Hubby and I have been regular subscribers to Calgary’s Vertigo Theatre BD & P Mystery Series for three years now. I am always impressed with the quality of the productions, and I always eagerly anticipate our theatre nights out together. The produtions begin at 7:30 so we usually have just enough time to have dinner at home, then drive to the city core before the final call… sometimes we squeak in just in time!
We decided to try something a little different and visited One18 Empire for a pre-theatre dinner on the night of our most recent Vertigo theatre experience. I met hubby there and we had a full two hours to relax; enjoying the cocktails, food, and each other’s company…and we weren’t late for the play!
Once we stepped inside One18 Empire, we were seated at a comfortable and secluded booth. The restaurant is quite gorgeous, managing to be a bit rustic and polished at the same time as well as being modern, with a touch of the old charm from days gone by when the space was the Empire Hotel.
The servers are more than keen to tell you stories about the history of One18 Empire, in fact, it’s one of the touches that makes One18 Empire so special! If you’re a local history buff, you might already know that the address has always been a hotel. Completed in 1906, the Empire Hotel was built on the site across from the Canadian Pacific Railway station, making it easy for travellers to run across 9th Avenue for a quick whiskey. It was destroyed by fire in 1920, rebuilt and in use until 1972 when it was torn down to make way for the Four Seasons. The newest remodel was completed almost one year ago, and the space is now occupied by the Marriott.
One18 Empire offers Calgary one of the best bar/lounge experiences, being primarily a ‘whisky bar’, the cocktails also have that certain sense of history. My ‘Sandstone City’ Sazerac was so named because much of the Calgary was rebuilt using local sandstones after the famous 1920 fire that destroyed a large portion of the down town area. Hubby’s ‘Near Miss’ cocktail, made with bourbon, lime juice, simple syrup, Peychaud’s and grapefruit bitters was so named because at one time the heating for the hotel was via a large coal furnace which had to be fed regularly. A random stick of dynamite (from the coal mine, presumably) was accidentally shovelled into the furnace one day and was quickly retrieved (by hand!) before it ignited, thus preventing a horrible disaster. The drink was good too…
I persuaded hubby to order three dishes from the ‘Small Bites’ menu…and they were all quite outstanding. We particularly loved the pork belly on the Weathervane Scallops dish, the pistachio vinaigrette on the Simple Beet Salad dish, and those Honey Bourbon Wings! My, oh my. No wonder they are a very popular item at One18 Empire. As an aside, as a food blogger I am always impressed when an ordinary item, like chicken wings, comes so beautifully presented. I think this shows great attention to detail.
I’m not sure what led me to order the Smoked Provolone Stuffed Portobello as a main, maybe I thought it would be lighter than the other options and allow me to leave more room for dessert. I thought it was very nicely seasoned, but I couldn’t detect any cheese at all, smoked or otherwise. The dish was essentially Portobellos stuffed with other mushrooms.
Since I had denied hubby’s request to order the Bourbon Short Ribs small plate, he ordered the Braised Short Ribs with Saffron Risotto and charred tomatoes for his main. The ribs were fall apart tender and the risotto was spot on, with the tomatoes adding a little acidity to cut the richness of the dish.
I thought we were quite done after all that delicious food so I ordered an Irish Coffee to finish with something sweet, but the manager had other ideas… he sent over the most wonderful Sticky Toffee Pudding I have ever tasted! Even hubby managed to dip his spoon (more than once!) into the warm, spicy pudding and creamy Calvados gelato. On our next theatre night, all I’ll be thinking of is heading over to One18 Empire for a Sticky Toffee Pudding after the show!
What I really liked at One18 Empire was that the menu is very accommodating, having both ‘sharing plates’ and set dinner plates for those who don’t like to always share. The service was really spot on and timely, and the cocktails really are quite special. It’s a great spot for a romantic cocktail or two and a perfect way to begin a spectacular date night!