The Calgary Stampede, while known for the bull ridin’, chuckwagon racin’, and midway teddy bear-winnin’, is also famous for its unstoppable party scene. The city’s population virtually doubles during this ten-day celebration of Western culture in early July, and a lot of folks visit especially for the scores of bars, clubs, casinos and concert halls. But to call it ‘nightlife’ is downright incorrect. At the Stampede, the party starts before noon and doesn’t stop until well after sundown.
Cara, a local server, has worked many a Stampede, enjoying big tips and the folks who come to Calgary especially for the festive atmosphere. “During Stampede, you can make $100 just for a smile,” she says. Alcohol consumption triples or quadruples this time of year, so a waitress can haul in $5,000 over the ten days without even trying. Meanwhile, Jason, a local firefighter, spends at least a paycheque on Stampede partying. “I love Stampede, but my wallet usually takes a pretty serious hit,” he says. It’s quite an interesting anthropological phenomenon actually—while the men flock to the city to spend scads of money, many women come here to make it.
As the families and tweens head to the midway for their Stampede experience, more and more of the Stampede Zeitgeist is found outside the grounds, in the city’s cowboy bars, saloons and parking lot beer tents. The party scene of the Calgary Stampede has generated national and international attention—it’s been compared to Mardi Gras on more than one occasion, and the parallel is accurate. Stampede-time is a ten-day, all-day party—and it ranges from high-end cowboy genteel to the kind of fun some might call downright unsavoury.
While twenty and thirtysomethings flood the city from all over the world for a week of partying, Calgary’s corporate culture takes full advantage—for them, the Stampede is a ten-day client relations junket beginning with breakfast and ending well after midnight. Some downtown types receive over 20 invitations, from pancake breakfasts to large-scale corporate parties with big name bands like Blue Rodeo and Lonestar, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. No one gets much work done, but there is no better time for business development.
For nightlife establishments throughout the city, Stampede is their busiest time of year, a coming-out party with tons of special events and sky-high beer sales. Two years ago, a local bar was forced to send trucks to Saskatchewan halfway through Stampede for more Kokanee beer—the province of Alberta was literally sold out!
Ranchman’s, the city’s most authentic cowboy bar, gets in the action with non-stop two-stepping, rides on two mechanical bulls and live music from up to three bands per day. Meanwhile, Bookers Crab Shack hosts Spurlesque, an all-cowgirl dancing revue, and a non-Western-themed club like the Whiskey gets in the spirit by bringing in special concerts like Bedouin Soundclash and Ice Cube. The city transforms into a de facto schmoozefest, music festival and Spring Break-style oasis for partiers of all persuasions.
The most famous spot, and it’s known worldwide, is Cowboys Dance Hall. Notorious for scantily-clad waitresses and the best concerts at Stampede (this year it’s Terri Clark, Blue Rodeo and Buckcherry), Cowboys sells more Budweiser than any other bar in Canada. The bar and its Stampede-only tent doubles the square footage (up to 60,000) and sees up to 20,000 people a day. With drinks costing $7 a pop, you do the math. Cowboys hires 500 new staff just for Stampede, 80% of them female and gorgeous. But if you’re looking for cultured restraint, you won’t find it here—where shooter girls stand on the bar and free-pour Jack Daniels down patrons’ throats, with a face-full of cleavage as a chaser.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ranahans, an upscale restaurant and lounge overlooking the Grandstand, where a $13,000 “membership” buys you a table for four for ten days, and celebs like Josh Hartnett and Samuel L. Jackson have been known to hang out. The high-class side of the Stampede party is an essential part of the city’s corporate royalty—and a critical part of any company’s client entertainment package. “Companies are almost conspicuous in their absence,” says Ken Knight, Premium Seating Manager at the Calgary Stampede. Clients are treated to prime-rib and the excitement of bucking broncos, while million-dollar deals are closed with a tip of the hat and a glassful of rye.
The raucous reputation of the Stampede has its own host of urban legends. Did you know that the birth rate in Calgary spikes in April and divorce rates go up in August? Regardless, the cowboy mystique lives on in the saloons and dance halls of the city, and in many ways the party atmosphere retains the energy of the days when wranglers came back from weeks on the range looking to cut loose in the company of whiskey and women. The Calgary Stampede is a little like bull riding—except instead of hanging on for eight seconds, you have to hang on for ten days. Hold on to your hat—it’s one wild ride.
Saloon, Bar and Nightclub Guide
Wild and Wooly: ROADHOUSE
Located right downtown on 9th Avenue, The Roadhouse hosts live entertainment, BBQ and a relatively cheap cover—only $10 (Cowboy’s costs you $20). One buxom barmaid was a finalist of UMM Magazine’s Hottest Bartender contest—if you know what we mean, 840 – 9 Ave SW.
Just south of the downtown core, The Whiskey is the place for people who won’t stand in line at Cowboys. It’s the fabulous rooftop patio that has the line up—but it’s worth it. Dancing all night long. The unofficial Where Calgary Magazine Stampede hangout, 341 – 10 Ave SW.
LUCKY LIQUOR LOUNGE CORRAL
A chi-chi martini spot the rest of the year, Lucky transforms into 17th Avenue’s only cowboy bar with a huge outdoor tent and lots of music and dancing. The line ups can be brutal, as are the porta-potties, but the male bartenders are hot, hot, hot, 510 – 17 Ave SW.
Sister bar to Cowboys and steps away from the Stampede Grounds, Coyotes has hot waitresses, smokin’ beer tub girls and the tequila gets poured straight in your mouth (by cowgirls wearing short skirts and shooter holsters). Need we say more? 1088 Olympic Way SE.
FLAMES CENTRAL AND THE WILDFIRE GRILL
The new über-Calgary entertainment venue, Flames Central defies, categorization. Built in a heritage theatre space on Stephen Avenue, FC is full of huge screens, bars galore, high-end eats, and private rooms. Stampede concerts include Rick Springfield, Glen Campbell and Metric, 219 – 8 Ave SW.
One of the city’s newest spots, Palomino serves up smoky barbeque fare and great honky-tonk live music. Near the city’s arts and entertainment district, Palomino is the spot for the chic cowboys and girls, 109 – 7 Ave SW.
Buzzards has been a Stampede classic for 25 years with live music every day, Alberta BBQ at lunchtime and dozens of beers to choose from. July and August also mean the annual Testicle Festival—a hilarious celebration of prairie oysters (bull testicles), 140 – 10 Ave SW.
Enough Western Already:
A sexy nightclub where downtown meets uptown on 10th Avenue SW, Tantra doesn’t completely escape the Stampede festivities (they’re calling it a “Martini Ranch” for Stampede), but it’s as good as it gets, with dance music, visiting DJs and an insane ladies night on Tuesdays, 355 – 10 Ave SW.
THE HIFI CLUB
Way too cool for Stampede shenanigans, the HiFi is the city’s hipster mecca with dancing and DJs almost every night of the week—best nights to go are Thursdays for breaks and old school hip hop, Friday for funk and soul, and Sunday for great house music, 219 – 10 Ave SW.
The Mercury is a sleek martini bar with a dance floor that I seriously doubt has ever whispered a note of country music. You should be safe from the Stampede here—although chances are there will be people wearing cowboy hats, 550 – 17 Ave SW.
With two ultralounges featuring live music and DJs, a dance floor downstairs, a sexy circular lounge and a rooftop patio complete with fountain and tropical plants, Mynt is a chic escape from tacky western wear. Go during Stampede—Mynt’s moving and will be closed for six weeks after July 15. 516C – 9 Ave SW.
SPURLESQUE AT BOOKERS CRAB SHACK
Only in its second year, Spurlesque is an all-cowgirl dancing revue celebrating the “power of the cowgirl,” which seems to mean the power to wear bra-tops and tight jeans. Regardless, Spurlesque captures the bawdy, fun atmosphere of the Stampede perfectly. Happy Hour shows from 4 – 7 pm daily at Bookers Crab Shack, 316 – 3 St SE.
THE ROCK ‘N COUNTRY SALOON AT THE CUFF & BILLY CLUB
A once-a-year saloon (occupying a full city block) run by the Calgary Police Association in support of the Missing Children’s Society. Food, drinks and a massive roster of impersonators from “Kenny Rogers” to “Shania Twain.” Located at 6th Avenue & 3rd Street SE, just north of the Stampede Grounds and half a block from the LRT. Entrance is on 6th Avenue.
A non-stop roster of some of country’s best artists takes the stage at Nashville North including Emerson Drive, Aaron Pritchett and Trooper. One of the only places to get beer at the Stampede Grounds and home to fantastic music and dancing, Nashville North is a must-visit spot. The best music isn’t until later in the evening, but get in by 3 pm or stand in line all night.
STAMPEDE CLUB CRAWL
One way to see a host of Calgary’s clubs and bars is via the Molson/Coors Light 2007 Stampede Club Crawl. For $30, board a party bus and check out a dozen different establishments without having to worry about line ups or covers. It runs both Stampede Saturdays (July 7 and 14), call Ticketmaster, 777-0000.
Two-Step and More:
Way down south on Macleod Trail, Ranchman’s seems a little off the beaten path, but it is the only authentic cowboy bar in town. The dancing is first-rate in the main bar—with pub-crawl riff raff in the beer tent out back. Line ups are slow-moving late in the day, so get there early, 9615 Macleod Tr SW. COWBOYS The city’s world-famous Stampede venue with huge concerts and sexy waitstaff. Two-stepping happens inside on the dance floor or in the tent in front of the stage. Cover is steep and the line ups are long, but this is the place to see and be seen at Stampede 826 – 5 St SW.—Melanie Jones