They say that an era’s top trends will always come full circle, but a classic cocktail has yet to go out of style!
If anything, the demand for the sophisticated, 1920s inspired cocktail bar has only increased, as seen in the influx of bougie, culture-infused culinary offerings popping up all around the city… People want a drink that measures up!
Plus, there is truly nothing better than looking forward to a delicious hand-crafted cocktail after a long, hard day, and certainly after a long week!
Many of the best watering-holes around the city are small in size, but they know how to serve up a mean drink. The leading menus pay tribute to the classics, serving up Whiskey Sours and Old Fashioneds with their own unique flare, while also offering creative concoctions that show off the incredible skills of Calgary’s top bartenders.
Let’s raise a glass to the cocktail bars in Calgary that will leave you scouring the menu for drink #2 before the first one has even arrived!
What: This underground lounge is hidden beneath the historic Hudson Block on Stephen Avenue. Just look for the glowing neon red triangle and head down the stairs. Beginning in March, this speakeasy style bar now welcomes patrons Thursday through to the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, offering up an array of artful cocktails, tasty bar bites, and a coveted escape from the ordinary in a luxuriously designed lounge. Keep it hush hush and come celebrate the best of what the weekend has to offer – in the classiest way possible!
What: One of Calgary’s most beloved restaurants, The Nash, is also home to the coziest, upscale cocktail sanctuary: The Off Cut Bar. Featuring live music on Thursdays along with a menu noting some of the city’s most imaginative cocktails, this is a go-to destination for any occasion. To keep your belly full, they offer a selection of five-star charcuterie, house-made burgers, and many more daily creations. They also provide a collection of small batch bourbons, whiskeys, and other spirits, along with and extensive wine and brewery selection for those who prefer a (somewhat) less boozy drink!
What: Reminiscent of a sophisticated ’60s lounge, The Wednesday Room has significantly changed the cocktail game in Calgary ever since it first opened its doors! Designed by one of the city’s most notable interior design firms, McKinley Burkart, this space is truly a mid-century dream. With eclectic lighting, plush-retro furniture, and vintage typewriters, you’ll be transported into a scene straight out of Mad Men – you might even catch Don Draper lurking in the corner. The cocktails show the same tribute to the era, with twists on the Vesper Martini and the Old Fashioned, as well as elegant original mixes with sophisticated flavours. Try the ‘Rose Colored Glasses,’ ‘Afternoon Delight,’ or ‘The Real McKinley’ made with Rosso Earl Grey tea to get you started. #MeetMeOnWednesday
What: Just when you thought a wine bar couldn’t get any dmore unique, in comes Bar Annabelle. At only 22 seats this spot may be tiny, but it’s menu is well curated to fit the warm, intimate vibe of the space. Created by the team at Blink Restaurant, they offer up many shareable plates that cost merely $12 or less, along with a handpicked section of charcuterie served with house-made preserves. These bites are best paired with something off their extensive wine, whiskeys, and spirits menu, or one of their sparkling options. This cubby will give you a fun escape from the everyday and transport you to a New York hideout.
What: Yet another new kid on the block, this Latin street food spot specializes in creative tacos, delicious guac, and sassy cocktails – they really don’t beat around the bush! Putting a satirical twist on their food and drinks is something that is infused within the culture of this eatery, giving their menu a unique punch that you won’t find at many other spots in the city. Serving up their perfectly loaded Micheladas and pitchers of Margaritas, they have also refined the techniques of their many unique cocktails. ‘Hard Nipples,’ ’17th Street Gang’ and ‘Lil Tramposo,’ which comes with a hilarious gift on the side, are just a few of the well-balanced drinks that you simply must try. They also offer all their cocktails for $6 Sunday to Thursday before 7 pm and after 9 pm, along with $2.50 tacos from 4 pm to late into the night!
What: The low-lit, wooden-accented ambiance of Cleaver makes it the perfect spot to seek refuge once the sun has set. Bold cocktails and European infused small plates are what this cozy watering-hole is best known for. Happy hour runs daily from 4 to 7 pm, so getting your hands on one of their carefully concocted drinks for only $7 each is a serious steal. A few cocktails that are must-tries are the ‘Dose of Original Sin,’ ‘Double Barrel Old Fashioned,’ ‘The Anti-Depressant,’ and of course ‘Farewell to Sober’ – we all know where that one is headed!
What: Meant to be a sanctuary for weary travellers, this pre-prohibition infused speakeasy is the perfect spot to escape the city (inside the city), while sipping on a libation or two. The bartenders at this spot know their craft and are happy to take you and your companions on a wild cocktail adventure. The bartenders will help you choose a drink that suits your fancy and gets the night started off on the right foot. Don’t forget to look through the dimly lit room to check out their unique decor, which combines industrial metal accessories with elegant glamour!
What: Known as the ‘underbelly’ of Two Penny Chinese, The Tea Room is a cozy, intimate bar where you will find cold drinks, hot buns, and dazzling tracks playing all night long. Similar to its upstairs counterpart, this cocktail bar serves up experimental creations with both sweet and savoury flavours. Their dim sum menu is available all night long and is undeniably accomplished, pairing well with any of their creative cocktails.
What: Marked as simply #300, and once a storage area for Model Milk, this place has been transformed into a lavish hidden retro bar serving up a weekly rotating and creatively crafted cocktail menu. This 50-seat parlour is located upstairs from from Model Milk’s kitchen below. This upscale spot was one of the first to domino the revolution of quaint, intimate cocktail bars, and still continues as a staple of the industry with skilled-bartenders just waiting to make your next boozy concoction.
What: Cocktails at Proof are meant for the free and the curious, as their menus are constantly changing to keep up with the demand. Situated in the very heart of Victoria Park, this 60 seat space features five-star bartenders who are constantly refining their recipes. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other spots that put more care into each drink than they do here. Reservations are not allowed, so head down right after work to drown out a long day or grab a few friends and toast to the weekend.
What: A cross between a neighbourhood watering hole and a high-class establishment, this stylish cocktail bar is tucked behind the oh-so-trendy Cannibale barber shop. There is an obvious pride that goes into each one of their prohibition inspired cocktails, with inventive creativity going into each mix. With its mellow ambiance and bumping summertime patio, this spot is the perfect place to toast the weekend.
What: Calgary’s favourite craft pizza joint is also home to the smallest cocktail bar in the city – who knew! Marked by a regal portrait of a French bulldog, you’ll have to walk through Una Takaway and Bread and Circus Trattoria before stumbling upon this tiny, eclectic, Paris-inspired spot. With only 20 seats you’re in for a very intimate evening, as your sip on bold, biodynamic ,and (usually) organically produced offerings. Working with such a small selection, they can afford to be picky and as a result you’ll undoubtedly discover your new favourite wine to go along with a charcuterie or fondu delight.
What: Tucked in the basement of the Devenish Building, you will first need to figure out how to get into this hidden gem. True to it’s 1920s prohibition style inspiration, there will be an old-fashioned phone located beside a tall bookcase. Only once you’ve given your secret code to the host is when the magic truly happens. Step into another world as you pass through the bookcase and into a bohemian-style saloon. With velvet curtains, crystal chandeliers, and antique furniture, the ambiance will have you convinced you have been transported into a different era. If you look hard enough you might even catch Hemingway and Fitzgerald sipping a scotch as they discuss their latest literary endeavours. Remember, cocktail attire might not be required, but it is admired – come looking fabulous!
What: Ricardo’s is just off the beaten path of 17th Avenue. Sail away on the shores of the Caribbean with its twinkling lights, bright tiki decor, and rum-infused cocktails from their extensive menu boasting over 75 rum varieties. From a Piña Colada to a Daiquiri, they do an amazing job of sticking to the warm weather classics, while offering their own concoctions that go down smooth and take you back to fun in the sun – no matter what the weather forecast is in Calgary.
What: This sunny two-story restaurant is a must-visit. Featuring stylish, modern decor, The Elbow Room hosts bougie evenings of culinary delights and delicious, handcrafted cocktails. Be sure to not miss out on the patio facing Elbow Drive once the warmer weather finally hits!
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Kristy is a creative Communications and PR strategist, freelance writer, coffee enthusiast and wine connoisseur who has a strong passion for travelling, art, style and fashion. Check out her blog (FloralandBows.com) for a taste of YYC through the lens of a refined, sassy, PR girl working on being a successful #girlboss.