15 Jan The Greatest Indoor Show on Earth: Highlighting the Calgary Hospitality Community
By Makina Labrecque
Hi! My name is Makina Labrecque, and I am writing to you from Calgary, Alberta.
Cowtown. Stampede City. Heart of the New West.
All these nicknames work for the “small town” city of 1.4 million.
Calgary hasn’t been home for my entire life, but much of the population is made up of people who were born here and never left. I’d like to think one of the reasons for this is because we get an average 333 days’ worth of sunshine per year – yes, it might be accompanied by huge foozles of snowfall (128.8 cm per year to be exact), but I’ll take the sun over rain any day. Any Albertan that has moved to Vancouver would probably agree, although charily. Hospitality professionals who have fled west and east feeling as though they have suckled the teat of Cowtown’s opportunity dry are also likely to agree that they miss running into pals en route to their 2 pm bar prep shift. I can’t speak for everyone, but what I do know is that the “small town feel in the big city” is what I and many others love (and miss) about YYC.
We are home to the Calgary Stampede, also known as the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”
In a new world where job descriptions have been flipped like the top of a shaker tin, I must argue that the real show is within the walls of bars and restaurants, making it happen despite all the adversity that COVID-19 has thrown at us.
I am not writing this piece to emphasize the hardship that local businesses have experienced during these unprecedented times (yes, that word again) – because most of you reading this know all too well from experiencing it first-hand. Instead, I write to emphasize and recognize the people making the Calgarian scene move forward in an inspiring direction.
Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan are often overlooked on lists and awards distribution in the Canadian hospitality scene. As mentioned above, many industry professionals leave the Prairies once they feel there is no longer an opportunity to expose themselves to the ever-changing landscape of trend, pomp, and affluence that we see in this cutthroat industry.
To succeed in hospitality, you must like attention to a certain degree. Being behind a bar is like “being on stage.” As a former professional Irish Dancer, this is what drew me to cocktail bartending. People trust you and enjoy the fancy drinks that are created for them. People don’t go home from their day jobs and practice accounting – but they do go home and pretend to be a cocktail bartender because they genuinely love it and have respect for the craft (that’s why we should never look down upon home bartenders – take their efforts as a compliment).
The larger cities are full of talent, charisma, and niche concepts that can fulfill any demographic’s imbibing desires – they deserve to be recognized for the hard work, talent, and status within the community. I believe that Calgary hospitality has something special – it glimmers with talent, passion and has a soft television static background noise of “diamond in the rough” waiting to be polished. What is the word? – opportunity—much of it waiting patiently to be discovered.
Calgary has the correct talent with the right attitudes working their tails off to push us closer to more recognition as a top player in Canada. Let me highlight a few and leave you with dreams of a post-pandemic world, where we can hug each other and dine together once again.
Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador & Activation Manager
Allie Martin & Greg Lexiphanic – Founders, Preshift YYC (@preshiftyyc)
Join us to Chat, eat, and learn – that’s the motto of preshift, a local hangout for all hospitality professionals in YYC typically held on Wednesday afternoon “preshift” at local hotspot sandwich joint Alumni (@alumniyyc).
Bartenders, brand ambassadors, back of house and everyone in between uniting in a safe space to casually chat, catch up and talk about current events. Call it therapy?
Go check them out; they’re doing great things for YYC hospitality.
Erin Miller – General Manager, Proof Cocktail Bar (@proofyyc)
As I mentioned, job descriptions have changed over the last nine months since the onset of the many pivots businesses have been forced to endure due to the pandemic. Erin Miller has been a shining example of “rolling with the punches” in this department. She’s constantly smiling, creating systems and leading a team of bartenders turned shippers and receivers while mastering the art of e-commerce. She has led Proof’s team to the brink of busting the building at the seams (it’s a small space) with over 1000 cocktail kits sold and shipped in the last nine months. Hats off to you, Erin – the cocktail imbibers of Calgary certainly appreciate you.
John Fairholm – Bar Manager, Ricardo’s Hideaway (@ricardosyyc)
It’s not so often bar managers are exceptional at replying to emails (Don’t get offended, people – I understand, and I’ve been there).
Sometimes it is like herding kittens, and sometimes it is easy with organized and motivated characters like John. John is a shining example of a community player that offers his services in any way he can, whenever he can.
Need help decorating your Christmas bar in a jiffy? He’ll be there.
Need someone to bounce ideas off for a cocktail competition submission? He’ll be there.
Need a friend to talk to? He’ll be there.
John, you deserve a shout out because I think the community appreciates altruistic people like you!
A1 Bodega Café & Von Der Fels (@a1bodegacafe & @vonderfels)
I can imagine conceptual changes as a business owner or investor are not as welcomed as some may think since we have been acclimatized to many during the pandemic crisis among bars and restaurants. Andrea Robinson (A1 Bodega Café) and Will Trow (Von Der Fels) have been legends when it comes to the reinvention of a business over the last nine months – embracing change and letting the community into their hearts.
Previously Two Penny Chinese, A1 Bodega Café boasts a quaint bodega market (like what you would see in NYC) featuring local wares and eats with a Café featuring bright, naturally lit art and food that makes you feel at home while sustaining the planet.
Von Der Fels, formerly a strict only wine bar (sometimes you could nab a Negroni), has now transformed to offer exceptional cocktails by bartenders Bryan Childs (a former staple at local Calgary legend, Divino) and Carter Cook (former staple and DJ at Proof Cocktail Bar). Von Der Fels boasts a space no more than 12 feet wide and had to pivot entirely (even after provincial re-open at lesser-capacity) to take away meals inspired by global renowned restaurants. Chef Douglas King is an absolute visionary and humble genius. You must go here!
Duct Taped Banana
1.5 oz | 45mL Tanqueray No.Ten Gin
0.25 oz | 7 mL Dolin Dry Vermouth
0.25 oz | 7 mL Giffard Banane du Bresil
1 Dash Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters
Add all the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled and diluted. Strain neat into a chilled Nick and Nora or cocktail glass. Garnish with a celery leaf.