5 Good Reasons to Visit Calgary

BY DON NICHOLS — Winter 2019

isitors think of Calgary, the stomping grounds for cowboys and oil execs, as the gateway to Canada’s popular Banff National Park, about 80 miles west of the city in the Canadian Rockies. If you plan to visit the park this year, don’t just use the city as your springboard to the mountains. Here, five good reasons to budget some time for Calgary, as well.

1. A stunning new Central Library. Architectural Digest included the library, which opened on Nov. 1 in the emerging East Village neighborhood on the fringes of downtown, in its list of the 12 most anticipated new buildings of 2018. You’ll see why as soon as you set your sights on this $185 million eye-catcher from the street. Step inside, and you’ll be even more wowed by all the dramatic angles, native wood, indigenous art, modern furniture (with a Danish flair), and irregular-shaped windows. 403-260-2600; calgarylibrary.ca

A handcrafted Japanese knife at Knifewear.

2. Interesting up-and-coming neighborhoods ripe for exploring. In particular, book a culinary tour of Inglewood near downtown. On a three-hour venture with Alberta Food Tours, you’ll make stops at a variety of small, locally owned shops. For example, Knifewear specializes in fine (think pricey) handcrafted Japanese knives not sold anywhere else in the city. At the Silk Road Spice Merchant, employees hand-mix more than 100 spice blends, giving the store an intoxicating aroma. 844-535-5239; albertafoodtours.ca

3. Too-cute-for-words pandas. Last May, the Calgary Zoo welcomed two adult giant pandas and their 2-year-old cubs, all on loan from China. The adults will stay five years, while the youngsters take up residence in China late this year. Watch the four chomp on bamboo, cavort, and snooze in Panda Passage, a $14.4 million, specially designed facility with two indoor and two outdoor habitats. 800-588-9993; calgaryzoo.com

Dancehall act Bonjay at the King Eddy. PHOTO BY SEBASTIAN BUZZALINO.

4. The King Eddy. In July, the National Music Centre at Studio Bell reopened this historic music venue that attracted blues greats for decades until it closed in 2003. Musicians representing a variety of musical genres now perform on its stage every Thursday through Saturday. The venue also operates as a restaurant and bar daily (closed on Monday). Studio Bell, which debuted in 2016 in the East Village in a building that sandwiches the King Eddy, is part museum and part working music lab in which artists in residence record their music. The wing used for the latter had been closed to visitors until last year, when Studio Bell launched 60-minute Backstage Pass Tours every Sunday that deliver an insider look into how artists make their music. 403-543-5115; studiobell.ca

Rouge. PHOTO BY P. ROGALSKI .

5. An elevated dining scene. Calgary restaurateurs have upped their game in recent years, earning the city culinary cred. Dine on Roman-trattoria-style pasta at Bread and Circus, one of the most-talked-about new spots. Other hot tables include Charcut Roast House for hearty meat dishes, River Café for locally sourced foods, Deane House for contemporary Canadian cuisine, and Rouge for French fare. For special-occasion dining in historical homes loaded with charm, the latter two can’t be beat.

WHERE TO STAY

The 19-room Hotel Arts Kensington sits just across the Bow River from downtown. Owners re-branded the former Relais & Châteaux property last summer, renaming the restaurant Oxbow, giving the dining room a more relaxed (no more white tablecloths) look and feel, and adding more simple menu offerings such as a hamburger, though you can still order upscale dishes such as rack of lamb. You won’t feel like you’re in a hotel, thanks to a low-key check-in area and cozy rooms, some with fireplaces, with a residential feel. The premium Skoah bath products add a nice touch. From $149. 877-313-3733; hotelartskensington.com

For a little more quirky: A sister property in downtown, the 185-room Hotel Arts, offers more casual accommodations. Try the weekend brunch at Its Yellow Door Bistro. Rates from $129.

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