It’s time to start planning your annual trip to Canada. You go every year. Always in the summer. But it’s usually to the coasts. British Columbia. Nova Scotia. Prince Edward Island. Maybe even Québec. But Alberta has never popped up on your radar. Suddenly everyone is talking about Edmonton, though.
Alberta’s capital is known as the Gateway to the North. It’s a stopover en route to Jasper National Park, a staging point for oil-sands projects, and a base for diamond-mining operations farther west and north. But, thanks in large part to very long winters, the city has been largely overlooked by travelers. That’s starting to change as Downtown Edmonton is revitalized; the Edmonton International Fringe Festival continues to grow; and new museums, hotels, and restaurants keep popping up along the North Saskatchewan River.
It’s one of each of the latter—a hotel and a restaurant—that finally convinced you to check out Edmonton. Crash Hotel opened less than two years ago next to Rogers Place, the home of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. Its building is by no means new, though. It first opened as the Richelieu Hotel in 1904 when the Canadian Northern Railway was being built. It survived two fires, two world wars, and even Prohibition after that.
Crash Hotel is now a breath of fresh air in a city full of basic chain hotels. It’s a boutique hotel with individually decorated, high-tech rooms. Upgraded themed rooms include the King HiFi Room and the Traveler’s King Corner Room. The former features a wall of vintage speakers, an antique stereo console, and a phonograph player. The latter is decorated with vintage suitcases instead. Then, since the hotel is hoping to attract millennials, there are also shared rooms with bunk beds and communal bathrooms. Plus everyone has access to the workstations and the retro-chic cocktail bar in the lobby, the live music and the arcade games in Denizen Hall, and the local beer in Arena Liquor.
Though you might want lunch or snacks (housemade Guinness pretzels or poutine, anyone?), don’t overstuff yourself at the hotel. Your dinner reservation is at the Butternut Tree, a restaurant that overlooks Victoria Park and the Alberta Legislature Building along the river. Chef Scott Downey grew up in the Edmonton area, trained at some of the best restaurants in the world (hello, Daniel and Noma), and finally returned home last year. His long dining room—complete with thick wooden beams, shelves of micro-distilled spirits, and floor-to-ceiling windows—is gorgeous. His menus explore Canadian cuisine using regional and, sometimes, foraged ingredients. While his beverages are strictly Canadian.
You start with a cocktail that tastes like a pine sour. A ribbon of cured salmon with whipped chèvre quickly follows as an amuse-bouche. Five savory courses are served after that. Pear with sea lettuce. Oyster Thief rye bread. Chaga mushrooms atop Icelandic moss. Halibut. Beef. The dishes are thoughtful and deceptively simple. By the time the sweet course, a cherry financier, is set in front of you, you’re already vowing to return to both the Butternut Tree and Edmonton. Not bad for a city that was never even on your radar.