Summer is definitely the best time of year in Calgary. No, you can't ski and yes, the Den is dead every night of the week, but once the freak May blizzards stop and the snow melts, the town transforms. Never ending prairie sunshine hits the city with enough intensity to make even the pavement sweat dusty heat waves. Hiding inside after nine months of winter is unimaginable, but there isn't a beach in sight. Instead, there is an alternative form of refreshment--two ounces good company and one ounce cool location.
Calgary's trendy areas hibernate every winter. Sure, you can visit Kensington and Prince's Island Park in sub-zero temperatures, but the streets are deserted and seasonal activities take place in dismal indoor locations. In summer, the town lives on rooftop patios, at cultural festivals, in parks and on city sidewalks.
Kensington is difficult not to enjoy in the summer. The key to its charm is diversity, it has something for everyone. Philosophers, artists, yuppies and transients are all lured by the unique atmosphere on 10th Street and Kensington Road. Restaurants range from Greek to Ethiopian, from Italian to Thai. Cafes line the street, intertwined with used bookstores and pubs. Foreign films play at the Plaza, while celebrity authors read at Pages next door. Modern-day hippies visit the natural market, middle class professionals seek fancy garden accents and athletes find top-quality equipment.
Summer in Kensington is another world. All the aforementioned places are there during winter months, but they don't thrive. There isn't the same melange of people from all walks of life, instead there are shivering die-hards downing their coffee in a hurry and lingering only to avoid the cold. From May to August, Kensington is a common bond that unites the whole city, or at least the Northwest.
Downtown- Eau Claire and 17th Ave
Eau Claire is Calgary's cultural playground. Every summer there are ethnic celebrations, like Afrikadey and the Hispanic Festival, as well as domestic festivities, like Carifest and the Folk Festival. Even on days lacking planned events, Eau Claire retains the beauty of Prince's Island Park and the satisfaction of sipping cold beer atop Brew Bakers' roof. On weekday afternoons the square swarms with businessmen "doing lunch" and the bike-path is crowded with sunshine-greedy runners. Evenings and weekends are less so, and the enjoyment factor increases as the crowds subside.
Despite the cultural diversity of its festivals, and the fact Kensington is just on the other side of the river, Eau Claire attracts a more uniform group. Families are the most likely visitors, but there is still a visible minority of young adults and professionals.
Even more uniform is 17th Avenue, the trendiest strip in town. The street is long and lined with up-scale restaurants, surfer shops, cafes and lounges. Like Kensington, this place has everything, just on a less bohemian scale.
The Ship and Anchor attracts people from every walk, as do the exquisite Chocolate Bar and restaurants like Chianti's. At the same time, there is a higher standard in the air. Perhaps it is set by businesses like Melrose, where drinks are fancy and so expensive that you quietly mumble "I'd like a Kokanee," hoping the martini shaking yuppies at the next table won't overhear and glare in your direction. Still, regardless of the higher prices, 17th serves a valuable purpose during the summer months.
It's a place you can go for a real night on the town: it's trendy, it's stylish, and goddammit, those $8 martinis are good. The Chocolate Bar provides romance and cheesecake, Kaos has atmosphere and jazz and even a stroll under the white-lit trees on a cool evening is an exhilarating experience.
It doesn't even have to cost a lot. Steeps' teahouse is inexpensive yet holds all the glamour that is 17th. You won't find philosophers or families, but you can live the high life and enjoy every minute of it--along with every dollar.
No matter how much fun the Den can be, nothing beats a hot summer night on the town. Whether you clink pint glasses with your friends in a Kensington pub, stroll through the beautiful Prince's Island Park, or dress to the nines and head down to 17th, there aren't enough days in the season to tire of good company in cool locations.