The Best Cocktail Bars in Calgary, Alberta

Calgary has embraced cocktail culture
Calgary has embraced cocktail culture | © Rosanne Tackaberry / Alamy Stock Photo

Calgary has moved beyond its reputation as a beer-drinking New West town to fully embrace cocktail culture. Neighborhood bars across Cowtown vie for attention with hidden patios and happy hours. Some even offer up something as unusual as a shave or a swim with their drinks.

1. Cannibale

Bar, Cocktails

Fancy a straight-razor shave with that tequila old fashioned? This Bridgeland cocktail bar houses a one-seat barbershop where the grooming takes place in the front window and you get a free beer when you’re done. It’s popular with groom’s parties. On the bar side, happy hour runs from 4pm to 6pm, late-night happy hour starts at 10pm, and the dark and moody vibe attracts romantics on first dates. There’s a hidden patio, and the bar is in the 1912 C Annibale Block (aka Cannibale Block) – hence the name.

2. Rooftop Bar @ Simmons

Bar, Cocktails

From the top of an East Village mattress factory that transformed into a dining destination, drink in 360-degree views of Downtown and the Bow River at the Rooftop Bar @ Simmons, assuming you are old enough (18) to score one of 150 seats. Beer buckets are popular, but rosé “has become the drink of choice of all genders,” says co-owner Connie DeSousa. Sister businesses stand by to help. Connie and John’s Pizza delivers to the tables. Charbar, a restaurant downstairs, takes in drinkers once rooftop season is over.

3. Shelter

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails

There’s no better place to ponder the apocalypse than Shelter, which draws inspiration from both the industrial grunge styles of Berlin and Eastern Europe and high-end American hotel bars for a low-lit, “post-fallout environment.” There’s an arty wall of 21 vintage gas masks designed by local artists, and a light fixture with more than 5,000 bulbs. Cocktails combine pre-Prohibition roots and modern mixing technology. Try the Staycation ($16), a smoky spirit-forward combination of tequila, mezcal, amaro and agave – and sign up for cocktail classes.

4. Betty Lou's Library

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails

For those who get a kick out of rules, Betty Lou’s Library has plenty of them. In speakeasy tradition, secret passwords are given out with reservations, and guests wait behind the velvet rope until they are invited into a space full of vintage furniture and chandeliers. Visit slots are two hours, and standing at the bar is not allowed. Cocktail attire is admired though not mandatory, staff are called “librarians” and drinks are called “libations” and have colorful names like Flappers and Philosophers, and Babylon Revisited.

5. Proof

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails

For the opposite of the speakeasy vibe, Proof doesn’t take reservations, and it prides itself on its old-fashioned service. It creates literature-inspired cocktail list categories, like action and adventure, sci-fi and fantasy, romance, horror, and fairy tales and fables. This place goes all out for Christmas with holiday decorations and seasonal drinks, and there’s even a ladder that bartenders use to reach spirits on the top shelves. Happy hour runs from 4pm to 7pm, and boutique liquor store Vine Arts Wine and Spirits is next door selling specialty spirits and cocktail supplies.

6. Hotel Arts

Boutique Hotel, Hotel

Margaritas and pineapple mojitos are $12 (£7), but for an extra $20 (£12) you can take a two-hour dip in the pool if you aren’t a hotel guest. This design-centric hotel in the Beltline/Victoria Park neighborhood is justifiably proud of its renovated courtyard pool and so invites everyone to eat and drink around it. In early fall, the hotel installs its “winter toque” – an inflatable shelter that covers the courtyard, creating a balmy 24C (75F) urban oasis even when there’s snow on the ground. Selfies are encouraged.

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