Mod West: Asian fusion meets '50s cool at Calgary's Bungalow bar

Asian fusion meets '50s cool at Calgary's Bungalow bar

It is a hot evening in Calgary, and I am thirsty. Heading to a nightclub is an option; it's no secret the city's raucous cowboy bars bustle from morning till night. But I have something else in mind. In the spirit of Frank Sinatra, I'll have this drink my way–in a more refined, laid-back watering hole. I'm on a mission to find cool, Calgary-style.

I find Bungalow in the midst of 17th Ave. SW, the strip Canadians have come to know as the Red Mile, party headquarters when the Calgary Flames were on a winning streak in the 2004 playoffs. In a street lined with cafés, shops, and wing-night bars, Bungalow sits unassuming, drawing people in through dark wooden doors. There aren't many lounges in town like this, which is why both the business and art crowds congregate here. “It's not nachos, beer and rock 'n' roll. It's tapas, martinis and jazz,” says head bartender Chad Thompson, 28. But it's not pretentious. “Everyone's here to have a good time. There's no attitude between customers,” he says.

The Bungalow experience is reminiscent of the '50s, fitting when you consider the owners opened the bar two years ago with a vision of Rat Pack cool in mind. “The [concept] came from the fact that Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin used to have bungalows in Los Angeles in the '50s,” says Brad Morrison, 30, manager and co-owner. The goal was to create a casual, yet elegant, atmosphere where a 30-plus crowd would feel comfortable. Cozy as a living room, but hip enough to have an edge, Bungalow is an intimate lounge where people of all stripes mix. If it's good enough for the likes of Jarome Iginla, Heath Ledger, Kelly Hrudy and Kirsten Dunst, it's good enough for me.

Sitting on one of Bungalow's Barcelona-inspired chairs or sinking into one of its benches, it's easy to feel at home. The walls are lined with cedar planking, but the room shimmers with pieces of blue backlit art that line three walls. On both sides of the entrance, square blocks cut from the river-rock wall cast an amber light, creating a fireplace-like glow. Beyond the front doors, facing the street, Bungalow features two patios. One is covered, “so even if it's a warm rainy night, you can still sit out,” says Thompson. The other is open to the skies.

Calgarians enjoy a good drink. In fact, the Caesar was born in Calgary's Westin Hotel bar in 1969. At Bungalow, the signature drink involves a somewhat more exotic ingredient: lychee. The lychee fruit, native to Southern China, complements Bungalow's Asian-influenced tapas menu. “The lychee martini is really fragrant. It's so refreshing,” says Thompson. Any tricks? “It's all how you shake it,” says Thompson. “The colder it is, the better. You've got to really shake it well to get that frosty feeling.” Sitting cozy in one of Bungalow's chairs, taking in the fluid blue art and sipping on my chilly lychee martini is the perfect way to end this dry prairie day. Mission accomplished.