Where to go for great food and great music

There’s an ongoing debate over what role music should play in the dining room, some restaurant managers believe that music is an integral part of the dining experience, others think it distracts from the food and dinner conversation. Many Calgary restaurants are using music effectively, with some fine dining establishments even bringing in live musicians, acknowledging that music can indeed complement high-end food.

But what about the other side of the coin – can food be used to enhance a musical experience? Music venues are not traditionally known for their top-notch grub. More often than not, if a rock club does serve food it’s going to be greasy chicken wings or a plate of sad-looking nachos. But with Calgary’s own world-class alternative music festival Sled Island at the end of June, it may be time to take a closer look at what some of Calgary’s music venues are doing in their kitchens.

Palomino Smokehouse

If there’s one place in Calgary that puts equal emphasis on the food and the music, it’s the Palomino Smokehouse (109, 7th Ave SW). With a barbeque-heavy menu that features favourites like Applewood smoked pulledpork, deep fried pickles, and one of the best macaroni ‘n’ cheeses in Calgary (complete with add-ons like brisket or double smoked bacon), the restaurant has become a haven for both touring musicians and local rockers. The basement performance venue has hosted countless rock, punk, folk, and indie pop bands and occasionally also holds shows on a smaller stage upstairs in the restaurant.

“French haute cuisine probably isn’t going to work at a punk rock show,” says the Palomino’s manager Arlen Smith. “But a really good mac and cheese, or poutine or barbeque works really well.”

Smith says that the advantage of serving great food as well as great music is that music fans who have tickets to a show downstairs may show up early to grab a plate of barbeque upstairs, while barbeque lovers may venture downstairs to check out a band that they otherwise wouldn’t have even known existed. This isn’t just good for the Palomino’s business, but also makes for a better, more well rounded experience for customers.

“There are so many advantages to knowing that if you’re going to a show that you can just get a bite to eat there and it’s not going to be warmed up pizza that’s being sitting there for who knows how long,” Smith says. “We really think that the music and the food each make each other better and make the environment better.”

Tubby Dog

Of course, the Palomino isn’t the only place in town that does a great job of combining live music and food. After barbeque, hot dogs are probably next on the list of the most rock ‘n’ roll foods and the most rock ‘n’ roll hot dogs in Calgary come from Tubby Dog. In addition to serving up delicious hot dogs at its kitschy flagship location (1022, 17 Ave SW) the restaurant periodically hosts punk rock shows. Tubby Dog’s sloppy, over-the top franks (topped with anything from chili and sauerkraut to peanut butter and Cap’n Crunch cereal) are also a great choice if you need a little something to sit in your stomach after drinking all night at a rock ‘n’ roll show (their window is open until 4 am on Saturday and Sundays).

Ironwood Stage and Grill

For something a little more refined, Inglewood’s Ironwood Stage and Grill (1229, 9 Ave SE) features a folkier list of upcoming concerts and offers sit-down table service. Rather selling traditional tickets to concerts, the Ironwood usually asks that patrons reserve a table for dinner; the ticket price is added to their tab. The dinner menus consists of slightly elevated comfort food like burgers, chili, seafood risotto, and a variety flatbreads, salads, and appetizers.

And that’s not it. If you happen to be hankering for a bite while you catch some live music during Sled Island (or other times of the year), options include Local 510 (510, 17 Ave SW), Broken City (613, 11 Ave SW), the Ship & Anchor (534, 17 Ave SW), and Dickens (1000, 9 Ave SW), all of which feature various takes on pub food.

If you’re not a rock fan or Sled Island attendee, try places like Wine-Ohs (811, 1 St SW) for a more eclectic music mix (and a dynamite menu) or The Blues Can (1429, 9 Ave SE) for blues performances and delicious Cajun cuisine.

Whatever you choose, there’s no longer an excuse to make a dinner out of beer and nachos or hit the late night McDonald’s drive-through just because you have tickets to go out and see your favourite band. Suss out the menu of your favourite rock venue and make a night out of it next time you go out to see some live music.

Photo by Emily Shibley

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