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A Nightlife State of Mind, Part I

The wine bar is a hot concept right now—so hot that even in these uncertain economic times, four have opened in Calgary in just the past five months. One of the hippest of these places is Vin Room on 4th Street.

The atmosphere is a mix of comfort and chic with two levels of edgy design accents complemented by comfy leather chairs and banquettes. Just opened this past December, the wine bar is nestled in the heart of the Mission district along 4th Street. For 80 years the location was previously home to the bike shop Mission Cycle, an icon so beloved by the community that owners Phoebe and Ken Fung decided to leave the shop’s original sign standing. The sister and brother team also re-used bricks from the building’s original chimney to line the private wine room in the basement.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of all those beautiful bricks going to waste,” Phoebe says. “We really tried to maintain some of its original character.”Though on the outside the Vin Room looks modest, with boxy, post-disco era architecture, when you walk in, this hot spot is anything but. Interior designer Sally Healy created two atmospheres for the space: the main floor has an “Old World” feel, with funky chandeliers and printed chairs set against bright yellow and dark wood tones and painted black stripes on the ceiling.

Upstairs denotes more of a “New World” vibe—there’s flashes of hot pink, stark white, purple and olive green mixed in amongst chaise lounges, pillows with prints of peacock feathers and a new age painting with diamonds. There’s even a nook on the left side of the room with a long banquette, making it the perfect place, as one girly guest observes, “to make-out with a hot model.”

People may come to see the interior, but they stay to sample the wine. In fact, what makes this wine bar stand out more than any other is its massive wine-by-the-glass menu: 64 selections ranging in price from $2.50 to $40.50, meaning you can sample an expensive bottle like the 2005 Antinori Tignanello Sangiovese-Cabernet that normally sells for $175 a bottle, for a fraction of the price ($13.50).

In order to do this, the Vin Room uses eight temperature-controlled Italian Enomatic wine dispensing units that pump argon gas into the bottles as liquid is removed—this gas prevents the wine from oxidizing, allowing it to stay fresh for up to two months.

Though Vin Room is targeting the 35 to 50 demographic, with wine bars becoming so trendy, it’s an ideal spot for anyone who enjoys a glass of vino. It’s mildly busy at lunch, but really starts to fill up with those looking for an afternoon sip around 3 pm—on weekend nights it’s tough to get in.

Generally, the crowd here is made up of people who want to able to hear one another talk. Common sights are groups of friends laughing easily together, singletons lounging by the counter with a glass of Pinot, or pairs of people leaning towards each other over plates of food. Most of the items on chef Kai Salimaki’s menu are tapas, and meant to be shared. Try the eggplant chips with toasted pine nut aioli, or if you want something all to yourself, the slow braised short rib shepherd’s pie is delish. Whether you’re out with friends, or want to lounge by yourself upstairs or downstairs, Vin Room is a comfortable, trendy place you won’t want to miss.If you like to go out with friends in a trendy, social setting, you’ll also love:
Raw Bar
Sky 360
Winebar Kensington
Zia’s Enoteca

If you like your martinis old school—nothing but gin, vermouth and an olive—head to Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro. The bar list at this downtown eatery includes a generous selection of gin, as well as vodka if you prefer yours like James Bond. For fans of fruity martinis, we have yet to find more variety than at The Vicious Circle (1011 – 1 St SW). There are 141 to choose from, with names such as “Orange Orgasm” (Absolut Mandrin, triple sec and orange juice) and “Purple Nurple” (parfait amour, cranberry vodka, lime and grenadine).

Connoisseurs who like to savour a dram of malt whiskey can find more than 200 at Buchanan’s, the city’s self-proclaimed whiskey shrine. The whiskies are grouped by their Scottish origin, and range from $6.50 to $199 (for 40-year-old Bruichladdich).—Laura Pellerine

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