Flaneuring the Fringe: Sunalta / 11th Street SW

By Richard White, April 15, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban “street life” means all too often we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street or Kensington, or maybe even the Design District or Stephen Avenue. This is the third of a three-part look at “street life” on the fringe of Calgary’s city centre.  Sunalta and 11th Street SW are hidden gems for people interested in urban exploring.

Sunalta

Sunalta is the community west of 14th Street SW, south of the CPR Tracks, east of Crowchild Trail and north of 17th Avenue SW. With the recent arrival of the LRT and their own station (10th Avenue and 16th Street) Sunalta has the potential to extend the boundaries of Calgary’s south side City Centre all the way to Crowchild Trail. The community is dominated by small walk-up apartments, condos and small businesses making it a good candidate to become Calgary's next urban village. It won’t be long before someone proposes a major high-rise development near the station.

Mikey’s Juke Joint & Eatery (1901 10th Ave SW)

You wouldn’t expect to find an authentic juke joint (a place for workers to relax, drink, dance and socialize in a ramshackle building at the outskirts of town) in Cowtown, but there it is, tucked hidden away next to the railway tracks and under the LRT skytrain and Crowchild / Bow Trail bridges.  The wooden floors have a rich spilled beer patina, the food is good (they make a great burger and the pulled pork sandwich is straight from the Delta) and the music is amazing.  The Saturday Jam with the Mike Clark Band should be on every blues lover’s “must do” list.  Tuesday night features Tim Williams who recently won the International Blues Competition for best “solo/duo” artist and best guitarist; he is also a great storyteller. Music is seven days a week here, twice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sentry Box (1835 - 10th Ave SW)

Across the street from Mikey’s the Sentry Box is over 13,000 square feet filled with over 46,000 different items - from military games to science fiction.  Their events calendar is packed with activities from Blood Bowl League to Dungeons & Dragon Encounters. I am always amazed at the constant stream of people in and out of this destination retailer.

Rubaiyat: Stained Glass Studio (1913 - 10th Street SW)

Did you know Rubaiyat has had a stained glass studio on 10th Ave SW since 1973? The studio is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, selling glass to professional and hobby artists and meeting clients commissioning a custom architectural, religious and residential stained glass piece. When I checked it out one Saturday (before the Mikey’s Saturday afternoon jam), I was immediately astounded by the selection of hand-rolled, mouth-blown and machine sheet glass on display.  I was quickly welcomed and invited to wander around and take photos.  I love wandering artists’ studios and this is one of the biggest studios I have seen in a long time, and the cleanest!

Heritage Posters & Music (1502 - 11th Ave SW)

It’s been aptly described by one fan as a hippy, trippy bastion of pop culture history housed in a psychedelic garage.  The rustic store is brimming with vintage vinyl, new and out of print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, music photos, movie posters, and much more.  It's a groovy store with pop culture memorabilia galore. I dug it, man.”  Need I say more?

The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

Mikey's one of several blues bars in Calgary's City Centre.

Sentry Box is Canada's largest adventure gaming and science fiction and fantasy bookstore.

Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

Rubiayat studio.

Rubiayat studio.

Sunalta is full of surprises like Kingdom Hall and a huge Western Veterinary Emergency Center. 

11th Street Strip  

The 11th Street Strip extends just two blocks - from 15th Avenue north to 13th.  Unlike the areas, 11th Street is more hidden than fringe find.  The street is not only surrounded by high-rise condos that are very walkable to downtown, but it is inside the City’s south City Center boundaries. It also has urban elements other than just shops and cafes - a plaza on the southeast corner of 11th Street and 14th Avenue and the historic St. Stephen’s Anglican Church a half block east on 14th Ave Street make for an oasis in the middle of what is quickly becoming a sea of high-rise condos. 

Kalamata Grocery Store (1421 - 11th Street SW)

A great neighbourhood market specializing in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groceries. How do they cram so much character into one little store? You have to taste the baklava! Best selection of olives in the city with over 30 varieties including the namesake, kalamata olives. 

Epiphanie Chocolate (1417B  -11th St SW)

Though Calgary has numerous chocolate shops, none is as quaint and authentic as Epiphanie, included as one of the best places to buy chocolate in Canada by Huffington Post in 2013.  It is like walking into a mini art gallery in a European village. You will definitely leave here with a smile on your face - and likely some chocolate too!

Galaxie Diner (1413 - 11th St SW)

Established in 1996, Galaxie was on the leading edge of Calgary’s retro diner mania.  It is frequented by locals for its authentic Montreal Smoked Meat hash and Calgary Sandwich.  Come hungry!

Good Earth Café  (1502 - 11th St SW)

The Good Earth Café has grown from this original flagship store into a western Canada franchise with 42 locations.  It is a popular meeting place especially for larger groups, as this is a large café with lots of comfy seating.   The name “café” is a bit misleading as it is more bistro than café with its many food options.  I have always loved their white chocolate scones.  

With The Times (1504 – 11th St SW)

Next door to Good Earth is “With the Times,” a magazine/newspaper shop that you can access directly from the café or the street.  How sweet is that! You can grab your New York Sunday Times, your favourite hot beverage and scone, and then settle in for a few hours reading and thinking.  It doesn’t get much better.  

11th Streets pocket park/plaza next to St. Stephen's Church and downtown offices in the background. 

"Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

"Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

Of course Kalmata has olives. 

Of course Kalmata has olives. 

11th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

11th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Last Word

Urban living is characterized by communities with a diversity of housing options – single family, duplexes, townhouses and small and large condos. It is also defined by the diversity of transportation options i.e. you might walk to the café or yoga studio, cycle to the urban grocery store or recreation center, as well as walk, cycle or take transit to work. 

As Calgary expands outwards, so does its City Centre. No longer is it just Hillhurst/Sunnyside, downtown and the Beltline that offers urban living. This is the final chapter of three blogs that looked at flaneuring the fringes of Calgary's Center City see below for chapters one and two. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Flaneuring the Fringe: 16th Avenue North   

Flaneuring the Fringe: 19th Street Northwest

Calgary's Newest Urban Village