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Calgary’s New Wave of Cool

Read on for tips on where to eat, drink and shop your way through the city

Three woman laugh together while sitting on blankets in the grass at an outdoor concert in Calgary, Alberta

Things are happening. Trendy spots and innovative projects are popping up in pockets throughout the city. Grand pieces of contemporary artwork appear out of the concrete. Artful (and commissioned) graffiti create murals under bridges. Wonderland, a 12-metre face made of wire, stands at the base of a towering building in the downtown core—a part of the city that is typically quiet after office hours. Instead, it seems, people migrate to the surrounding neighbourhoods—the cornerstones of Calgary’s new wave of cool, each with its own distinct character. The city’s retail and entertainment district along 17th Avenue goes on and on, spotted with cool cocktail bars, craft beer emporiums and boutiques selling everything from thrift to couture. The street’s highlights, though, are the restaurants that focus on local, fresh ingredients. The thriving Corbeaux Bakehouse, a market-style restaurant, has an impressive range of mix-and-match charcuterie and cheeses, among other creative dishes, perfect for sharing. Plan for a long, drawn-out dinner at Market, where they cure and butcher their own meats, make their own cheese and grow their own vegetables and herbs. Only a couple of blocks down, you’ll find Model Milk in an old dairy building still with its original 1930s brick. If you can get a view of the open kitchen, watch the dynamic rhythm of exquisite cooking while you sip on well-crafted cocktails.

You also have to have a Caesar while in Calgary, where the iconic Canadian cocktail was first created. Head to Blue Star Diner (where they do the drink justice), a cozy restaurant in Bridgeland, home to Little Italy. Their full-range, all-delicious menu with an Albertan twist (like bison chili on your omelette) will be a hearty base for some serious neighbourhood hopping.

For an eclectic assortment of shops and restaurants, wander down 9th Avenue in Inglewood. Peruse every spice imaginable at Silk Road Spice Merchant, check out the miniature greenery at Plant, a terrarium store, or buy all-natural products—from deodorant to tiles—at Riva’s Eco Living. Stop in for a live jam session at Goldgrass Home, an old airplane hangar, or fill up on delicious pizza and root beer floats at Without Papers.

And there’s much, much more. Kensington has great shopping, cafés and pubs, including Container Bar, a cool alleyway spot. Nearby is containR, a colourful outdoor pop-up performance venue made of old shipping containers. In the East Village, condos are going up in the blink of an eye. An old brick Simmons mattress factory has been transformed into a restaurant, bakery and coffee roaster. Prince’s Island Park, minutes from Calgary’s core, hosts a ton of outdoor concerts and events. Biking is also becoming a priority in the city, which boasts the longest urban bike pathway system in North America. You can even go rafting through the city on the Bow River.

So for those who shrug off Calgary as a place for oil tycoons and cowboys, think again. Its evolving culture is definitely making this city one to watch.