Opened in 1905, the King Eddy began its legendary start up next to the Canadian Pacific Railway coming into Calgary. The longtime bar and hotel was a cornerstone for the beginning of town’s downtown.
“It opened basically where Calgary began, there were train stations here and people would walk in along 9th Avenue and they would be greeted by the King Eddy as one of the first landmarks here in the city,” said Jynnifer Gibson, the general manager of the King Eddy.
The Eddy fully reopened this summer, bringing back the legacy of its live music in collaboration with the National Music Centre (NMC) and Studio Bell. Since it’s olden days of welcoming out-of-towners to pop in for a night or stay a while, to its current live music nights and happy hour, Calgary’s longest running bar is here to stay.
“Starting around the early eighties, it opened up as a live music venue. It was a country venue for a while, and then of course as everyone knows it transitioned into a blues venue,” Gibson said.
The King Eddy’s music reputation was recognized for drawing crowds and hosting live music six nights a week. All walks of life have gone through the doors, from businessmen to bikers, passing from different owners.The Eddy was the first bar to remove segregation and openly invite all individuals into its halls. At the turn of the 20th century the King Eddy was a hot spot in town, brightly gleaming on ‘whiskey row.’ Then, the King Eddy became a run-down spot. Fading white paint outside, chips and cracks across the hundred year old building. Lines of music notes wrapped the building entrance above the doors and embedded the classics of a dive bar.
The final days came for the Eddy in 2004, as it deteriorated and was condemned by the city. After almost a century of operation, the historical bar closed. By 2008, the Eddy was acquired by the NMC to be rebuilt.
The renovation was important to preserve key elements of the historical music spot. The home of blues needed to maintain its community feel and culture.The total capital cost of the Studio Bell project, which included construction and restoration of the King Eddy base building and only a minor portion of the interior, was $191 million, but the funding was not put towards operational costs for the Eddy. Additionally, NMC received $90 million of government funding for the entire Studio Bell project. The renovation was completed by the summer of 2016, but the Eddy fully opened its doors as a running bar and restaurant this past July.
The outside now stands out drastically against the sleek downtown skyline, especially beside Studio Bell and the NMC – the giant charcoal building encroaching over the Eddy. Inside the King Eddy, the long passage to the main music stage is open, airy and friendly. And much like the original, the bar has got character including stacks of liquor bottles on gleaming chestnut shelves.
Stones on the inside walls were chosen from the original building and now display quotes and names carved into them at the renovated building. Individuals that have purchased a reclaimed brick installed during the renovation have helped fund and support the projects with the NMC.
Most of the spotlights are focused on the main stage, enveloping the room in a dim light glow, even with the large windows at the entrance. A drum set sits exclusively central on the platform, inviting musicians to start a melodic pattern. The room is cozy, casual and although mostly empty in the afternoon, resonates with a feeling of hosting a full-size crowd. The historical legacy of the King Eddy still sits within the room today.
The renovated hotel also houses the Rolling Stone Mobile Studio, other NMC recording facilities, and NMC’s office, emphasizing the hotels musical legacy in the adjoining buildings. The NMC highlights Canadian artists, the history of music in Canada, and historical artifacts; Gibson says the King Eddy is considered to be the largest artifact as a part of the collection.
The King Eddy was fortunate to receive funding to be repurposed, since local music spots are struggling around town.
According to the Calgary Herald, three live music venues have already been shut down this year. Some local bars aren’t getting enough support to keep afloat, but luckily for the King Eddy, Gibson says they’re getting busier everyday and planning to expand their live music shows to the weekend afternoons this winter.
“We are really fortunate that the community has been really receptive to what we’re doing here. It goes hand in hand in terms of our programming and what sort of crowd we’re getting in. It’s different programming every night, so therefore we’re able to welcome a vast array of people into the building.”
Eddy’s main focus is to highlight local and Albertan artists, alongside the bigger recognized names in music for their weekly shows.The Cadillac Junkies are an Albertan Americana country band, and hosted their album release back in July of 2017 at the King Eddy after a recommendation from a friend led them to it.
“We went to go check it out and it was a really cool venue. It’s very intimate, but you can fit a lot of people in there. But it almost doesn’t seem like it, you can feel everybody’s energy in there ... So it wasn’t like your average venue. It had a good vibe with it,” said Shalisa Liesch, lead singer of the Cadillac Junkies.
Much like Leisch, the most important part for Rob Pailer, the drummer of Tony Harrison and the Ramblers, is the atmosphere of the venue he’s playing.
“Especially if it’s your first time playing a venue, some places will make you feel really welcome, some places it feels very professional, and both of those are great, just some venues can be cold and distant,” said Pailer.
Pailer’s hasn’t played the King Eddy, but his favourite spot is a hole-in-the-wall dive bar downtown, Vern’s Tavern. The pub becomes more like “a big party with your friends than playing a show” and makes them feel like rockstars.
Both artists mentioned venues should have some character, and a great feeling when entering the room. The King Eddy had a great vibe that really resonated with Liesch. “It wasn’t plain or boring, but it had a home-y feel”.
“When you’re playing something as staple as the King Eddy, you feel like part of history and you’re doing something bigger than just playing a few songs. You feel like you’re part of the community now,” said Liesch.
So far, Gibson says that the musicians are loving that the sound in the room and would like to see the Eddy expand to shows every night.
“We rely on [what] most venues do, on a lot of word of mouth. But I think just letting people know that we’re here and we’re open, and that we’re ready for the community to come down,” said Gibson.
Both Liesch and Pailer hope to see more medium-sized music venues added to Calgary, and bigger support for live full bands.
“The support for live music is hard to get I find, you’ve got to really prove yourself,” said Liesch.
Pailer mentions the trend right now is focused on venues hosting DJs more than live bands, but expects it to come back. The main factor is if people are willing to spend the money at the local spots and going to the shows. Gibson sees more people coming in everyday to check out the wide variety of music and historical legacy of the King Eddy.
“I mean you can’t save every dive bar, but some places are really important,” said Pailer.
- By Casey Richardson