1. Where to Stay
Thanks to trickle-down profits from the energy industry, Calgary’s creative class is booming. And as more people come from places like Toronto and Montreal to check out the scene, stylish digs like Hotel Arts (from $93) in Inglewood are popping up to accommodate them. The former Holiday Inn has been transformed into the city’s first true boutique, with in-room wet bars, triple-sheeted duvets, and Saint Germain, one of the city’s best restaurants. The most coveted rooms: the trio of pool-view suites outfitted with couple’s rain showers and private balconies.
Everyone from Exxon execs to visiting heads of state opt for the Fairmont Palliser (from $140), one of Canada’s grand early-twentieth-century railroad hotels dripping with robber-baron elegance (note the hat-tipping bellhops, grand fireplaces, and marble pillars). The hotel’s attached to the downtown train station in case you want to hitch a two-hour ride into Banff National Park.
Collapse into thick pillow-top mattresses in the recently refurbished rooms at the Delta Bow Valley (from $130), a business-catering hotel in the government district. North-facing rooms have gorgeous views of the Bow River, which winds through the city and features an adjacent running trail.
2. Where to Eat
Two years ago, cooking classes at Mercato, a gourmet Italian market in the Mission district, became so popular the owners expanded it into a restaurant. Sit along the expansive red granite bar and peer into the open kitchen, which churns out dishes like a mixed tomato caprese with pasture-fresh buffalo mozzarella. The best part: Every ingredient is available for purchase just feet away.
Step into Calgary’s answer to Tavern on the Green—sans the roving photographer and cheesy gift shop. River Café resides in an elegant wood and stone cabin in Prince’s Island Park, a woodsy refuge in the middle of the Bow River, just minutes from downtown. A fly-fishing theme (rods, canoes, stuffed fish) plays up the area’s wild heritage, though a 6,000-plus-bottle wine collection and dishes like wild-hog prosciutto prove it’s more than civilized.
Order a whopping cut of Canadian prime beef alongside oil and ranching tycoons at the downtown Vintage Chophouse & Tavern. Though it only opened in 2003, the restaurant’s dark-wood and leather interior and jacketed waiters have old-money written all over them.
Speaking of ostentatious wealth, the decidedly stately Teatro is housed in a turn-of-the-century bank with vaulted ceilings and white marble columns. Dishes like an Alberta-raised venison carpaccio mix prairie flavors with Continental techniques—the hallmark of Calgary’s new cuisine.
3. What to Do
The booming energy business has fueled a hot art market around town, with galleries and studios popping up almost weekly (often as corporate tax breaks). Encorp’s Art Central is the most ambitious, with a multistory complex of studios, galleries, shops, and cafés located right downtown. Check out Steve Speer’s Ansel Adams–inspired frontier photos at the Four by Five gallery or the cute, slightly sinister Menthol Mongers, a collection of unhappy-looking smoking toys designed to help people kick the nicotine habit (ongoing). Avant-garde performance pieces take place at Truck, located next to the Fairmont Palliser (the gallery’s recent mobile art installation, Shredded Green, dispersed dime bags of shredded American money out of the back of a camper).
The bohemian charm of Kensington village has thankfully been spared the relentless construction eating up much of the skyline. Here, the streets are small and pedestrian-friendly, and the shopping (everything from local pottery to Canadian-made yogawear) is first-rate. Tip back a pint of properly poured Grasshopper wheat beer at the Kensington Pub, a cozy spot with exposed-wood beams. Then catch a late-night documentary screening at the twenties Plaza theater, followed by a cup of fresh-ground decaf at the Roasterie (314 10 St. NW; 403-270-3304).
4. Insider’s Tip
When it comes to cowboy hats (still omnipresent in this rodeo-crazy town), Calgarians wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything but a Smithbilt. The local hat factory—started in 1919 by Morris “Kosher Cowboy” Shumiatcher—has outfitted the likes of Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, and yes, George W. Bush. This summer the company moved to a new, larger factory (now closer to the Stampede rodeo grounds) with a better showroom, where it custom-fits hats made of straw, wool, or luxuriant beaver fur. For boots, the best in the Canadian West is the Alberta Boot Company, near the heart of downtown. The bootery custom-builds thousands of styles on-site in a sprawling workshop (which you can tour), taking precise measurements, then pimping feet in a menagerie of skins: kangaroo, stingray, and the always-slick gator.
5. An Oddball Day
Going to Calgary without seeing the Rockies is like visiting L.A. without checking out the ocean. It’s only an hour’s drive from the breathtaking peaks of Kananaskis Country, a 1,600-square-mile recreation area. Saddle up for a horseback ride at Boundary Ranch, where guided trail rides (between one and five kilometers) clop along verdant paths and besides glacial lakes. Aside from some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Canada (Brokeback Mountain was filmed here), you’ll likely spot wild elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and possibly a grizzly bear—let’s hope from very far away. Rides last from one hour to a full day and can be combined with an afternoon of whitewater rafting on the Kananaskis River or a big-ass BBQ lunch.
6. Related Links
FFWD is Calgary’s free news and entertainment weekly, great for music and nightlife listings.
The city’s style bible, Avenue, offers fashion and art info in a design-centric package.
For the basics—hotel listings, dining info, neighborhood maps—Tourism Calgary is a good starting point.