A glimpse inside the elite Calgary Stampede experience
By Sally MacKinnon
Behind closed doors at Stampede Park, Calgary’s elite separate themselves from the masses of the midway. This is a place where neon lights, street sweepers and deep fryers are nowhere to be seen; they trade places with mahogany woods, personal chefs and AAA strip loin. Welcome to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Stampede Edition.
Three venues comprise Stampede Park’s premium seating: Ranahans, The Lazy S and the Infield Suites, as well as the groups-only 30X Saloon. Though they aren’t located above the grounds, if Calgary transformed into Ancient Greece they would be Mount Olympus. All are behind closed doors, cost big money to see, and are often packed to capacity.
In preparation for the 2009 Calgary Stampede, we’ve put together a glimpse into this mysterious world, as well as ways to maximize a more down-to-earth experience.
If premium seating is Mount Olympus, the infield suites would be Zeus’ domain. They are located behind the rodeo chutes, facing the Grandstand and within spitting distance of the bulls, broncos and cowboys.
The 28 suites were built in 1997, and vary in size and set-up. You can mingle in a stand-up saloon, lounge in a ranch-themed living room, or forgo both for the outside seating. Sound good? It is, but they’re not easy to get into—even for those willing to shell out the money.
“It’s definitely the place to be,” says Ken Knight, premium seating manager at the Calgary Stampede. “But it’s a reward for sponsors; it’s the carrot at the end of the stick.”
That being said, Knight points out that about 10 per cent of the suites are bought privately, but far in advance. For their money, buyers are given a personal chef and attendant at their beck and call. In all, the building has 150 employees—including 60 chefs—for the duration of Stampede. The menus are preset, and include items such as flambéed Athenian prawns, slow-roasted rack of lamb, and marinated AAA rib eye—followed by bananas foster cream pie flambé or a chocolate & caramel fondue.
Availability: Limited; reserved for Stampede sponsors.
Price: $2,800 – $22,200 (for 12 – 50 guests)
The Stampede’s second foray into premium seating was Ranahans, a private members’ club on the third level of the Grandstand—built for one main purpose:
“What we’re trying to create here, for corporate Calgary, is networking,” says Knight, who also oversees Ranahans. “This is a very happening place at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s wall-to-wall people.”
Knight says the idea came from sponsors, who wanted to wine and dine one client per day instead of hosting everyone in one go—especially when those clients were competitors. At Ranahans, members buy a table—with four, six, or eight places—for a minimum of five events, or book private rooms.
The dress code and the décor are both upscale western; think designer jeans, deep woods, wrought iron and leather seating. The food isn’t a buffet, it’s served at “action stations.” This isn’t beef on a bun—their roasted AAA strip loin comes with black peppercorn and cognac sauce, or you can forgo red meat for grilled lobster tails or butternut squash ravioli. But, Ranahans’ claim to fame isn’t the food; it’s the cache, and the chance to network with 280 captains of industry.
Availability: Tricky; call far in advance, and make sure you’re ready to book multiple days.
Price: $1,505 – $16,800 (for groups of 4, 6, 8, 12, 28 and 40)
THE LAZY S
Ranahans may be a refuge for oil barons, but The Lazy S—located on level four of the Grandstand—is the option for young professionals who don’t want a Petroleum Club atmosphere. The space is designed like a lounge, with black leather couches, open areas for mingling, live music and a glow bar. There is also the “terrace lounge” for those who want to be at the rodeo, but not attentively watch it.
Patrons at The Lazy S eat their meals al fresco, with a full view of the rodeo and chuckwagon races. The seats are closer to loungers than the bucket seating in the stands, and wait staff cater to diners’ every need.
The cuisine is playful. Will Kwong, the head chef for premium seating, says last year he was on a Japanese kick and incorporated miso and tempura into multiple dishes. This year, he’s enamoured with slow cooking.
“There are no rules to say you have to do it like this,” says Kwong. “They have to reel me in sometimes because I can go far into left field.”
His recommendation for The Lazy S is one of their signature dishes, the Colossal Burger: four pounds of beef, eight slices of horseradish cheddar, 12 pieces of double-smoked bacon, half a head of lettuce, six tomatoes and ancho chili mayo on a 12-inch pretzel bun.
Price: $345 per person, $10,560 for a 24-person private suite.
1. The Range: a food court with fare from local spots such as Opa and Wicked Wedge Pizza Co. Big Four Building, lower level.
2. The Clubhouse Restaurant: on the fourth floor of the Grandstand, with an à la carte menu and prime rib buffet daily from 4:30 pm to 8 pm.
3. Mavericks Dining Room & Lounge: a buffet spot on the upper floor of the Big Four Building. Also offers regular and children’s menus.