A few weeks ago, we found ourselves stuck in gridlock in an underground mall parkade on the afternoon of Black Friday. This was not planned, and it was not joyful. I’m not one to hit the malls for such occasions, nor set my alarm to go shopping on Boxing Day. I flirted briefly with online shopping, which saves you a trip out, but makes me feel badly for Otto, our FedEx guy, and sitting alone with a credit card by the glow of my laptop is too solitary for the season, and somehow takes away the thrill of the hunt. I do love the bustle of Christmas shopping – of seeing neighbourhoods decked out, of the camaraderie of crowds with the same happy goal. Even when there are lineups and you find yourself crushed in the food court, tired and hangry in search of sustenance in the form of ginger beef, it has a certain Christmas Vacation appeal. So we decided to do our own Christmas crawl – to visit some of our favourite local shopkeepers, many of whom rely on the holiday season to get them through the rest of the year, and to be jovial and jolly and neighbourly and Dickens-esque. And while I don’t often share Calgary-centric stuff here (since not everyone lives close by), it’s a city I’m fond of and proud of, and if you haven’t been, perhaps you’d like to visit.
I grew up here, so have a sense of nostalgia about the place – I love downtowns in general at Christmastime, especially when there’s an old Bay building and a CP hotel, but the Palliser has a special place in my memory. Growing up, my dad’s office was attached to the building – and the Calgary tower – and some years we’d come down to have dinner at the Rimrock on Christmas eve, hoping to score a seat by the fireplace. It’s the Palliser‘s 100th Christmas this year, and possibly, if rumours are true, the last for the Rimrock, and so we started our crawl with the Palliser as home base for a night, lucky enough to snag a spot beside the fireplace for the Yule Love It buffet lunch.
We started out watching the zamboni grooming the ice in Olympic Plaza, then hit the Glenbow gift shop – where they sell tons of locally made ceramics, jewelry and paper crafts as well as books and smart games – and good cards. (If you’re looking for a totally different sort of a gift, you can also adopt an artifact-artwork and objects from the Glenbow’s collection, from war medals to love letters.)
Next – a stop at The Cellar for bottles of Gin Rummy from the new Eau Claire Distillery – a seasonal offering of barrel-finished gin and rum with the flavours of spiced fruitcake. (And a bottle of wine for the room.) Another unique gift idea – a membership in their Wine of the Month Club; two different themes (“Tried & True” or “Off The Beaten Path”), 6 different wines, delivered monthly for $150.
Christmas cards written on Friday night by the pool. Right? (Being self employed, neither Mike nor I get company Christmas party, so we decided to have our own. And my idea of a good time is lounging somewhere super festive with W.) Usually I take any opportunity to hit the Oak Room for a classic cocktail (Fairmonts always make a perfect whisky sour), but on this particular visit we were lucky enough to experience the penthouse level Gold Lounge, with snacks, sweets, canapes and the most extensive honour bar I’ve ever seen – complete with a vintage copy of the Mr. Boston cocktail guide for reference. No need to leave the hotel.
Back for breakfast in the same spot – waffles, pastries, bacon and eggs, fruit, charcuterie and all the espresso I can drink – fuel for a day of shop-hopping.
Our first morning stop – after perusing the Bay for the annual pair of slippers for Mike’s mom – was the new downtown SAIT Culinary Campus, which has plenty of student-made baked goods, jams, preserves and condiments that make great gifts while supporting local student chefs.
And over at Holt Renfrew we came across one of our favourite bakeries – Yann’s Haute Patisserie – with a macaron pop-up that will be there until Christmas eve. Who needs chocolates when you can bring a box of brightly coloured festive macarons?
From downtown we hit Inglewood – my ‘hood (although technically, I live on the other side of the tracks, in Ramsay), stopping first at Wilde Grainz bakery for mince tarts they make using a 100 year old recipe from the UK, shared by a dear friend. You can pick up a jar to make your own, or bring home slabs of dark fruitcake and shortbread.
Across the street, Reworks Upcycle Shop has the most awesome assortment of things made from other things – my current favourite are these skateboard cheese boards, wine racks made out of pipes, and road sign trays, which Santa was kind enough to deliver to me last year.
These wine stoppers made out of old doorknobs and taps and locally screened tea towels have become by go-to gift to attach to a bottle of wine (or Irish cream made in High River). And this side table made out of old skateboards? Want.
Further down 9th Ave, Kent of Inglewood is open – for all your holiday hatchet needs.
Darcy and Greg at DaDe Art & Design Lab have beautiful things – besides art and furniture, they always have unique handmade ceramics by local artists.
And right now the guys from Monogram Coffee has a pop-up in their space, offering up wonderful coffees (as well as a subtly spiced, not-too-sweet alternative to the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte) and baking from Pretty Sweet.
Which would pair well with a homemade gin kit. Make your own at home!
On the other side of DaDe, Savour Fine Foods is one of my favourite Calgary kitchen stores. They carry Staub and Le Creuset, along with tons of fun kitchen toys, stocking stuffers, and delicious things like these infused pure maple syrups from out east.
Across the street, Oliviers has been making chocolates and candies in Calgary for over 100 years; they’re known for their massive hand-made candy canes, but also have a huge selection of novelty chocolate, sugar-free chocolates, and caramel corn that rivals Poppycock. Also – if you’re tired of chocolate Santas, you can get a chocolate Buddha.
And there are vintage dishes, linens, purses and Christmas decorations at Pretty Little Things!
From there, we popped over to Britannia, to the new Village Ice Cream location, to pick up some pints of their festive flavours – peppermint! eggnog! salted caramel! And next door, Britannia Hardware is one of my favourite spots for kitchen toys.
What are your favourite festive spots at this time of year?
This post was sponsored by Travel Alberta – a great partnership, since I love showing off this province so much. And thanks to the Fairmont Palliser for hosting our stay! As always, all the content is 100% my own.