If you’ve been cooking three squares a day on the home front for the past few years, perhaps you haven’t noticed — Calgary has been caught up in a foodie revolution. A hot new eatery seems to open every month downtown, on 17th, in Inglewood or in other cool YYC hoods. And it’s not just culinary art that creates the experience — interior design is also a prime part of the food mood. So when I was invited to a panel discussion of four of Calgary’s busiest restaurant interior designers, moderated by Jennifer Hamilton of Avenue Magazine, I couldn’t resist.
On the left, Amanda Hamilton, who recently did the interior of Native Tongues, told us she’d loved restaurants ever since she was an Earl’s girl. Kate Allen, center, known for her work on Bridgette Bar, Model Milk and Anju, said, “At the start of a project, the designer should be mostly listening.”
Talk quickly turned to costs. For everyone who likes to blame the designer for going crazy with expensive details, Amanda said, “I think designers get a bad rap for blowing budgets.”
On the right, Sarah Ward (Nash, Proof, Cluck and Cleaver) credited Chef Michael Noble for changing her financial outlook on design. “Prior to working with him as designer, I didn’t realize the impact of how my design affected the bottom line. You have to be careful of applied costs down the road.”
Sally Healy (pictured below), the designer behind Our Daily Brett and the now-shuttered Borgo Trattoria and Capo, was quick to chime in: “It affects us too. Cuz if they go broke like some of my restaurants have…”
The boldest of the bunch, Sally’s the type of designer who can make you believe in a project from sheer force of personality. One of her top priorities when starting a new design? “You have to decide where the sex in the room is.”
“Once a client gives their wish list, I do have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to cost.”
It’s never too early to start kickin’ it Western style in Calgary. Besides, chucks fans will be filling those grandstands in two shakes of a thoroughbred’s tail. So may I recommend the pre-distressed Geneva bootie, by Musse & Cloud, to get you in the hootin’ and hollerin’ mood?If you haven’t heard of them, Musse & Cloud is a boutique European brand, inspired by bohemian silhouettes. The soft burnished leather and padded insoles ensure instant comfort for your feet. And the boho chic factor easily translates to style moments beyond Stampede. Coachella, anyone?Feel like kicking it up a notch? The Millie meets all requirements for sophisticated big city style. Personally, I’m riveted. And, always helpful if you’re Canadian, and you feel obliged to kick off your heels every time you step inside, these Spanish suede booties make it easy to do with a heel zipper.Check ‘em out here... and guess what? They’re having a sale.
On the corner of 7th Street and 10th Avenue SW, under the benevolent gaze of MacLean and Partners, a new “chef-driven” bar has opened, as their website proclaims. Which, I suspect, is a different way of saying restaurant. I support an original turn of phrase, but sly semantics aren’t needed for a sunny spotlight. Bridgette Bar is bound to shine, far above the eatery herd. Read on to see for yourself.
I was delighted to be invited to an opening day exclusive sneak peek to sample a wide selection from the dinner menu. It was hard to tear myself away from the earthenware-encased watercress and charred beet salad… … and the excellent conversation at our table, in order to capture the moment, along with entrancing design details. But as faithful readers of Blue Besos know, I never shy from flexing my blog biceps in the name of naming the new It Place. And Bridgette Bar, the latest brainchild of the Concorde Group, could be It.
Despite the casual striped napkins and friendly flora, this private dining table is destined for VIPs. The sum of Bridgette’s namesake font choice, the macrame, even the menu items give it a 70s ski lodge vibe…
… yet the airy loft space of the former Montauk store will take Bridgette from winter through to motorcycle season with ease.If the penultimate Pink Pompadour isn’t your style (although pisco, st. germain, pink grapefruit, lime and peychauds are cerainly mine) the cocktail menu has a lengthy list of reasonably priced wines, beers and bubbles. Along with several other drinks sure to boost Uber’s 2.0 in YYC.
Looking for brunch ideas this weekend? Look no further than Hayden Block. Even if you wake up at 2pm on Saturday or Sunday. Because they serve brunch until 3.Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey is housed in – you guessed it – the Hayden Block heritage building on one of the cutest blocks in Kensington. The weather wasn’t warm enough to grab a spot outside this time around, but those heat lamps could mean an early al fresco spring.I’ll be honest. Texas-style barbecue is not normally my style. We found a sunny table by the window, and I prepared to be underwhelmed. However. The Eggs Benny arrived perfectly soft, atop a giant portion of pulled pork, with a subtle Hollandaise sauce. Tastebuds. Invigorated. In fact, this just might be my favorite benny in Calgary. I even ate all the potatoes, which I never do. They were excellent on their own, but the choices of three barbecue sauces at the table didn’t hurt.
The next plate was even more exciting. With whipped cream, blueberry compote and a big mound of meat, the buttermilk waffles were a taste collision that was delicious. By the way that sweet meat was a carne-val of candied burnt ends.If I could change one thing at Hayden Block, I’d up the ante with the Caesar. Not that it was bad, mind you. But everything else we tried was so powerfully palatable, I was craving a little more wham, bam, clamato ma’am! Still, I managed to quaff two without any real issues. Excellent brunch, Hayden Block. I’ll be back!
When you’re celebrating the addition two new planes to the private, friendly skies, why be subtle? “Cocktails and Jets” read the invitation, speaking the language of party destiny. Canapes could only be a bonus.
But it got better. President and COO James Elian invited me aboard a shiny new Embraer Legacy 450, the latest luxury addition to AirSprint’s aviation fleet. A full-fledged teenager, AirSprint just celebrated its 16th anniversary providing fractional jet ownership (don’t call it a timeshare) in Canada.Surrounded by tiger wood paneling and creamy leather, I immediately asked the most unoriginal question I could: “What’s the strangest request you’ve ever gotten from a client?”
James, obviously an old hand at interviews, told me a passenger once wanted their jet supplied with half a dozen chocolate chip cookies. Each with six chips.
The story sounded suspiciously ready for prime time, but I was distracted by my ability to stand in wedge heels — without my hair grazing the ceiling. That, said James, is because the cabin is 6 feet tall and 6’10” wide. With seats that stretch out for snoozing, as long as you don’t mind playing footsie with the person across from you.Meanwhile, this intrepid reporter moved on to more intense, investigative questions. Like… does the loo have a view?And is the sink better than the ones in most apartments? Yes and yes. Important things to consider if you’re taking the jet to Palm Beach, because, my polo friends, this plane can get you there, direct from Calgary. Or to the Bahamas. Or to Cancun. However, if you want to say aloha to Maui with the Legacy 450, you’ll need to gas up in Vancouver. Or Oakland.Outside the aircraft, the hangar was a hotbed for high style, exemplified by marketing connoisseur Britni Weston and Avenue cover girl and creative agency head Sharie Hunter.Jory Kinjo and co went to the mile-high limit to provide the soaring tunes.The party was also a launch pad for AirSprint’s new CJ3+, but a nearby Aston Martin received more lustful looks.
No need to worry about parking… … or legroom on the 450, either in the cabin or the cockpit. I couldn’t resist giving the 450 an imaginary test drive. This is your captain speaking: Congratulations on your new jets, AirSprint!
Everyone who owns horses has that special pony, even if they won’t admit to a favorite.
Simon was mine, but he got saddled with a storyteller. The star of my string (I liked to call him that even when he was often the only one in my string), he was all over my blog, my Instagram feed, my life. Featured in Polo Players’ Edition last November, he even has an upcoming cameo in a charity calendar – he’ll be Mr. September.
So I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t write his obituary.
When I bought Simon in 2013, I’d just come off six weeks of crutches, after foot surgery. A month before that it was cancer surgery. I’d had a small part of my nose removed, but it felt like the biggest thing in the world. That summer, all I wanted to do was play polo and have fun, so I was thrilled to find him just a few weeks before the season started. He had a scar on his nose, too.
Then the floods hit Calgary and I was evacuated. I was lucky, since my top-floor condo on Elbow River wasn’t damaged, but the bottom floor of the building was devastated. As I bounced from one guest room to another for seven weeks, Simon became my constant.
People in polo tend to worry about heart attacks in older horses, especially during a game. At 23, my first-ever pony was playing in what should be his retirement years.
But Simon’s heart was too big to break. He carried me through three years of polo, playing two chukkers a game, barely raising a sweat.
You know that first sunny, spring-like day, when the birds are singing and the sky is brilliant blue? There always seems to be one dramatic day where it hits me — how beautiful the world is, making me almost giddy with happiness.
This year that day was Saturday, March 5th, 2016. It was shaping up to be unusually warm. I had a tight schedule – a business meeting in the early afternoon, with plans to zip home to get gussied up for the Black and White gala ball. Many of my favorite people were going to be there, and I was really looking forward to it.
But weather like this in March, in Calgary? I couldn’t resist taking my ponies out for a set. Simon and Gabby were on winter vacation at the polo club, but they’d be up for some exercise. Squeezing it in to my hectic day would be worth it. I listened to a comedy show on the drive to the club and laughed the whole way.
In the valley behind the club, as usual, it was a little tricky to find them. The pasture is currently home to thirty horses. They all look a little wild, fuzzy and fat for the winter that is normally cold.
Soon, however, I noticed a pair of ponies looking at me expectantly. With the long hair on his muzzle, Simon’s trademark scar was even more noticeable than usual. He was doing that cute quivering thing with his lip, anticipating the treats that would be his, once we climbed the steep hill to the pasture gate. After calmly leaving behind the rest of their winter herd, the two buddies were well rewarded with carrots. Sweetly and quietly, they stood patiently as I tacked up.
I decided I’d ride Gabby and pony Simon. I’d ridden Simon a few weeks before, on another warm day, and something about his knees made me anxious. Near the end of our set, his front legs seemed to lock up for a second or two. At first I thought he was tripping, but it was something else. I had hopped off, walking him the rest of the way, knowing, but not wanting to know, that Simon could finally be showing his age: 27 years.
He hadn’t seemed to be in any pain, though, and today it was obvious he was delighted with the weather as we headed for the track.
After ten minutes of walking, Gabby and Simon naturally moved into a trot, and it felt mean to hold them back. Wearing just a t-shirt in the fifteen-degree temperature, I couldn’t believe we were the only ones at the polo club. The fields looked ready to be played.
On the final section, I directed my horses off the track, alongside the boards of the main fields. They wanted to canter, and I just couldn’t deny them. It was spring and they were feeling good! Beside me, Simon gave his traditional early season buck. He looked so strong, keeping pace with Gabby. I hoped whatever I had noticed last time was just temporary.
After a couple of minutes, I brought them back to a walk, and we took it slow back to the barn. With their shaggy coats, they’d probably be a little sweaty, but the day was so warm I wasn’t worried. They’d have plenty of time to dry.
I dragged a brush across their unruly coats and checked my watch — I was right on schedule. After I brought them back to the pasture, I’d have just enough time for a quick change of clothes and the short drive to my meeting. But first, more carrots were in order.
We moseyed back to the paddock that led to the valley. Before I opened the second gate, Simon dropped for an exuberant roll in the dirt. Yeah! Springtime!
As soon as the gate swung open, Gabby zipped out first, trotting down the hill to the rest of the herd. Since he’d paused to let me pet him one last time, Simon was a few paces behind.
Going down the hill, he sped up to catch Gabby, giving another buck for good measure. Then the next part happened in one awful second. He landed badly on his front right. He flipped, spiraling through a massive, horse-sized somersault. Then he was standing again, but his front right leg dangled unnaturally from the knee.
Even from a hundred feet away, I knew exactly what that meant.
I fought the urge to run to him, afraid my cell phone wouldn’t get a signal down that hill. Although my fingers barely worked, somehow I called Candice, my vet. She wasn’t close enough to help, but she assured me she knew another vet nearby. I managed another quick, strangled call to cancel my meeting. Then I sprinted down the hill.
Simon was standing on three legs, listing on the steep angle. The rest of the herd seemed to know that something was very, very wrong. Some stood quietly nearby, as if offering a calming presence, but a chestnut reared up, slicing his front hooves dangerously through the air. With his nostrils flaring, and his ears pinned back, he looked ready to destroy anyone who came near Simon, including me.
So there I was, alone in the pasture with Simon and 29 other horses, crying my eyes out. Sometimes I’d manage to stand beside Simon and pet him, but other times that chestnut chased me off. I tried to stop crying, so I too could be a calming presence, but I failed miserably.
The other horses became increasingly rattled. A dozen ran in tight circles, just twenty feet away. The chestnut pawed the ground, like a bull seeing red.
It seemed like it went on forever, but it was probably only ten or fifteen minutes.
The vet arrived. So did the woman with whom I had just cancelled my meeting. I’d never met her, but she was a horsewoman, and insisted I shouldn’t be alone. She immediately stepped in to help, becoming a human wall between the upset horses and Simon.
The vet kindly explained what she’d have to do and how it would take place. Simon was in shock, so hopefully he wasn’t in much pain. He kept bobbing his head, like he couldn’t figure out why one of his legs wouldn’t work. I had to say goodbye. The vet carefully positioned her syringe. Simon buckled almost instantly, falling over, and breathed out one final time.
On the ground, with my arms thrown around my favorite horse, I was a mess. I didn’t know I had that many tears in me. Hot and fast, they streamed onto Simon’s winter coat.
My boyfriend arrived. The vet, and the stranger who was now a friend, left.
The other horses edged closer. It was time to let them have their own goodbyes. Some of them have probably known Simon for much longer than I have.
Look, my boyfriend said. They’re crying too.
I didn’t think he meant it literally, but I lifted my head from Simon’s furry neck, blinking to focus. Several of the horses were crying. Big, fat tears, rolling down their muzzles.
And that chestnut? He was staring straight at me, two watery trails flowing down either side of his nose. Inconsolable. Like me.
It’s been a month now. I didn’t go to that gala ball. I could barely leave the house for a week. Social gatherings were out of the question. Soon, maybe, I’ll be able to say his name without my voice getting tight and tears welling up.
I want to thank everyone who sent the kindest, sweetest notes. The calls, even flowers. Everyone who has horses knows what it’s like. Most have been through something similar.
I keep seeing his uncontrollable orbit through the air in my mind’s eye, over and over, the maneuver that was finished in a flash on a permanent slow-mo loop. I’ll never forget the way his leg looked, dangling uselessly, streaming with blood. But the indelible brand on my brain is worth it, because it means what needed to be done happened quickly. I was right there.
Simon is gone, and my heart aches. But he went out in a happy buck blaze of glory, after a beautiful ride around the track, after a long life of playing amazing polo. Double chukker or nothing!
When Johnnie Walker asks if you’d like to host a Scotch Tasting, the only answer is YES.Especially when the event is led by tall taste-tester extraordinaire, Tanner Murray, seen here on the right. Life Where We Are blogger Misty Hamel is pinky-out ready for her first sip, while incoming CEO of Statoil Canada always appreciates peat from across the pond.
Tanner helped us drink our way through any previous misconceptions we may have had about his scotch — the main one being that there’s only one level of Johnnie. Title titan with the whiskeyest wisdom, Tony Kay, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and British Consul General Calgary, seen above with the dashing red belt, definitely had concerns.
As Tanner tempted our taste buds with Red Label ($27), pairing it with orange chocolate, to twelve-year-old Black Label ($38) pairing with pepper and strawberries, our smiles grew from tall to grande.
My favorite just happens to be named after my theme color: blue. Almost a unicorn of scotch, many haven’t tried Johnnie Walker Blue. Which could have something to do with the minimum 21 years of aging. Or the retail value of $250. Doesn’t it look fab in front of my Most Improved Player award picture from Calgary Polo Club? The bottle provides a lovely accent for my Team Blue Besos jersey. Too bad it’s empty.
Kensington was the style destination today for designer Aleem Arif, who stopped by Kismet Clothing boutique to offer a sneak peek at his spring collection. But despite the fact that his leather label Bano eeMee uses 100% sustainable, vegetable-tanned leather, there’s no silver lining here. That’s because Aleem amps up his linings with images, either inspired by his travels or collabs with other artists.
Bano eeMee is the brainchild of Boston-raised banker Aleem Arif, whose label is a hybrid of his mom’s name, Bano, and his nickname, eeMee. Formerly an algorithmic stock trader, he moved to Calgary and discovered his passion was actually fashion. Who says Calgary is all about Stampede? Bano eeMee is now based in Toronto, with supple lamb leather jackets in 30 stores across Canada. Oh, and Galeries Lafayette is pressuring Aleem to do a special line in Paris.PR powerhouse Ellen Parker wore her own Bano eeMee jacket from last season, but this jacket won’t be her last Bano eeMee.Yes, Ellen. Get this one.
Spring and Summer look fabulous, Aleem! Glad to have you back in YYC, even if it’s just a quick jet set. Although I’m predicting that your visit will be more stylish than social: us high-fashion Calgarians will inspire your fall collection.
Gorg! Fab! Really a beaut. For some reason, Whitehall, the latest edition in Calgary’s foodie nation, makes me want to break out my best British bonhomie. Must be the reference to the road in London. Because this place really blows my hair back.Last night was the official opening of the new Bridgeland restaurant, which has been quietly serving happy customers for a few weeks now. Bumped into CTV’s Bob Sumner, as you do at these things.But Bob couldn’t distract me for long — there was food that needed to be eaten! My fave, the lamb kebobs, are not on the menu, but Chef Neil McCue tells me that they’re coming soon. To tide you over, the lamb bacon (totally delish) can be found on the Caesar salad.I was told the quotes behind the bar included bon mots from Sir Churchill. The wine was too distracting for me to verify this, so I just imagined my favorite Winston quote: “A polo handicap is a passport to the world.” Meanwhile, back to Chef Neil, the force behind Whitehall. Originally from Yorkshire, Canada is lucky to have him — two of his past restaurants in the UK have achieved a Michelin Star rating, so we’re expecting big things in Bridgeland. This isn’t his first rodeo in Calgary though. Formerly at Catch, he also may have trained a YYC celeb chef or two. Congratulations on your new digs, Chef Neil. I’ll be back!