Weekend in Now Town

By Kate MacLennan

Deafened by persistent rumours that Chanel, Vuitton and other luxe labels are scouting for the perfect locations from which to provide Albertans with their divine indulgences—and flummoxed by the fact Calgary got Sephora and H&M before Vancouver—I recently hopped a WestJet flight and made my way to Calgary for 48 hours of investigative journalism.

It’s clear that where money is, opulence is never far behind. Heed this, dear readers: Cow Town is evolving. Its downtown feels a lot like Vancouver’s did about a decade ago (though the tall, glass towers downtown look more like London’s Canary Wharf), and Vancouverites know how our shopping has improved in the last 10 years.

My first stop? Hipster hangout Kensington. At Purr Boutique I dragged myself from the selection of stylish hats—a terrific accomplishment involving incredible discipline—only to discover that there was no shortage of adorable skirts, flirty tops and fun accessories by Canadian designers. My Visa got a lovely workout, and I made note that I could use one as well, after discovering Crave Cookies and Cupcakes just down the street.

Next stop: downtown at Arnold Churgin Shoes to score something scrumptious to wear to the FASHION Magazine 30th anniversary party. Mission accomplished (delicate, tastefully rhinestone-encrusted, strappy stilettos that didn’t break the bank at $125), but not before I ran into a well-known TV producer from Toronto, who was shoe shopping with an established PR maven from Vancouver. (They scored too.)

A quick zip into Winners paid off in JBrand skinny jeans— practically free at $80—as did a trip to Art Central, the reclaimed building that houses must-hit galleries and boutiques including Shisomiso, a treasure trove of well-edited independent labels and stunning Mackage coats.

The time it took to do an Urban Safari Tour (urbansafaritours.com) was the ideal way for a weekend warrior such as myself to experience Calgary’s downtown from a culinary standpoint. We hit five restaurants in under three hours, sampling everything from savoury stuffed peppers to sparkling shiraz.

Afterwards, I checked into Hotel Arts where, thankfully, nothing was left to remind of the Holiday Inn that once held the same address. My suite screamed “chill out,” from the fine linen on the king-sized bed to the extra long bathtub, but it was the hotel’s Raw Bar lounge and dining room that left a truly lasting impression. Mixologist Graham Warner’s delightful cocktails, all crafted with hand-pureed fruits and fresh herbs, catch up with you—fast. And I, well into my second concoction, vocalized my skepticism (in a diplomatic and friendly way, natch) that tuna tataki served so far from the sea could match any I’ve had in Vancouver, but Chef Duncan Ly’s melt-in-your-mouth version made me eat my words.

In the wake of a sold-out showing of Ang Lee’s provocative Love, Caution, my crew headed to the nascent Calgary Film Festival’s wrap party, allegedly the event to see and be seen. I cannot tell a lie: While the city is on the fashionable up-and-up it is still establishing its style stride and the people watching wasn’t quite there—yet. But I give kudos to the few who did arrive in statement pieces (I’m talking to you, lady in the slinky, gold vintage dress).

Back at the airport the staff at YYC’s domestic terminal was more thorough in their security check than LAX during a Code Red, yet I miraculously made it to my gate on time and took off over the Rockies with happy thoughts about Cow Town. And that’s when it hit me: This was Calgary, but I hadn’t seen a single Stetson. Guess I’ll have to go back.

Shown: The Raw Bar at Hotel Arts. Photography by Brent Mykytyshyn.