Strolling down Atlantic Avenue, Inglewood’s historic main street, now 9th Avenue, there are plenty of signs that Calgary’s oldest community is not your typical Alberta neighborhood. I pass a specialty Japanese knife store, a gun shop, spice merchant, blues bar, yarn emporium, Crossfit studio and tattoo parlor – all in two eclectic blocks.
This urban village just east of downtown has evolved into one of the city’s most interesting destinations, drawing both locals and tourists. It’s a vibrant area, a place where free spirits, fashionistas and families are equally at ease shopping the boutiques, eating out, or hitting one of many music venues for live jazz and blues. Or, they come to simply soak in Inglewood’s charm before or after a trip to the Calgary Zoo or Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, two popular nearby attractions.
History is Hip
Established in 1875, just across the Elbow River from Fort Calgary, Inglewood was originally called East Calgary, or Brewery Flats after the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company located there. Other early businesses included a sawmill, slaughterhouse, hotel and livery. Inglewood’s main drag, which features brick buildings constructed between 1906 and 1912, became the city’s first authentic main street.
The “old bones” of those heritage buildings now give modern enterprises a sense of place and history that’s unique in the city. What’s more, they provide an appealing backdrop to the bustle on the sidewalk, where weekend wanderers search for treasures in the trendy shops.
Shabby Becomes Chic
It wasn’t so long ago that Inglewood was somewhat shabby, its historic buildings falling into disrepair and housing one too many flea markets posing as antique shops. Future residents, business owners and restaurateurs saw Inglewood’s potential, though, and gradually set up shop, triggering the metamorphosis from tired to trendy. They also embraced the concept of keeping the community slightly as it was – to maintain its authentic character.
Step inside Off Cut Bar at The Nash and you’ll get a feel for the transformation that has taken place in the entire community. Located inside the National Hotel, which was originally built in 1907, the parquet floor and pressed tin ceiling hearken back to the city’s early days, as do the suspender-clad bartenders serving classic cocktails. Two mug-shot posters of Calgary’s most-wanted Prohibition-era bandits are a further reminder that Inglewood was – and in a way, still is – a bit rough around the edges.
But if you doubt Inglewood’s transformation, take one bite of The Nash’s gourmet bison burger and arrive in modern culinary heaven. Or, pop into The Livery Shop next door (located in the original livery building), where clothes and jewelry are for sale, rather than horses for hire. You can easily spend a day in compact Inglewood getting your fill of food, shopping, music, culture and, if it suits, a motorcycle or a tattoo.