This past summer, the Art Gallery of Alberta launched an exhibition of Wayne Gretzky portraits by pop master Andy Warhol. Appealing to sports fans and art lovers alike, the display reflected a shift that’s in progress in the provincial capital. See, Edmonton — otherwise best known for its shopping mall — is leveraging a passion for Canada’s game to fuel its transformation into a more confident, more cosmopolitan metropolis.
At the root of its reinvention is Rogers Place, the sweeping hockey arena just built downtown. No matter how Connor McDavid plays this season, the facility is a win for visitors, having already ignited development in the surrounding area. The refurbished Mercer Warehouse building nearby, for instance, now holds an eclectic basement retail market. Across the street, the outdoor Neon Sign Museum transforms local retail history into a Vegas Strip-style attraction. Past, meet present. For more evidence of the city’s march forward, look to its food scene. Rising star Daniel Costa opened his first Italian restaurant, Corso 32, amidst the office towers of Jasper Avenue five years ago and has since launched two additional hit eateries. Craving craft beer pairings? Head south. Upscale brew pub Biera is the key draw at Ritchie Market, the brainchild of doctor turned video game developer turned brewer Greg Zeschuk.
A mural painted near City Hall pays tribute to these intrepid entrepreneurs. “Take a risk,” it reads. “It’s the most Edmonton thing you can do.” And while booking a winter trip to this capital of cold might feel daring, take that art as your reassurance that it’s well worth the shot.
The latest in chef Daniel Costa’s empire of Italian restaurants, this trattoria is Aziz Ansari’s heaven. The dining room’s crisp white seating and light fixtures keep with the palette of the parmigiano sprinkled on the decadent pastas. uccellino.ca
Skylights, wooden beams, and a forest of fresh greenery give this upscale brunch spot the same calm feel as a mod cabin in the woods. Serving dishes that fuse French and Scandinavian flavours (think ricotta-topped buckwheat pancakes), it delivers a decidedly savoury start to the morning. cafelinnea.ca
Furnished with vintage TVs broadcasting telenovelas and chairs upholstered in striped Mexican blankets, this taqueria churns out expertly prepared ceviche and even better churros. After dinner, head next door to Baiju Bar for remixes on classic cocktails (see: the SideKardashian). rostizado.com
Union Bank Inn
Based in a historic 1911 bank building, this boutique hotel recently wrapped renovations on a floor of contemporary suites. Combining luxe marble finishes and velvety fabrics, rooms include an electric fireplace perfect for warming up a mid-winter’s night. https://www.unionbankinn.com/
A handsome menswear shop filled with shearling-trimmed bombers, suede boots, and bandana-print pocket squares — perfect for introducing a subtle hit of rugged cowboy style into a 9-to-5 wardrobe. thehelmclothing.com
This denim workshop’s made-in-Canada jeans skew more rock star than ranch wrangler. Named after the graphic designer who created the Ramones logo, the company specializes in raw fabrics and skinny fits with ample stretch. arturodenim.ca
Filled with ornately detailed cabinetry inspired by the art nouveau movement, this intimate craft cocktail spot is a romantic time warp. Sip a Hacienda — a blend of mezcal, pineapple and chilli oil — while snacking on oysters. barclementine.ca
The restaurant arm of Blind Enthusiasm Brewing is the main attraction at Ritchie Market, a burgeoning hipster hangout that’s home to a butcher, a bike shop, and a coffee house — not to mention beards and beat-up denim jackets galore. biera.ca
Stop into this cozy downtown java spot to hear Yo La Tengo playing on the stereo system and regulars being greeted by name. Coffee beans courtesy of local roaster Ace make for memorably rich Americanos.
Elk Island National Park
Even with all of its new metropolitan charms, Edmonton still knows how to deliver a classic wild west experience. Just a 45 minute drive outside the city, the plains of this conservation area are home to nearly 1,000 bison. Once driven to near extinction, the massive, beautiful beasts now roam free, ready to be admired from the comforts of your rental car. pc.gc.ca