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You are here: Home  October 2008  How's Business Arts Hotel, Raw Bar part of Calgary re-urbanification

Arts Hotel, Raw Bar part of Calgary re-urbanification

Raw bar at Arts Hotel in Calgary

By K.T. Scott

CALGARY—Arts Hotel is part of the re-urbanification of downtown inner city Calgary, located a block from the gritty realities of the Mustard Seed street ministry. But once inside its arty chocolate lobby, it is a world away from everywhere. The city of Calgary recedes, as you are enveloped in the inner sanctum of the Arts Hotel.

Arts Hotel transformed the 185-room former Holiday Inn at 119-12 Avenue SW, into Calgary’s first designer boutique-style hotel, with a $10 million renovation.  It features twelve floors of luxury rooms (with 28 studio rooms and 25 luxury suites), along with two award-winning restaurants (Raw Bar at the Arts and Saint Germain).
The 6,000 sq. ft. Spectrum Ballroom serves as function space for meetings and special events.  The hotel also features Calgary’s hippest outdoor pool patio, which styles itself “Southbeach North”.  An eclectic women’s wear boutique, Boutik is also housed there, and the hotel plans further new service initiatives. There is also a 250 stall underground parking garage.

Everything about the lobby is hip and arty, making the name “Arts Hotel” particularly apt.  All the artwork throughout the hotel is eclectic and modern - this is certainly true of all the whimsical pieces in the lobby.
Across from the Raw Bar, the outdoor pool beckons.  It is in a courtyard in the middle of the building,  tiny and jewel-like.  Giant pots housing palm trees fanned the pool, and light up from the inside, gently illuminating the pool patio in the evening.

Raw Bar itself oozes sensuousness.  The deep red jewel tones throughout the room radiate intensity.  Pin prick lights twinkle in the ceiling, above curving dark wood walls, and the ruby banquettes. The lighting is dim with large spotlit canvases, punching up the subdued color scheme.  Rounded low-back red chairs surround low chocolately wood tables.  The Raw Bar room seats 120 patrons.
A private dining area off the Raw Bar itself features an additional 25 seats.  The pool patio seats another 20 patrons.

Signature appetizers of Raw Bar include tuna tataki, and the crab and mango rolls.  The entrees from salmon to lamb, are infused with a myriad of tantalizing flavours. After tasting the food, it is no surprise that the National Post named Raw Bar one of Alberta’s ten best restaurants.

Executive chef at Raw Bar, Duncan Ly, has an impressive background. He got his start at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino in 1996.  In 1999, he moved to Diva at the Met in Vancouver, to serve a three-year apprenticeship under chef Michael Noble, while completing his culinary studies at Vancouver Community College. When Catch opened in Calgary in 2002, he was able to continue cooking with Chef Noble, as a senior line cook for a year, prior to moving up to restaurant chef.  His first executive chef gig was at Elbow River Casino in 2005. He then moved to Raw Bar as executive chef, where he remains today.

Chef Ly explains the philosophy behind his cooking. “I started cooking in Tofino, so all our food was right from the ocean. We had fish and crab straight from the docks, and the wild mushroom foragers would come right to the back door of the Wickaninnish Inn.  We used the local berries in our food too.  All the fresh, local products shaped the way I think about food and how it should be prepared.”

The original intention at the Arts Hotel was to lease out the restaurant spaces, but after the hotel scored chef Ly, they decided to keep the food and beverage services of Raw Bar in-house.
“I definitely influenced the kitchen design.  Since there wasn’t enough space to have a full-open kitchen, as we would have liked to do, we came up with the “raw bar” concept, so that we could serve a lot of appetizers at the bar.”

Chef Ly sees the name “Raw Bar” more of a concept about his ingredients rather than a literal interpretation of serving raw food.
“I think of the word “raw” more as leaving the ingredients in their natural state, not messing with them too much.  As a young chef there is such a temptation to do too much to the products.  But I like to leave fresh products as close to their natural state as possible.” He admits that in a traditionally steak and potatoes town like Calgary, the Raw Bar menu could not feature seafood alone.
“We sell our share of sashimi and steak tartare.  Tastes in Calgary have definitely changed, especially over the last five years.  When Catch started there was debate about whether it would survive with a seafood menu, but it’s still there too, and doing very well.”

How does the design of the room enhance the food, and how does the food enhance the room?
“The Raw Bar room is modern and has a fresh feel.  Our food is modern, new and lively.  We have Pacific Rim-influenced food, and the room is Asian-influenced as well.  With our lowered tables, the red tables, and the intense red walls, and banquettes, it definitely has an Asian-influenced flavour as well. We don’t want our clientele to feel like they have to wear a suit and tie to eat at Raw Bar, we don’t want it too stuffy.  We keep the food that way too – lively and fun.”

Where does he see Raw Bar going in the future?  “Raw Bar is two years old, and the menu and the room keeps evolving.  I just see it getting better and better.”

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