It’s clear that cocktail culture is more than a passing fad — at a lot of new restaurants in Calgary, a strong cocktail program is given almost as much attention as the food. Today’s cocktails give talented bartenders a chance to really show their creativity, whether they’re doing premium versions of the classics, incorporating savoury elements to complement the food or getting artistic with flavours and presentation. These places in Calgary are making cocktails that are worth some special attention.
Best Cocktail Bars in Calgary
Best Cocktail Bars in Calgary
Betty Lou’s Library
A real deal speakeasy, admission to Betty Lou’s Library requires whispering a password into a telephone, prompting a vintage bookcase to swing open to reveal a plush jazz-age library-themed bar. Drinks are named after famed women of the Gatsby era as well as literary giants worthy of raising a well-appointed glass to. If you’re lucky, you may catch a live jazz or burlesque show.
Business and Pleasure
From its storefront, this bar located in the back alley behind the Neighbour Coffee shop looks like a random professional office, but there’s a cozy and contemporary cocktail bar happily lurking inside. Business and Pleasure’s rotating food menu is fantastic, but the drinks are even better. You could opt for a glass of natural wine, but it would be a mistake to miss out on one of the bar’s perfectly balanced cocktail crafted with local spirits, fresh juice, and specialty bitters.
Calcutta Cricket Club
This hip Bengali-style curry house has plenty of tables to sit at to enjoy a huge family-style meal, but it’s just as much fun to saddle up to its bar and order some spicy/salty snacks to enjoy with a signature cocktail. Calcutta Cricket Club’s very best drinks offer a surprising balance of sweetness, fruitiness and spice, like the ultra-popular Crushable Gin and Tonic, a mix of gin, mango, chili and lemon.
Half the fun of this cocktail bar in Bridgeland is the full-service barbershop up front concealing the speakeasy-style lounge in the back, but the drinks at Cannibale are also pretty fantastic. Fitting with the theme, the emphasis is on retro cocktails, with pre-prohibition daiquiris, tiki-style rum drinks and a selection of creative originals.
This friendly Italian joint near Stampede Park does a great pre-game/concert pasta, but it’s worth coming back for a nightcap. The restaurant itself is named after an Italian aperitif, so you know they take their cocktails seriously. Cardinale’s cocktail list draws in a lot of bitter liqueurs and savoury ingredients, as seen in drinks like The New Kind of Kick, which involves chili liqueur, espresso, and coffee & smoke bitters.
As the resident cocktail lounge in The Oliver Building (which also houses the high-end Italian restaurant Luca and other related eateries) the Fleetwood Lounge is a perfect picture of 1930s vintage elegance, with a sophisticated cocktail menu to complement the details of the room. Expect innovative takes on classic drinks for the serious cocktail connoisseur, with a bar filled with premium spirits and house-made syrups. Bar specialties include bespoke martinis and old fashioneds along with a traditional absinthe service.
Klein / Harris
Klein / Harris’ Christina Mah is one of Calgary’s most celebrated “cocktail curators” (fancy talk for bartender) and she really lets her talents shine at her independent restaurant and lounge. Mah’s cocktail list has a few sections, but I recommend starting with the “True North” category, which focuses on beautiful creations centered around products from local producers like Eau Claire Distillery, Alberta Premium and Highwood Crossing oats (yes, in a drink).
Even though it’s one of Calgary’s most celebrated restaurants, locals love to treat Major Tom as a see-and-be-seen cocktail bar. The is no Calgary experience more glamorous than sipping on one of MT’s signature ice-cold martinis (kept in tiny bottles in the freezer and poured table side) while looking down at the city from the 40th floor of Stephen Avenue Place. Non-martini drinkers can choose from a long list of classic and original cocktails (Major Tom Collins, anyone?) or delve into the carefully curated wine list.
Missy’s This That
Feeling like a cross between a cool diner and proprietor Thomas Dahlgren’s personal clubhouse, Missy’s This That is an unpretentious no-nonsense spot that just feels nice to hang out in. Dahlgren is well-known as a wine expert and Missy’s boasts a great selection of wine, sherry, and spirits, but the cocktails (and, should you dare, party shots) are also interesting and creative, making good use of the startlingly well-stocked bar.
Hidden away in a Chinatown basement behind a fake tailor shop, Paper Lantern is an oasis of breezy island vibes and outrageously delicious Vietnamese snacks and banh mi sandwiches. The list of original cocktails is deliciously extensive, with fun drinks employing Asian-inspired ingredients like Midori, sesame, and green tea, with plenty of tropical tiki touches and fruity flavours.
A lounge designed for the serious cocktail enthusiast, Proof is for people who can’t abide by a simple gin and tonic. The rotating cocktail list is separated by spirit and each cheekily named drink is its own miniature work of art. There’s food too, but the menu of bar snacks and small plates are all formulated to go well with the cocktails, not the other way around.
Only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, taking as seat in the tiny Ricardo’s Hideaway feels like going on a mini-holiday. The tropical themed-bar’s cocktail menu is firmly entrenched in the world of rum — think Hemingway-style daiquiris, handcrafted mai tais and similar classics. The must-have drink on the menu is the Trinidad Sour, a blend of pisco, orgeat syrup and an unbelievable amount of Angostura bitters.
Although it’s on the street level of busy First Street, Shelter feels like a tucked-away hideout, thanks to a bunker-inspired design and dark mood lighting. Hungry guests might luck out and catch a food pop-up — the bar has earned a reputation for giving imaginative chefs a boost through a short residency. Either way, the cocktails are mind-blowingly intricate, combining pre-prohibition know-how with modern techniques in combinations that will surprise and delight.
Sweet Loretta is a raucously fun time from top to bottom: upstairs you’ll find Calgary’s premier inclusive disco bar and a hip lounge serving up spirit-forward cocktails and beautifully executed shareable plates of food. For a truly transportive cocktail experience, sneak downstairs to Otto, Sweet Loretta’s secret tiki bar, stocked with exotic drinks and big Hawaiian energy.
Gin is the name of the game at The Derrick, a Downtown bar that also specializes in smoked meat, local flair, and a laidback Western atmosphere. With nearly 100 different gins behind the bar, martinis, negronis, and G&Ts are the house specialties, but there’s also a long list of original cocktails. Gin plays a big part in the cocktail menu (though there’s plenty for non-gin drinkers too) along with surprising infusions, syrups, bitters, and ingredients like truffle oil and carrot cake water.
It’s a lot to choose from — just keep in mind, many of these cocktails contain two ounces of alcohol or more, so be sure to sip and savour accordingly, and remember to order some food.