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Your Guide to a Higher Ground at this year’s Calgary Stampede

The ultimate how-to for a lavish week at the yeehaw event of the year.

June 28, 2015

To most people, the Calgary Stampede (July 3-12) is all about pancake breakfasts, a corn dog on the Midway, and the three Rs: ridin’, ropin’, and the rodeo. True, it’s all those things. But for those in the know, there’s a whole lot more to the city’s annual signature event than the fairgrounds and two-stepping at downtown mega-sized watering hole Cowboys. Cowtown serves up a handful of sleek boutique hotels and fashionable couture with a side of some of the best bars/lounges and contemporary cuisine in Canada. (Did we mention Stevie Wonder comes to town this year?) The Greatest Show on Earth is also, hands down, one of the world’s best parties. Best to git yer tickets now.


Stay/Take Your Boots Off
Designated as a Relais & Châteaux property, the Kensington Riverside Inn‘s ($459/night; 1126 Memorial Dr. NW) soothing atmosphere counterbalances the rush of nearby Kensington Avenue. Recently renovated, the hotel is a paragon of modern luxury, featuring 19 rooms and an intimate outdoor patio.

More centrally located, the 143-room boutique hotel Le Germain (from $279/night; 899 Centre St. SW) is a haven of urban sophistication. Each room features Frette linens, spa-like bathrooms, and Molton Brown bath amenities (because bath amenities are always the litmus test). After a day on the fairgrounds, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant CHARCUT Roast House is the place to go for sharing dishes like bison brisket and the must-try sausage burger with cheese curds and fried egg.

The recently opened Hotel Elan ($419/night during the Stampede; 1122-16 Ave. SW) boasts a clean, contemporary design as well as complimentary wifi, international phone calls, and a continental breakfast buffet. Ground zero for access to Calgary’s popular 17th Avenue restaurants, bars, and shops, Elan is only a short cab ride away from the Stampede grounds.

Looking to stay in the centre of the action? The Hotel Arts ($445/night; 119-12 Ave. SW) now features a seven-million-dollar renovation in addition to the always bustling pool bar.


Eat/Chow Down
For some local flavour, a pancake breakfast is a must, but go early to fortify yourself for a day on the grounds. Breakfasts include the city’s biggest Stampede starter, with more than 60,000 attendees descending bright and early upon Chinook Centre (6455 Macleod Trail SW); for gourmet flapjacks (including red velvet and chai latte flavours) head to the annual 4th Street Pancake Showdown (1915 4 St. SW). With literally hundreds of breakfasts to choose from, you’d be wise to consult flapjackfinder.com or freestampedepancakes.com for help sourcing the ultimate free breakfast of champions. Throughout town, drinking starts promptly at 8 a.m. (though on parade day, bars can serve alcohol as early as 7 a.m.)

For many, Stampede is all about sampling the latest deep-fried fare on the midway, but The Station Craft Beer & Wild Wings, on the lower level of the Big Four building, is right up there. (For adults only, though.) The combination of 20 kinds of beer, varied chicken-wing flavours (including Bull Rider Hot), and killer margaritas offers welcome respite from midway madness. Everyone’s choice for the best seats in the house is the The Lazy S: located on the fourth level of the Grandstand, purchase a suite or a premium seat per event, which comes with a seven-course meal. If you’re looking to take a break from ‘stampeding’ (this is officially a verb in Calgary), head to Rodney’s Oyster House (355 10 Ave. SW), as this Vancouver institution recently opened its first Calgary outpost. Flown in weekly, ROD Prince oysters (from Rodney’s own oyster depot in P.E.I.) pair well with a glass of Sea Leg Oyster white. Or take advantage of downtown’s Prince’s Island Park and the River Café (25 Prince’s Island Park), where leafy views await , or simply order a picnic basket for takeaway. (With 24 hours’ notice, the restaurant offers up utensils, napkins, drinks, sandwiches, snacks, and homemade desserts). Anju (344 17 Ave. SW) is a popular place for lunch or dinner; here, award-winning chef Roy Oh serves up some of the tastiest modern Korean tapas. Best to follow the lead of most diners and order the crispy pork belly tofu, or gochujang chicken wings with a side of kimchi.

Drop by Bar C (340 17 Ave. SW) for the signature Stampede cocktail. One of this year’s drinks is the Fireproof, a “get in trouble” whiskey-based cocktail with a mix of rum and mescal.

For the nightly fireworks display, end the day on a rooftop patio like CHARCUT’s new room, Charbar (618 Confluence Way SE), helmed by Chopped Canada chef Jessica Pellman.


Play/Giddy Up
Get outta Dodge and check out Alberta’s first craft distillery, Eau Claire Distillery (113 Sunset Blvd. NW Turner Valley). From the grains to the mountain water used to handcraft artisanal batches of vodka and gin, every ingredient hails locally.


Shop
Local Calgary designer Paul Hardy’s romance with the West is interpreted in his pop-up boutique (Bay #5, 2501 Alyth Rd. SE) from May 15 to July 4. Look for Dassios one-of-a-kind denims, suedes from Greece, Rawtus washed paperweight leathers from Japan, and Goti jewelry from Italy, as well as some of his own signature designs. For those not wanting to go whole hog on an entire Western wardrobe, accessories are the perfect way to enter the fray. Add a touch of cowgirl chic with an equestrian-themed enamel bracelet or silk scarf from Hermes (510 8 Ave. SW).

Locals consider the Glenbow Museum Shop (130 9 Ave. SE) a treasure for one-of-a-kind pieces like hand-beaded belts from Alberta’s own Chris Strangling Wolf.

The consensus among everyone—from wannabe cowpokes to working cowboys—is that Smithbilt Hats‘ (1103 12 St. SE) beaver-blend toppers are beauties. But if a fur hat isn’t in the budget, wool blends and straw toppers also help you look the part.

Art/Souvenir/Bits and Pieces
If a bucking bronco bronze sculpture isn’t quite the souvenir you had in mind, head on down to Newzones (730 11 Ave. SW) for the return of their annual group exhibit, “G’ddy Up!” With a focus on contemporary Western culture, the show includes works by good ol’ Alberta boys like Joseph Adolphe and Kevin Sonmore.

And after 10 days of late nights, early mornings, and a steady diet of mini donuts and beer, head to Skoah (Chinook Centre) for a Stampede Recovery Facial. Combining a calf-and-foot massage with a custom-blended treatment mask, you’ll be back in the saddle in no time.

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