Impressed with Canada’s Cowtown: Calgary, Alberta

  • General Impressions
  • Beer
  • Food
  • Coffee

General Impressions

Alberta takes a lot of crap from Canadians. It’s the punch line of more jokes than no other province except for Newfoundland. But Calgary is the part of Alberta that can take it on the chin. It’s a confident city, has a good deal of swagger.

The vibe in Calgary seems both friendly and extraverted, offering a change of pace from Vancouver. Calgary has a sprawling city park with lots of walking paths located on an island in the river. With lots of bridges across the river, Calgary is fairly attractive even if it doesn’t have the greatest architecture.

We stayed 3 nights in an AirBnB rental in the Bridgeland area. All concerns that this would be too far from downtown vanished when we realized that Bridgeland had quite a bit going for it, including the best ramen in town (more on that later).

Beer

Calgary is Alberta’s beer hub. We hit up as many beer bars and brewpubs as we could in our 3-day stay. Highlights include:

The National on 17th

If you were to visit one beer bar in Calgary, it would be The National. They have more than one location; the one on 17th was the one we went to several times during our stay because we were impressed. The selection was great with lots of Alberta focus. Vibe also great, especially during the Stampede when all the hot cowgirls and cowboys were drinking here. Impressed with the service, as the staff did not seem overwhelmed by the crowds and smiles were shared by all. Loved it here.

Beer Revolution and Brewsters

These are like sisters, with Brewsters being the brewpub and Beer Revolution being the beer bar next door. Between the two, I preferred Beer Revolution and surprisingly they had Brewsters beers that Brewsters themselves did not have on tap.

I appreciated the fact that at Beer Revolution, half-pints were exactly half-price. Also liked that closing time on weekends was 2AM (in Vancouver it’s hard to find a place that closes at 2AM or later). The decor and music could use a little work, but otherwise Beer Revolution is a great bar.

Of course you will want to visit the brewpub Brewsters next door while you are here. They also close at 2AM, have 16 of their own beers on tap. Quality is actually pretty good.

Boxwood

This is not a beer bar, but the Calgary-area Village Brewery (which has no taproom!) recommended we go here to try the full lineup of their brews. We loved that Boxwood is located in the middle of a city park, and had pleasant patio seating. Perfect for lunch, and 3-5PM is happy hour prices. The Village beers are solid.

Oak & Vine (Liquor Store)

Excellent liquor store on the outskirts of town, with a superior selection of local, Canadian, and international beers.

Food

Model Milk

This was my choice for a birthday dinner and we were impressed. This restaurant could survive in any major city. It’s fun, creative, playful, unpretentious. Prices were about what you expect to pay for this type of food, actually quite a good value overall. We ordered an arseton of food; all the dishes arrive when they’re ready, perfect for sharing. Had everything from squid fricasee (which seems to be a mainstay and favorite dish, which indeed lived up to the hype). The menu changes regularly, which is great for locals.

Shiki Menya (ramen)

Impressive ramen in Calgary? Yes! Read about this place on a blog, and so glad we picked it. It’s in the Bridgetown area. Had to wait about an hour for a table during lunch but it was worth it. I ordered the tonkatsu black ramen. Garlicky and good.

Coffee

Kawa

Uses Intelligentia beans, both the Black Cat and another blend (Analog when we were there). Syneso machine. Excellent barista when we were there.

Vendome

Sunnydale area, bright and lively joint. A little on the yuppie side of hipsterdom. Busy and serves food that looks good but we just came for coffee. The coffee was more on the Italian side of things with a monodimensional burnt side, but still alright as we did not need to add sugar.

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