Twack (window shop) your way through the colourful clapboard shops and eateries perched throughout hilly downtown St. John's these days and you'll see the difference the booming oil industry has made since Newfoundland became an oil-rich "have" province in 2008.
There's a resurgence under way, despite the recession, a liveliness that hasn't been felt since the cod fishery collapsed in 1992, and much of it is being led by young entrepreneurs who have returned home from "aways" or were lucky enough to find a paycheque without having to trudge off-island as their parents did.
For one thing, there's an art revolution going on and the town is fast becoming a hot spot - the downtown A1C postal code has one of the highest concentrations of artists in the country.
While the traditional beat and ballad are still king, in the shoulder-to-shoulder bars along George Street, the faces behind the guitars and bodhran drums are fresh and young and they're bringing the outside music world twanging, rocking, hip-hopping and Jack Johnson-ing into the mikes.
Whether funky/chic or hip, the boutiques along Duckworth and Water streets retain an unpretentious, practical Newfoundland character; long before it became a fashion trend, the province was into "vintage" and recycled out of necessity. There's a serious effort at supporting local designers and jewellers and prices are kept low to keep the "open" sign hanging past the brief summer tourist season that has been burgeoning of late after a recent, eye-catching ad campaign.
And while cod and chips are still top-of-the-menu, a growing number of eateries are getting creative with Nouveau Newfie takes on everything from cod tongues to bakeapples (a type of berry) and proving that Newfoundland cuisine is not an oxymoron.
Canada's easternmost capital is becoming an exciting hipster-magnet with a thriving maritime arts and music scene that is giving Halifax a run for its money without losing its trademark Newfoundland persona.
ICEBERGS AND SUSHI
When icebergs aren't drifting past offshore or filling your water glass, they're floating atop a lychee/curaçao mini-ocean in your martini glass at Basho, a Japanese restaurant whose chef/owner, Tak Ishiwata, was a student of American celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa. 283 Duckworth St.; 709-576-4600
FASHION FORWARD (THAT ALSO LOOKS BACK)
Two sisters dreamed up Twisted Sisters Boutik, a bright boutique filled with contemporary and classic fashions primarily from Canadian designers such as Montreal's Bodybag and Victoria's Floating Gold Iceberg. Jewellery is local and shoes range from delicate sandals to gumdrop-coloured gum boots.
Friday afternoon is a busy time at Model Citizens with streams of locals flipping through racks of vintage designer fashions and adventurous refashioned apparel. Operations manager Mari-Lynn Taylor goes on buying jaunts to New York five times a year and the three-year-old shop is preparing to launch its own line of vintage fabrics. "We're tapping into a niche that works well with Newfoundland's use-what-you've-got character," Taylor says.
- Twisted Sisters: 175 Water St.; 709-722-60040; twistedsistersboutik.blogspot.com
- Model Citizens: 183 B Duckworth St.; 709-722-2777; www.modelcitizens.ca
LABRADOR CARIBOU, SALT COD AND BAKEAPPLES
Bacalao is the Basque word for salt cod and Andrea Maunder and partner/chef Mike Barsky have taken on all things cod - including tongue and cheek - and given them a "nouvelle Newfoundland" twist. They support a sustainable harvesting method called the cod pot, which are huge lobster-like traps with no bycatch, and they purchase one fisherman's entire catch to ensure freshness and quality. They fanatically chase down local products such as partridge berries, Newman's Port and Quidi Vidi beer to create cross-cultural and contemporary offerings like local Snow Crab Springrolls with bakeapple wine, and Labrador Caribou in a Rodrigues Barrens Blend wine sauce. Iceberg vodka makes an appearance in their to die for flour-free chocolate cake. 65 Lemarchant Rd.; 709-579-6565
A bright-blue arched doorway leads to a small, non-profit, artist-run centre for visual artists. A1C Gallery, named after St. John's postal code, is the city's leading contemporary-art space. "In the seventies, artists focused more on representations of the majestic landscapes of the province," says Gordon Laurin, A1C's curator and co-ordinator. "The younger, emerging artists are more interested in exploring broader issues."
Next door is the Leyton Gallery, which represents works from the province's best established artists as well as up and comers. And just around the corner, St. Michael's Printshop has a wide selection of offerings by local and visiting artists from around the globe. "Anyone doing a print run leaves us two prints," director Mike Connolly says, "one for us to sell and another for our archives."
- A1C Gallery: 8 Baird's Cove off Water Street; 709-237-0427; a1cgallery.com
- Leyton Gallery: Clift's-Baird Cove; 709-722-7177; www.theleytongallery.com
- St. Michael's Printshop: 72 Harbour Dr., 2nd floor; 709-754-2931; www.stmichaelsprintshop.com
MUSIC AND A PINT, OR TWO
Tuesday's open-mike nights at iconic O'Reilly's Pub is hard to beat for new local talent. Traipse down a steep alley to the Duke of Duckworth pub for epic fish and chips. Seen the place before? It's the pub featured in the CBC's TV series Republic of Doyle (which launched earlier this year)about a family-run gumshoe racket. Down the street, the low-ceilinged tavern The Ship Pub has been the nerve centre of Newfoundland's folk scene for decades, and also nurtures every genre of local bands.
- O'Reilly's: 13 George St.; 709-722-3735; www.oreillyspub.com
- Duke of Duckworth: 325 Duckworth St., McMurdo's Lane; 709-739-6344; thedukenl.ca
- The Ship Pub: 265 Duckworth on Solomon's Lane; 709-753-3870
Now a food shop/café and a popular local hangout, Auntie Crae's was a late-19th-century hardware store where the cod jig was invented. They roast their own coffee, bake their own bread and offer their own line of jams and jellies. In the adjoining Fishhook Neyle's Common Room, visitors can eat, read, socialize or listen to traditional music by Auntie Crae's House Band on Tuesdays. 272 Water St.; 800-563-8508; www.auntiecraes.com
Special to The Globe and Mail
IF YOU GO
Ryan Mansion If it was good enough for Prince Charles and Camilla during their 2009 visit to Newfoundland… Ryan Mansion is a grand 1909 residence with luxe suites and common rooms, a spa due to open this year and a Titanic-era staircase that inspires chef to create regular Titanic dinner parties. From $185, including a to-die-for full breakfast. 21-23 Rennies Mill Rd.; 709-753-7926; www.ryanmansion.com
Leaside Manor A 1922 Tudor manor gone bed and breakfast with stylish suites, each tastefully themed, from historical and country-chic to zebra-and-leopard safari and colourful contemporary. Great friendly service and full breakfast. From $159. 39 Topsail Rd.; 709-722-0387; www.leasidemanor.com
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