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Veni, Vidi, Vici the Venue

Choosing the right private room for an event

The Cava room at Barcelona Tavern, courtesy of Barcelona Tavern.

In the interstices of Christmas and Stampede there are cocktail receptions, team-building lunches and full-scale client parties. With so many fabulous venues in Calgary, choosing the right one for a corporate event is matchmaking at its finest.

Throwing a party at the newest, hottest venue gives guests bragging rights and, of course, an Instagram post. Providing uniqueness is one driver but planners should reflect on the event’s purpose: what’s important to the success of the event, and if the venue’s reputation and vibe align with the corporate culture. Perhaps location, budget and food are higher priorities.

“I’m a firm believer in finding a venue that fits what you’re doing. Don’t try to stuff an idea into a venue, because it will either cost more money or not make sense,” says Keri Miller, partner and chief creative strategist at Calgary’s e=mc2 events.

Once streamlining the criteria and identifying the venue (an event planner can be engaged to do the venue search), view the space and be mindful of the amenities needed for the event’s season – a coat check for winter apparel may not be top of mind when visiting on a hot summer day.

When discussing food and beverage minimums and room rental fees, remember there’s generally room to negotiate. It is important to feel comfortable and trust the venue contact, and Miller encourages selecting a venue with a “yes” attitude to ensure a good planning process. Venues should be open to shaking things up, such as re-conceiving floor plans, where possible, and working with vendors outside its list of preferred ones. “Just because they host an event one way doesn’t mean it’s the only way, or the best way,” she says.

Read the contract carefully. A common misunderstanding is that people think gaining access to a venue at 4 p.m. means being able to set up at noon, which is not the case, and also applies to the takedown.

For those desiring a setting outside the downtown core, head toward the mountains to Bearspaw’s new Flores & Pine. Named after Flores LaDue, the first lady of the Calgary Stampede, Flores & Pine embodies the former Bears Den, renovated and reopened as an elevated casual restaurant in July.

Local owners Mahyar Khosravi and Kristin Romeril have created bright, modern gathering spaces that incorporate the surrounding environs and pay reverence to the building’s history through the select wildlife sculptures from its former self by local artist Trevor Duval. The semi-private glass atrium with its art deco furniture and towering faux olive tree is a stylish setting for 38 people. The LED colour-changing wall of a bear and her cubs is a cool design element, illuminating the room in a sandy sunset hue in the evening. The atrium can spill over into the adjacent Grillroom for 100 guests featuring the wood-fired rotisserie and grill. The major event centre, the Estate Room, is designed to accommodate a variety of floor plans for 138 people and flows onto the patio with its cosy fireplace.

“What’s beautiful is that you can enjoy a journey through the building,” says Maria Martiniello, Flores & Pine’s business development and event sales manager. An upcoming corporate event sees guests in meeting and planning sessions in the Estate Room, moving to the patio for cocktails followed by dinner in the Grillroom.

Flores & Pine’s cuisine is contemporary rustic Canadian featuring locally-sourced ingredients. Even the bees are local – many of its seasonal dishes and signature cocktails are sweetened with honey from the on-site apiary. Flores & Pine offers a concierge service to help realize the client’s planning and decor vision. “We’re really proud of our client customization, from creating cakes to selecting gifts for the table, as well as our flexibility when it comes to menu options,” says Martiniello.

While restaurant hospitality is appealing because of its one-stop shopping, for the most part, hosting a function in a blank-canvas event venue allows for the space to be completely transformed. People are raving about The Pioneer, which renovated the former Art Gallery of Calgary on Stephen Avenue, and The Commons, part of the Ramsay Design Centre in Inglewood. These character buildings offer multiple, versatile, raw spaces with stylish design elements for a completely tailored experience. For some of these venues, clients will be securing a liquor licence and arranging catering, AV, decor and security via a third party. For those wanting to give guests a more visual and interactive experience, the Hangar Flight Museum and Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley are dynamic venue spaces.

Downtown’s Barcelona Tavern is a fun, hip restaurant and popular event venue. Within the high-ceilinged interior splashed with Mediterranean blue and vibrant murals on exposed brick, guests flirt with the different spaces as they flow throughout its multi levels. The wrought-iron balcony on the upper floor is a perfect perch to sip sangria while observing the festivities below.

An exclusive restaurant buyout can host 500 guests for cocktails and 250 for a seated dinner, or gather privately in the Bodega, Cava, Chef’s Table and Terrace rooms. Enjoy tapas at the Spanish tavern. Its culinary team is committed to sourcing local ingredients for the Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Barcelona’s wine collection is displayed in Cava’s floor-to-ceiling bookcase complete with a rolling library ladder. And if the event calls for it, the two golf simulators on the second level can be rented for driving practice or a full game.

And, there’s always the establishment. Throughout the Calgary Petroleum Club’s 71-year history, landmark deals have been inked and powerful connections made, lending an august ambience to any occasion. While preserving its rich past, the membership-only club completed a $7-million renovation last year modernizing esthetics, amenities and services. To adapt to rapidly-changing business practices, a new audio system was installed as well as high-tech visual and data services in all meetings spaces.

Of its 11 private rooms, the chandelier-lit subterranean Wine Cellar featuring 7,500 bottles from its wine collection is an impressive dining space for 20 guests. An additional 400 bottles carries over into the Trophy Room on the main floor facing 5th Avenue and showcases a floor-to-ceiling display of golf trophies won by the Canadian Energy Executive Association (formerly the Oilmen’s Association). It’s a naturally-lit room with a cosy fireplace for a capacity of 60. On the top floor is the club’s elegant and largest event space, the Devonian. “This is where Calgary does business,” says general manager Toni-Marie Ion-Brown, referring to its daily functions accommodating up to 500 for cocktails and 250 for a seated event.

There are no room rental fees, and minimum food and beverage spends depend on the time of day and room size. Menus can be customized for an event; for example, when the Filipino consulate dined there they enjoyed a sumptuous spread of Filipino food and desserts. A function coordinator accompanies every booking, and the club is proud of its in-house artisans such as its butcher, pastry chef, baker and table-linen collection.

“Gatherings are important, and businesses are beginning to understand the impact of the experience they’re giving their guests,” says Miller. “So whatever venue people select, it should maximize value and experience.”