Thursday, June 21, 2012

There's no buzz about 109 St. S, and I like it that way


When the Three Boars Eatery (read pub) opened on 109 St. and 85 Ave in recent weeks, a pack of hipsters seemed to grow from the seats like asparagus or bamboo shoots. The place was packed from day one.

I didn't see an ad campaign or any neighbourhood lit, and I live two blocks down the street. Yet the place is full. So it goes with most of the spots on 109 St. between Whyte and Saksatchewan Drive. Little buzz, lots of variety, lots of bums in seats.

Just a couple of years ago, I would never have used the term lively to describe the Garneau gaggle. It was less a strip than an archipelago comprising a few reputation-driven locales like the Garneau pub, Sugarbowl and the High Level Diner. Between were black waters of early-closing retail (including a Bible store, which really draws the night crowd) and some sketchy spots or downright empty commercial space. It made the walk down 109 St. intimidating after dark, which is a kiss of death for attracting anyone but dedicated regulars to particular establishments.

The renaissance on this humble street began at its one visual gem: the Garneau Theatre. A big reno completely refreshed its look, and the Metro Cinema kept the movie projectors running after the last theatre company pulled out. The reno also pushed out some long-term commercial tenants in favour of four new dining and drinking spots, along with a hair dresser. Since then, Noorish, a raw/vegan resto/yoga spot, took over the bible store down the street and Three Boars just opened in the former spot of a rather sketchy pizza joint. At the same time, the nascent and fabulous Da Capo Lifestyle Caffe finally found its crowd by uniting wealthy urbanists with cyclists. Urban Diner expanded from its popular 124 St. spot to the Garneau area, replacing a mediocre Italian joint with a solid brunch spot. Given the horror stories I've heard about the condition of the kitchen when Urban Diner took over, let's all be glad.

None of these places or changes were fundamental. But importantly, they have created land bridges between the established and undiscovered spots, like La Tienda cigars. There's now plenty of reason to stick on 109 St. on a weekend or weekday evening, bouncing between one character-soaked pub and restaurant to another.

Much of the buzz in town has revolved around Jasper ave/downtown. It's the beneficiary of some streetscaping, new condo development, a farmers market, potentially an NHL arena and a recent glowing Edmonton Journal piece. But downtown could take a number of lessons from growth on 109 St. It's attracted visitors by catering to diverse lifestyles, but in doing so creates a vibrant scene that makes you want to try each place. I'm excited to see where 109 St. goes, and hopeful that the KFC/Taco Bell will close soon.

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