At the Calgary airport, a man in a red shirt and ten gallon cowboy hat let out a warm-hearted, “Welcome to Calgary!” That sure puts the Walmart greeter to shame, I thought. The cab driver was much the same, sans hat. ”First time in Calgary? Welcome!” And at the Hotel Arts, the welcomes were equally authentic and warm. I thought maybe I’d won the hospitality lottery. But it’s just Canada. As someone who travels a lot, and who married a Canadian, I am often told that they are the friendliest people on earth. A huge superlative, but based on my first 30-minutes in Calgary, it’s pretty close to true.
Squint and from the outside the Hotel Arts does look a tad like the face-lifted version of the Holiday Inn circa 1957 it once was, but inside it’s all new, all hip, all new millenium. And it’s busy. Weekday or weekend, this place pulses with conventions, private parties, special events, and dinners out on the town. On weekends in the summer, expect a cocktail party to break out by the pool, or a steady stream of ladies-who-lunch. True to its name, the Hotel Arts does have art—and lots of it! Curious sculptures in the lobby and around the pool, swirly glass light fixtures on the ceilings, and pop art and paintings along the hallways. The only place art seemed to be missing was in my room, the walls of which was surprisingly baren.
When I checked in I was told by yet another friendly Canadian that my room had been upgraded (why can’t that happen on a long haul flight?). I was ushered into a large king studio suite that was bigger than my first San Francisco apartment. The room felt modern but relaxed with plush bedding and a huge dressing room and closet space for keeping luggage out of the way. There was a bar area tucked into a corner with an empty fridge, coffee maker and sink, and tons of empty shelving, should you wish to store a dish collection or something. An added bonus was the small balcony with big view on downtown. The only thing that didn’t impress me at all was the bathroom. Sadly it still felt a little like a chain hotel leftover, and the shower head spit pins of hot water. Not too comfortable. Fortunately, the rest of the Hotel Arts experience made up for it.
But back to the art. Beyond the statues and well-decked walls are the oeuvres making their way out of the hotel’s onsite restaurant Raw Bar. The cocktails are divine, not to mention award-winning, and the food is top shelf, presented with the pride and panache of a chef who clearly puts his whole heart into what he does, and has fun doing it too. The style is colorful, all Asian fusion with dishes like crab and mango rolls, pork belly lettuce wraps, and what ever other masterpiece the chef creates from seasonal and local ingredients.
If you can peel yourself off the barstool at the Hotel Arts you won’t regret it. The rain gave me the perfect excuse to make frequent stops around the neighborhood, which goes by several names, the most common of which (I think) are Victoria Park and SODO—South of Downtown. Once a shabby dilapidated area, the neighborhood and its historic buildings now brim with urban parks, pubs and shops, nightclubs and restaurants. Just a few minutes from the hotel, Madrid-worthy Spanish tapas and some of the city’s best cocktails can be found at Ox and Angela. Or walk over to Central Memorial Park where you might find as many as ten food trucks lined up at lunch, and tables spread out around fountains and flowerbeds for a meal al fresco. Check out the wine (and taste some too) just around the corner at Vine Arts, and don’t forget to hit Calgary Tower, also a short walk away, where you’ll be whisked 525 meters above the city for panoramic views of Calgary and beyond, including the grounds of the famous stampede that happens each July. Yeehaw!
Calgary surprised me. More than that it made me want to return. When I do, I’ll be looking forward to that that same warm, cowboy hat welcome, and I’ll check into the Hotel Arts again and order that same crazy cocktail, I think it was called a Ginger Fool.
I’d be a fool not to.
Visit the hotel’s website
Rates: C$149 for a Luxury Room on weekends to C$329 per weekday night. Upgrades to Luxury Suites are available for $70 more. Packages are available on the website.
Good to know: There is parking underground but you really don’t need a car if you plan to stay downtown; there is a charge for wifi in the rooms (boo!)
Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer based in San Francisco and a big fan of Calgary and cocktails.