Go for the Food, Enjoy the Design


by Richard White

2018 May/June

When it comes to shaping a city, architects (building and landscape) and artists (public art, muralists) get the lion’s share of the media and public attention, both good and bad. However, interior designers play an important role, too, especially when it comes to restaurant design. After all, you probably only glance at a building or public artwork for a minute, maybe less, but you are in a restaurant for an hour or more.

While some argue a well-designed restaurant doesn’t distract from the food and conversation, I say “bah hamburg!” Good restaurant design has numerous eye-catching components – features like a cool mural, a quirky bathroom, funky artwork, unique furniture or creative use of materials – all common conversation starters. To make my point, I chose seven Calgary restaurants I believe combine great design – all by Calgary designers – and reflect Calgary’s personality, i.e. youthful, colourful and playful.

119 – 12th Avenue SW

Yellow Door at Hotel Arts is a great example of creating fun eye candy. Full disclosure: yellow is my favourite colour. Carl and Andrea Raimondi from Ingenium Designs created a space full of “delightful surprises,” the intent, according to Fraser Abbott, Director of Business Development at Hotel Arts. Beginning with the human-sized horse with lampshade on its head to the plastic, Lego-like chairs, this place is full of surprises. The colour yellow pops up everywhere – chairs, window shades and yes, the yellow door at the 12th Ave SW entrance. Yellow Door remains as fresh and playful as when it opened.

features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less 5s17
features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less 5s17 receipt

222 – 5th Avenue SW

John Gilchrist very fittingly describes OEB’s downtown location’s interior as “yolky” in his CBC review, others might think of it as an “eggs gone wild” theme. The entire room is adorned with yolk yellow and egg white elements. And the huge, egg-shaped booths are a modern twist on furniture designer Arne Jacobsen’s famous 1958 Egg chair.

Designed by Hribar Design Group, the interior has a definite mid-century feel with a contemporary twist, mixing uncluttered and sleek lines with geometric forms, strange juxtapositions and bold use of colour. The result: a cheerful and charming atmosphere. Overall, the design creates a visual vibrancy that mirrors the vitality of a packed restaurant at breakfast or brunch.

features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less himalayan food

1331 – 17th Avenue SW

I love this place because it focuses mostly on local sports history. It’s not a cookie cutter sports bar that could be anywhere in North America. Sarah Ward, one of Calgary’s busiest restaurant designers, was able to access and recycle the hardwood floor from the Deer Run Community Centre gym. The floorboards were installed randomly so the colourful basketball, volleyball and badminton markings pop out everywhere, creating an after-the-ticker tape-like parade atmosphere. The feature wall, covered with 50 vintage skateboards from California, is clever, given it’s located a few blocks from Shaw Millennium Park, home of one of the world’s largest public skate parks. The subtle use of old trophy figures as tap handles is simply brilliant.

features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Newcastle Pub food
features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Newcastle Pub food 2

739 – 10th Avenue SW

Bridgette Bar is divided into three rooms – the bar, the living room and the kitchen/dining room. Overall, the décor is an eclectic mix of artifacts, everything from two motorcycles to a large Chris Cran psychedelic artwork. Many of the pieces are the personal property of Victor Choy, one of the owners who worked with Kelly Morrison of Frank Architecture to create Bridgette’s whimsical design.

The living room has an inviting mid-century modern feel with its oval teak coffee table, wood accented chairs and retro hanging fireplace, oh-so popular in the ‘70s. The most puckish artifacts are the many macramé pieces that adorn the dining room. As they say, “everything old is new again.”

features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Carino Riserva food
features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Carino Riserva receipt

220 – 42nd Avenue SE

It has been said by many the McKinley Burkart-designed Alloy restaurant is one of the prettiest and coolest rooms in the city. Faux cherry blossom trees share the space with white decorative brick walls back-lit with soft pink lighting.The result: a light and airy, spring-like feel – no wonder Alloy is a popular wedding spot.

The six large white leather semi-circular banquettes with warm walnut tables in the center of the room are so popular there have literally been fights over who gets one. Restaurants are often defined by their art. In Alloy’s case, it is the lounge’s harmless but very visually aggressive Mark Mullin abstract painting. Perhaps too aggressive for some as one patron demanded another table because she “wasn’t going to face that painting that looks like intestines.” Interestingly, the title of the piece is “Meltdown.”

features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Gorilla Whale food
features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Gorilla Whale receipt

625 – 11th Avenue SW

RE:GRUB is a tiny space that packs a big punch, from the street art on its patio wall to the peacock blue and canary yellow interior colour scheme. You might want to leave your sunglasses on. When you walk in you are immediately accosted by the cut out metal barrels wonderfully transformed into chairs. Quickly your eyes dart to the dramatic yellow rope strung from floor to ceiling, creating a see-through wall separating the larger dining area from the entrance.

Once your eyes adjust to the bright colours, you notice one wall is actually made up of asphalt shingles. Yes, the same ones you see on the roofs of tens of thousands of Calgary homes. Another wall is made from recycled warehouse pallets, as is the light fixture, chipboard walls and tabletops. The corrugated metal undersides of the counters add to this fun industrial chic vibe. RE:GRUB’s design is a collaborative effort of Lindsay O. Creative and owner Jose Azares.

features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Gorilla Whale food
features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Gorilla Whale receipt

1011 – 1st Street SW

Owner/chef Duncan Ly and designer Alykhan Velji worked together to create a colonial-inspired decor with sleek modernist elements for Foreign Concept. An
immediate feeling of tranquility sets in as you enter and see the large mural of birds and butterflies playing in a garden behind the reception desk.

Colourized floor-to-ceiling images of a Chinese man in one dining room and Vietnamese woman in the other create an old-world charm and acknowledge the importance of respecting the past. The wall of antique moon cake moulds in the lounge adds an element of both past and playfulness. Ly and Velji also make great use of the large sidewalk windows of its corner site, allowing patrons to enjoy the street theatre while dining.

features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Gorilla Whale food
features 2019 01 02 eat well spend less Gorilla Whale receipt

Calgary: A Design City?
One could easily have chosen dozens of other Calgary restaurants with interesting and inventive designs – Model Milk, Teatro, Klein/Harris, Rouge, River Café or Vin Room at the airport immediately come to mind. Indeed, Calgary is becoming not only one of North America’s most interesting foodie cities, but also one of the most interesting design cities when it comes to architecture, public art (good, bad and ugly), public space, restaurant and retail design.

Richard White, aka the Everyday Tourist, has been a scientist, artist, curator, executive director and now a freelance writer (everydaytourist.ca)