Whoever said the bar scene was “sexy” … LIED.
Thanks to the genius of marketing masterminds we’ve been brainwashed by Superbowl commercials, magazine ads, and music videos to believe nightclubs and bars are where you will find the hottest people, be at your sexiest, and pick up at the end of the night.
So … you spend hours choosing an outfit, getting primped and ready, looking to make a Victoria’s Secret entrance when you walk in the door … only to find out it’s too crowded for anyone to even notice the effort, the drinks are flat and watered down, you get hit on by awkwardly creepy guys, and end up with an awful hangover the next morning after those last two tequila shots.
Because you are just one of the hundreds of people that walk in and out the front doors that night it’s really hard to run into “that guy” that made the whole night worth while. You go home wondering if there is any man on earth worth shaving your legs for ever again. It’s depressing. Unfortunately, you go through the week and do it all over again because there aren’t any other options.
Enter the specialty cocktail bar (or the modern “speakeasy”).
THE REINVENTION OF THE SPEAKEASY
Although Prohibition Era is long gone, the idea of the speakeasy is back with a vengeance! Small, specialty cocktail bars are popping up in many metropolitan cities to bring back the sexy, sultry, rebellious, and mysterious experience of enjoying a beautifully prepared cocktail.
Unlike nightclubs and pubs, that pour pints and mix simple drinks at a dizzying pace, where patrons are more concerned with consuming volume than actual taste, specialty cocktail bars are at the other end of the spectrum. These small, private establishments focus on making beautifully poured libations … artfully prepared each and every time. The preparation of each drink is like ceremony, similar to watching a sushi master preparing a simple, yet elegant, plate of sashimi or nigiri. It’s hard not become mesmerized watching these passionate bartenders and mixologists prepare the perfect Manhattan or Cosmopolitan.
Enjoying a drink with friends is no longer just a weekend event. Specialty cocktail bars provide the perfect place to wind down after a long day at work … seven days a week! And … if you’re looking to scope out potential bachelors in a more casual and approachable environment, these bars are a great place to:
- Sip – drink by taking small mouthfuls.
- Savour – taste (good food and drink) and enjoy it completely.
- Chill – relax and calm down.
If you’re visiting the city of Calgary (or are fortunate to live here at the base of the Rocky Mountains), here are the city’s hottest specialty cocktail bars to put on your list:
- One 18 Empire
- PRLR (Parlour) Lounge
- Proof Cocktail Bar
When I first walked into Añejo, I had immediately fallen in love with the authentic Mexican vibe. Bright, lively, energetic and fun, this restaurant and bar gets its roots from the province of Jalisco, the birthplace of tequila, sombreros and Mariachi. Derived from the word for “aged”, Añejo is not just a type of tequila; it is a way of paying homage to the roots of Mexican culture.
Known for its collection of over two hundred tequilas, the bartenders here (although primarily from north of the Mexican border) know their stuff! Choose from blanco, reposado, añejo, or extra añejo varieties to savour a taste. Even better … order up a flight and have them seriously “school” you. Choose from blanco, reposado or añejo tequilas, mezcal, or sotol … it’s a new experience every time!
How to Sip, Savour and Chill at Añejo
Meet up with a group of friends for “Halfy Hour” (3:00pm to 5:00pm, seven days a week) to partake in half price tequilas, tacos, margaritas and beers. All margaritas feature the freshest ingredients (including fresh watermelon and guava juice). To get things started … the Chili Coconut is the perfect way to start any evening! Also, don’t forget to order up the hand-smashed guacamole and homemade tortilla chips. There is never any rush in this location … as you can just sit back, chill and enjoy the atmosphere. As for the crowd, it’s very laid back with a mix of late 20s to early 40s.
ONE18 EMPIRE (www.one18empire.com)
Specialty: Whiskeys, ryes, bourbons, and scotches
Speaking of embracing the past, One18 Empire taking a page out if its past and moving into the twenty-first century! Named after the Empire Hotel, which was located in roughly the same location and had burned down in the 1920s, this specialty restaurant/bar revitalizes the sentiment of the era with a speakeasy “feel” reminiscent of a scene out of Boardwalk Empire, with well tailored suits, matching vests and a clean cut appearance.
When the Empire Hotel was in its prime, it was known for its whiskey, rye, bourbon, and scotch offerings. One18 Empire follows the very same tradition with more than one hundred varieties from around the world to sip and savour as you sit down to an experience that will definitely take you back. Join them for one of their private events and learn a thing or two from their well-versed bartenders as they take you though a selection of spirits from their feature collection.
This upper scale location also features some of Calgary’s most talked about food as well. From the 1800 second Burger Bar (30 minutes for the express downtown crowd), the Bloody Brutus Caesar Bar (the historic drink here in Cowtown) and a brunch spread that will have your mouth watering with just the mention!
How to Sip, Savour and Chill at One18 Empire
Join the knowledgeable staff for one of their regular tastings in the McTavish Room. Even if you’re not necessarily a whiskey “person”, you’ll be amazed at the variety of different tastes and textures from one sample to the next (just like with wine). Being that I was there with two other “Asian” ladies sticking to our roots, we ordered up a few of the Taiwanese (Kavalan Solnist Vinho) and Japanese (Chichibu the Port Pipe and Ichiro Mizunara Wood Reserve) whiskeys. If it’s a date night … this is the perfect opportunity to impress the guy you’ve been eying and showing him a different side to your girlie personality! The crowd at One18 Empire is definitely downtown … bringing “sexy back” in a big way!
PRLR (Parlour) LOUNGE (www.prlrlounge.com)
Specialty: Vintage cocktails and live music
Located in the city’s trendy Kensington area, PRLR Lounge (traditionally spelled “Parlour”, without the vowels to complicate things) is a small cocktail lounge featuring classic cocktails with a modern twist. When you first walk in you see leather banquettes and velour couches, reminiscent of a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra movie set. Rich colours and fine finishes make this place feel luxurious!
You can’t help but “sink” into your seat, take a deep breath and sigh as you kick off your heels and peruse the cocktail menu. You’ll find all the “Sex in the City” classics on the menu (Bourbon and Ginger, Vodka and Soda, and Pisco and Coke) but they certainly know how to mix it up with the Tartin Tai (scotch, rye, orange liqueur, orgeat and lemon), Fanciulli Manhattan (bourbon, fernet branca and vermouth) or the Dad’s Root Beer (rye, amaretto and bitters)!
Although the cocktails are definitely a reason to make this an after hours destination during the week, the food is also worth the trip down tenth street. The menu is small but mighty! With a focus on New Orleans and the deep south, the menu includes succulent pan fried oyster po’ boys, Louisiana beef carpaccio and biscuits and gravy. If you’re looking for something a little bit lighter, how about a charcuterie platter to share (or not)!
How to Sip, Savour and Chill and Parlour Lounge
By accident I just happened to be at PRLR Lounge for Jazz Night. It was reminiscent of an evening in Chicago at the House of Blues or in New Orleans down in the quarter. People were soaking up the sounds, sipping on bourbon and whiskey and getting swept away to another place. The crowd at PRLR Lounge ranges from the twenty-something hipster to the sophisticated scotch aficionado, but all with an expectation of something better and unique.
PROOF COCKTAIL BAR (www.proofyyc.com)
Specialty: Spirits (whiskey, gin, agave spirits, rum, brandy, vodka, and more)
The name says it all … with over three hundred esteemed bottles behind the rustic, reclaimed wood bartop, Proof Cocktail Bar can essentially make any alcoholic beverage a reality! This single room establishment packs a lot of punch in a cozy location. Bearded masters of mixology manoeuvre behind the bar like a scene out of Cirque du Soleil. You can’t help but notice the bartenders and seasoned staff climb up and down the ladder to reach the various bottles of specialty alcohols throughout the night, just like a scene out of Harry Potter.
This small location (which seats about fifty to sixty people) is full of energy and passion for everything to do with the city’s finest libations … including the food! The food menu is small but features the perfect small bites to go along with sweet, savoury, and smooth drinks. The food menu changes on a regular basis but features items that almost seem to accentuate the smooth flavours in every glass, including oysters, cured meats and cheeses, terrines, and mouth-watering desserts!
How to Sip, Savour and Chill at Proof Cocktail Bar
Honestly … just find a comfy leather seat and watch the bartenders behind the bar! From the traditional cocktail (with generations of legacy) to a spur-of-the-moment concoction inspired by a patron’s request, the team at Proof make each moment an experience. On top of that, they are all really personable and accommodating. You can’t help but feel relaxed and at ease as you slowly sip the beautifully crafted cup of “happiness” put before you! The crowd at Proof is relaxed, responsible and in no hurry to rush home (primarily those in their 30s and 40s).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea Oh is an accomplished writer, published author, podcaster, and local blogger in Calgary, AB (Canada). Follow her adventures at www.sixfootcanasian.ca or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@sixfootcanasian).