Calgary’s East Village, once a somewhat neglected chunk of land nestled between the downtown commercial district and the Bow and Elbow rivers, is in the midst of a major revitalization. Condo towers are inching skyward, heritage buildings have been refurbished and new businesses are moving in. And with the recent opening of the National Music Centre’s Studio Bell—plus a sprawling new Central Library now under construction—the East Village is poised to be a hotbed for culture in the years to come.
WHAT TO DO
The area’s big-name attraction is Studio Bell; the home of the National Music Centre opened earlier this summer. Whether your ears favour Drake, Stompin’ Tom, Buffy Sainte-Marie or Celine Dion, you’ll find much to learn, listen to and engage with over five floors and more than a dozen exhibition spaces devoted to showcasing the past, present and future of Canadian music.
A few blocks east lies another paean to history—Fort Calgary, the site upon which the city was effectively founded in 1875. The former Northwest Mounted Police base recounts stories of the RCMP’s forerunner while guiding visitors through Cowtown’s early days.
From there, it’s just a few steps (or wheel spins) to the RiverWalk, one of Calgary’s best spots for a stroll—or bike ride. The promenade, with separated pedestrian and cycling paths, meanders along the south bank of the Bow, giving the East Village a marquee public space and connecting residents with the city’s most vital waterway.
Looking for some evening entertainment? Cross the Elbow River to Inglewood. One of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods, its gentrification was a precursor to the East Village’s current redevelopment. Inglewood’s 9th Avenue Southeast is particularly tuneful, with spots like The Blues Can and Ironwood Stage and Grill boasting nightly performances (plus worthy food options to boot). No wonder the strip has been dubbed Calgary’s Music Mile!
More “elevated” cultural offerings are also available on the other side of the East Village—in downtown Calgary proper. Both the Glenbow Museum (of Western Canadian art and history) and the multipurpose Arts Commons performance venue are just three blocks west of the National Music Centre.
WHERE TO EAT
Overlooking the river (and RiverWalk), the beautifully renovated Simmons Building, a former mattress factory, is currently the East Village’s main gathering space for foodies. During the day they gather for delicious bread, pastries and pizzas baked daily at Sidewalk Citizen, and for expertly crafted cappuccinos, lattes and espressos from Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters. At night, the action moves to Charbar, the spinoff eatery from Charcut chef Connie DeSousa, whose rooftop patio boasts some of the best views in the city—to complement its Argentinian-inspired fare. If you’re inspired to discover all three spots in one shot, book a behind-the-scenes Eating East Village visit with Calgary Food Tours.
Fine dining is also on order at Deane House, the circa-1906 residence of a former Superintendent of Fort Calgary. Now situated across the Elbow River from the fort, the historic home just reopened as a restaurant from the owners of the revered River Café. Look for contemporary takes on Canadian regional cuisine, served in a heritage-chic dining room.
WHERE TO SHOP
East Village–abutting Inglewood is home to all manner of browse-worthy indie boutiques. Check out the likes of Espy, Adorn and Lauren Bagliore for designer women’s fashions, plus North American Quality Purveyors for lumberjack-chic apparel for men. Or seek out unique home products from The Uncommons, funky terrariums from Plant, new and classic vinyl from Recordland and more.
And on the other side of the East Village, the Stephen Avenue Walk is of course a major draw, with access to sizeable shopping centres, brand-name retailers and unique-to-Calgary stores such as Riley & McCormick. (The strip also has a significant selection of restaurants and eateries to help you fuel up for further retail therapy.)
WHERE TO STAY
Ample accommodations in the commercial core mean you can be within walking distance of the up-and-coming East Village as well as downtown’s established shopping and dining districts.
The Hyatt Regency Calgary offers a stylish, CAA/AAA Four Diamond Award-winning stay and boasts luxurious amenities like its Stillwater Spa and popular Thomson’s restaurant. And don’t miss the 500-plus Western Canadian objets d’art that are displayed throughout the hotel. AMA members save 10% on regular room rates.
Members can also save 5% on bookings at the Delta Hotels Calgary Downtown, which caters equally to families and business travellers, and offers easy all-weather access to downtown amenities through the +15 Skywalk.
And as of late October, visitors can stay in the heart of the East Village, just a block from the National Music Centre, at the new Hilton Garden Inn Calgary Downtown. AMA members save up to 10% on room bookings.
Calgary is, of course, an easy three-hour drive south from Edmonton, and 1.5 hours from Red Deer. It’s also two and three hours northeast of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, respectively. But you already knew that. What you might not know are the benefits of upgrading to a Plus or higher membership with AMA, which allows for extended towing distances, free fuel and delivery, and enhanced trip collision reimbursement—all very helpful if you encounter the unexpected while on the road.
HOW TO SAVE
Historic deal: Explore the Fort Calgary National Historic Site for less. AMA members save 10% on admission and gift shop merchandise.