Where to go for an after-theatre drink in Calgary? For 20 years, actors, directors and playwrights made the Auburn Saloon their home away from home. In February, however, the watering hole was evicted from its digs on 9th Avenue, leaving a gaping void in the social lives of thespians.
I checked out three possible successors to its crown, accompanied by performers currently onstage in the city, to see which spots can live up to – or rise above – the Auburn.
The atmosphere:This restaurant and wine bar, located in what used to be a bank, has been bringing sophistication to Calgary since 1993. Just how classy is it? When one of my guests plunked her bag on the floor by the bar, a purse-holding footstool suddenly materialized underneath it.
The company: After a performance of Theatre Calgary’s God of Carnage, Daniela Vlaskalic popped across the street to join me. Vlaskalic, who plays Annette (a.k.a. the character who vomits onstage) in Yasmina Reza’s West End hit, is also a theatre creator and passed along the news that her play The Drowning Girls is currently playing off-Broadway in New York.
The drink: Teatro’s take on the Italian spritz ($11) contains prosecco with a dash of Aperol and Fernet Branca bitters. What makes it different are the encapsulations: grapefruit and basil purée bubbles that pop delightfully in your mouth. Vlaskalic praised the drink for being summery and refreshing, but not oversweet. She quickly began planning a trip to Italy.
The verdict: Teatro certainly has location, location, location on its side. It is literally across the street from the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts, which houses such theatre companies as Theatre Calgary, Alberta Theatre Projects and One Yellow Rabbit. While it was the perfect place for a special, dressed-up drink, Vlaskalic and I decamped after just one for the dive-bar comforts (nachos and beer) of nearby Bear and Kilt Freehouse.
200 – 8th Ave. SE, 403-290-1012; teatro.ca
The atmosphere:Located in the trendy Hotel Arts, Raw Bar is a lounge that serves Pacific-Rim influenced cuisine. When weather permits, you can eat and drink on the poolside patio – but, since weather did not permit, I sat at the slick, white bar under a collection of glass bulbs.
The company: Rebecca Northan, the hilarious Calgary actor behind the improvised hit Blind Date, met me after her current show – a revival of Morris Panych’s The Ends of the Earth at nearby Vertigo Mystery Theatre. After a cocktail, she spilled the beans on her next adventure: She’s packing up her red clown nose to take Blind Date to London in May for a seven-week run at the Charing Cross Theatre.
The cocktail: Eden’s Love Affair ($10) was invented by Raw Bar’s wunderkind bartender Savannah Beach – and, yes, that’s her actual name. (She’s from B.C.) The pink concoction, served in a champagne flute, mixes Hendrick’s gin, Campari and Fentimans Rose Lemonade with muddled celery. A rosebud floats on top. “I’m going to be supersexist and say it’s a ladies’ drink,” Northan remarked.
The verdict: No problem with the drinks or the snacks (excellent spicy sashimi), but the atmosphere was a little sedate. On a Saturday at 10 p.m., the place was quiet – though the staff assured us it was hopping the night before. Perhaps worth a second look when the pool is open.
119 – 12 Ave. SW, 403-266-4611; hotelarts.ca
The atmosphere:This bar is located in a former dairy that, more recently, was a gay bar called Victoria’s. Now, it’s got the cozy hipster vibe down pat. Above the bar, calf feeders filled with Edison light bulbs create just the right low-light atmosphere to make the clientele appear even more good looking than it is.
The company: Ava Jane Markus, an up-and-coming actor currently playing Mary Shelley’s sister in The Apology at Alberta Theatre Projects, sipped with me. After a drink or two, Markus spilled some beans of her own: Terminus, a hit from Toronto’s Off-Mirvish Series she performed in last fall, will go on a national tour next season.
The drink: Stephen Phipps, the cocktail concoctor whose business card reads, “flavour astronaut,” is best known for his Black Manhattan, but he wanted us to try a couple of his less-famous bevvies: Model Milk Punch (a fancy winter twist on eggnog with Château de Montifaud cognac and Vietnamese cinnamon bark) and the Pear and Pisco Sour (which combines Pisco ABA with poached pears and gewurztraminer syrup). I appreciated the manly woodsman-like flavour of the former, while Markus enjoyed the latter for not being too sweet: “It tasted like eating a very beautiful flower.”
The verdict: The relaxed, creative atmosphere (and maybe the drinks) led to excellent theatre-related conversations – and not just with Markus, but many strangers who joined in, including a pleasant fellow named Shovik who hugged me and asked whether I was a dancer. I know where I’ll be returning on my next Calgary theatre trip.
308 – 17 Ave. SW, 403-265-7343; modelmilk.ca
J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe’s theatre critic. He was not charged for his drinks and food. The bars and restaurants did not review or approve this article.