Kensington Riverside Inn
1126 Memorial Drive NW, Calgary; 1-877-313-3733; kensingtonriversideinn.com. Rooms from $209.
Kensington Riverside Inn is an intimate 19-room boutique hotel found on the northern edge of downtown Calgary, just across the Bow River via the Louise Bridge. Once a big bed and breakfast, it was transformed into its current luxury digs, full of contemporary art and home to one of Cowtown's finest fine-dining establishments, Chef's Table. But is it really "worth the splurge," as Calgary's Avenue Magazine has declared?
Kensington Riverside Inn – all the geographic info is neatly, if slightly misleadingly summarized in the name. The hotel is, indeed, in Kensington, a walkable neighbourhood with a village atmosphere replete with boutiques, pubs and coffee shops and its own C-Train stop. The Inn is not, however, quite on the side of the river: it's separated from the Bow by Memorial Drive, a major artery for commuters. Kensington Trafficside Inn, I guess, must not have tested as well.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
Chef's Table, operated under the direction of Chef de Cuisine Chris Barton, is only one of three local establishments to receive the coveted Four Diamond AAA Rating, so it was no surprise that the grub was good.
What was surprising was how easily and cheerfully the staff accommodated a family brunch – is there a Canadian without relatives in Calgary now? – that included a three-year-old having her first meal in a "big girl's restaurant."
The exaggerated "mmm!" as she ate a dissembled Croque Madame filled with Madrange ham and Emmental, followed by a white-linen face wipe? Priceless.
The electric fireplace at the foot of the king-sized bed in my Executive King room gave an already well-designed suite (six-foot soaker, granite vanity) an extra cosiness that made it worth relaxing in. It was certainly more pleasant to stare at blankly than the 42-inch plasma television – and, as a bonus, it also really impressed my young niece.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
Apparently, the place is popular with both business travellers and brides, but it's entirely possible you may not encounter any of the other 18 parties staying there. And isn't that grand?
While I spoke to the courteous but not over-friendly staff during my weekend stay, I was otherwise spared small-talk – and thoroughly enjoyed that quiet refuge while on business in a city that can be exhaustingly chatty for a Torontonian. (Yes, it was quiet even though my room faced busy Memorial Drive.)
Recluses will particularly appreciate the croissant and thermos of coffee left on your doorstep at 6 a.m. (I was skeptical, but it was still plenty warm when I finally drank it five hours later.)
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
Parking is a pain for a tired traveller – and, likely, even an alert one. (Be sure to call ahead for the code to the tricky-to-navigate garage.) First, I was rebuked for parking in an outdoor space that was labelled for visitors, then informed I could park in one of the underground ones that had a sign that marked it as reserved. A Kafkaesque beginning to my stay that was otherwise crackerjack.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.