There was a time when visitors soaking up the sea air along Halifax's harbourfront boardwalk were forced to backtrack once they reached the southern terminus at Marginal Road.
Little wonder: The hulking waterfront warehouses that lay beyond were hardly welcoming. Improvements to the so-called Seaport District have been ongoing. The Pier 21 museum kicked things off in 1999, but the relocation this year of the Seaport Farmers' Market to a renovated eco-friendly building has turned the neighbourhood around.
Earlier renos at Pier 22 and 23 created a pavilion for cruise passengers and an events venue honouring homeboy Samuel Cunard; then the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design unveiled its Port Campus in 2007. These low-slung buildings retain industrial cred, their glass and metal add-ons complementing rather than competing with the existing architecture. The market, however, is drawing big crowds and this month began opening its doors three days a week.
The upshot? Marginal Road is marginal no more and the streets above (south of Morris, roughly from Barrington to the water) are benefiting from the buzz. Now, dock workers have yielded to greensters, gourmets and gallery-goers who have made milling around a Saturday-morning ritual.
Seaport Farmers' Market, Pier 20, 1209 Marginal Rd.; 902-492-4043; halifaxfarmersmarket.com
The market's eco elements - windmills, geothermal wells and a living wall among them - are undeniably impressive. Ditto for what's sold inside. Interspersed between butchers, bakers and candle makers, vendors hawk fun souvenirs such as birch knitting needles or totes fashioned from recycled sails. Assorted finger foods are also available allowing multitaskers to shop and nosh simultaneously. In November, the 43,000-square-foot market started opening on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Mary E. Black Gallery, 1061 Marginal Rd.; 902-492-2522; craft-design.ns.ca
Studio 21, 1223 Lower Water St.; 902-420-1852; studio21.ca
The Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design spotlights quality crafts in the Mary E. Black Gallery. Designs by master jeweller Donald Stuart, on display until mid-December, are a case in point. Crafty souls can dabble in woodworking, potting and weaving by joining the centre's public workshops. Conversely, art lovers can veer north past Nova Scotia Power's new generating station-cum-corporate headquarters to Studio 21. It has been selling contemporary Canadian art for more than 20 years.
WHEN HUNGER STRIKES
Hamachi House, 5190 Morris St.; 902-425-7711; hamachihouse.com
Cafe Chianti, 1241 Barrington St.; 902-423-7471; cafechianti.ca
You can't visit Halifax without savouring the twin pillars of local cuisine. Fish, naturally, comes first. If you prefer it really fresh, Hamachi House is the go-to place for sushi. Broad dinner menu aside, it's notable for lunchtime bento boxes and late-night Happy Maki Hours. Café Chianti is a sentimental favourite that recently reopened in upscale digs after a January fire. It scores points for risotto crab cakes and shellfish-laden linguini pescatore.
ALL FIRED UP
Morris East, 5212 Morris St.; 902-444-7663; morriseast.com
Pizza Corner at Blowers and Grafton streets rivals Citadel Hill as a civic landmark as three pizza joints stand ready to feed revellers late into the night. At Morris East, however, a regional focus makes the thin-crust pies stand out. Sure, the oven is from Naples, but it burns Annapolis Valley apple wood. Ingredients are typically native too, many arriving fresh from the market. Toppings change with the seasons (charcuterie and root vegetables currently reign) as does the lineup of artisanal cocktails. As a bonus, Morris East's hip-with-a-heart vibe invites lingering.
Garrison Brewing, 1149 Marginal Rd.; 902-453-5343; garrisonbrewing.com
Henry House, 1222 Barrington St.; 902-423-5660; henryhouse.ca
Brewers today uphold a Haligonian tradition dating to 1754. For a quick quaff, Garrison Brewing's sampler bar takes the prize … literally. Four of its offerings, including Imperial I.P.A and Winter Warmer, won medals at the 2010 World Beer Championships. For a libation-and-lunch combo, try Henry House. Putting a historic spin on the "sociable" scene, the intimate spot (once home to Father of Confederation William Alexander Henry) serves Granite Brewery ales plus grade-A pub grub.
Bearly's House of Blues, 1269 Barrington St.; 902-423-2526; www.bearlys.ca
At Bearly's, drinking qualifies as both a cultural activity and an extreme sport. This is a decidedly old-school joint (decor-wise, the colour wheel wavers between shades of nicotine and stout). In this sanitized age, that is as refreshing as the cold beer on tap. Hot blues, however, deserves credit for pulling in everyone from artsy undergrads to retired longshoremen. Listen to live music each night except Mondays and Wednesdays. On the latter, killer karaoke is scheduled instead.
Special to The Globe and Mail