends as they somehow envied my working relationship with the dancing girls, but I quickly learned to view the young women in a different light after getting to know a few and understand their sordid world. Many dancers over the next year became friends, people I came to feel protective of and somewhat sorry for. After a brief time I no longer really watched the girls, it felt too odd: Like I was watching a sister or friend who I’d come to know as a person and not just a piece of meat. I listened to their stories and heartbreaks and suddenly understood in a way that few men get to learn.

There were some odd duck customers in those days. One client I called Talking Tony visited the lounge every Wednesday at 4 p.m. and ordered two Scotch and water, one for him and one for his friend. His invisible friend.

TT would sip his drink and carry on a silent but very animated conversation with his invisible buddy, then raise his glass in a toast at the end, drain his glass, and leave. He never touched the other drink and always left a dime tip.

I’ll likewise never forget a drunken idiot and his table buddies who decided to make me a human pincushion. The busted beer bottle he attempted to put in my stomach wound up in my hand.

However, my favourite memory was the day a fellow worker offered to help one of the newly arrived strippers with her heavy suitcases to her room. He lugged a huge heavy suitcase all the way upstairs only to be told it was to be sent back down to the bar.

“Good God girl that is one heavy suitcase. What do you have in there, bricks?” he asked.

“No sir, she replied with a smirk, “it’s my snake.”

Sure enough the girl had a giant Boa Constrictor in the luggage.

Two days after the suitcase incident I ventured down from my hotel room at 5:30 a.m. to open the kitchen. On the way past the front desk the desk clerk said, “Oh by the way Charlie – you may want to keep an eye out and your ears open. Seems our dancer has lost her snake. She thinks it may be hiding in the kitchen because of the food scent. If you hear or see anything just call.”

Call? How about scream!

Suddenly, returning to the newspaper business started to look attractive again.

Just Posted

Rockets call up rookie netminder

With starter Brodan Salmond injured, Kelowna calls up player from BCMML

Man in custody linked to Silver Creek property search

Police have not connected arrest to search at Salmon River Road property

Minister announces funding to upgrade Kettle Valley Rail Trail

Kelowna - $500,000 will go towards project that will upgrade Kettle Valley trail

Residents pay tribute to city’s homeless

He was articulate and well-spoken. He was great at self-reflection. He liked watching the Canucks. And more often than not, he lived at the Howard House Men’s Shelter.

Day 2 of RCMP search at Silver Creek residence

Police use backhoe in ongoing search effort at residential/agricultural Salmon River Road property

Mixing up local talent and cocktails

The annual Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery Mixoff takes place in Kelowna in November

Auntie Says: Don’t bring your dope to my house

Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you, but if you try and smoke at my house, you’ll be asked to leave

‘Hawks ground Rockets in weekend opener

CHL’s top-ranked team, Portland defeats Kelowna 3-1 on Friday

B.C. search groups mobilize for missing mushroom picker

Searchers from across the province look for Frances Brown who has been missing since Oct. 14.

Search for missing B.C. man a race against winter weather

David Jeff of Williams Lake was last seen in Kamloops during the chaotic wildfire evacuations

Expanding your creative process at UBCO

Kelowna - Creative Days events will be held at the university Saturday, Oct. 21, and Nov. 18

Exercising her right to fight

Thinking inside the box helped push Geneva Kostashen through cancer treatment

Residents pay tribute to city’s homeless

He was articulate and well-spoken. He was great at self-reflection. He liked watching the Canucks. And more often than not, he lived at the Howard House Men’s Shelter.

Man steals police car, goes for a ‘slow’ ride

Mission RCMP say the motive of the theft is unknown

Most Read