ONE18 EMPIRE was named one of 2016’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants in Calgary, Alberta, Canada by Avenue Magazine. Moreover, they have won in the category of Best Cocktails and been nominated for Best Business Dining in 2016’s Where Calgary Awards of Calgary’s Best Restaurants. It is located in the heart of downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada, just off of Stephen Avenue, and adjoining the Marriott Downtown Hotel (with its own separate entrance and an entrance leading into the hotel). ONE18 EMPIRE is a whiskey inspired bar and restaurant based on Calgary’s rich history, which has shaped both its cuisine and beverage offerings. It is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night dining. You can also get anything on the menus to Grab-n-Go if you wish. The dishes and cocktails have a modern twist and the main focus is on sampling and sharing to create a more communal dining experience.
History and Décor
ONE18 EMPIRE was based on the Empire Hotel, which was built in the early 1900’s and had the address 118. Hence, the décor of the bar and restaurant has an upscale rustic, but modern feel. You will see a lot of wood and earth tones, some marble, leather chairs, copper fixtures, mason jars, and cast iron dishes. There is a traditional dining area with the afternoon sunlight coming in through the large windows, that look out onto the street. If desired, you can have a private dining experience or group function in the McTavish Room, which seats up to 12 people. For larger groups a portion of the dining room can be sectioned off for privacy.
Additionally, there is a bar with chairs along it, as well as other open and semi-private intimate seating areas with low lighting.
The Empire Hotel was located across the old Canadian Pacific Railway station, on whiskey row, where travellers dined and came to imbibe during the prohibition era. Whiskey used to be very big out west, especially American Whiskey, so ONE18 EMPIRE decided to embrace this history and open a bourbon whiskey bar.
ONE18 EMPIRE carries over 220 bottles of whiskey, including bourbons, ryes, and scotches (one of the few places in Calgary), plus a wide variety of craft beers, wine on tap, and a great selection of hand-crafted whiskey cocktails made with local, Alberta-sourced ingredients. You can go for a quick drink or embark on an extensive whiskey tasting and/or food tasting experience. There is a little something for everyone. ONE18 EMPIRE has classic and unique whiskey inspired cocktails which pair nicely with their food. Don’t shy away from this place due to the whiskey influence, I was not a whiskey fan at all before visiting ONE18 EMPIRE, but was easily converted during my visit.
House-Made Quality Ingredients
The drinks and food were unlike anything I have ever had before. The mixologists, chefs, and kitchen staff of ONE18 EMPIRE are extremely skilled and everything is of utmost quality. All the simple syrups are made in-house every morning, as well as over 90% of their food products. There is a person dedicated to prepping fresh product for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. The staff are mindful of the amount of ingredients purchased so as to not overstock and ensure everything remains fresh on a daily basis (they don’t purchase in bulk, nor any by-products). This focus on fresh, quality ingredients is part of the reason for the difference in taste of ONE18 EMPIRE’s cocktails and food.
ONE18 EMPIRE offers locally inspired seasonal cuisine, including snacks, food which can be eaten with your hands (burgers and sandwiches), a large number of appetizers (otherwise known as shareables), as well as signature dishes (entrées), and desserts. The food is upscale, contemporary, and trendy, with something on the menu for everyone. The menu changes at ONE18 EMPIRE approximately 3-4 times a year, depending on the season, weather, and products available. The food and beverage ingredients are sustainable and locally sourced as much as possible to create a fresh and unique dining experience.
About the Chef
The Chef de Cuisine is Eliott Senechal, who is originally from Longueil, Quebec, but moved to Prince Edward Island with his family at a very young age where he grew up. Eliott had always enjoyed cooking and during his early teens came to the realization that becoming a chef could be something very fulfilling and an opportunity to express himself as an artist. He attended the Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island and started his culinary career at the Delta Hotel in Charlottetown where he helped open their new restaurant “At Waters Edge.” Later, he moved to Halifax and worked at the Marriott Harbourfront Hotel before relocating to Calgary, where he decided to get some experience outside of the hotel industry and worked at Rush Ocean Prime before joining ONE18 EMPIRE upon its opening. Chef Senechal is very excited to be working at ONE18 EMPIRE as it is a ground breaking restaurant for Marriott (currently the biggest hotel chain in the world) and a concept that you cannot find anywhere else.
The New Fall/Winter Food Menu
The new menu is perfect for the Fall/Winter season and holidays. Chef Senechal wanted to stay true to the restaurant, which are shareable dishes that are both simple and delicious. In his words,
“My biggest focus when I created the dishes that are on this menu was to not only please the customer, but to make sure I pleased myself. If the dish does not make you happy or excited that someone will be enjoying it then, in my opinion, the dish shouldn’t be on the menu.”
This translated into every item on the menu having a wow factor. Some of the dishes are crowd favourites in a new way, while others are classics with a twist and have been elevated through flavour combination and presentation.
The New Fall/Winter Cocktail Menu
The new Fall/Winter cocktail menu introduces some new cocktails that are Fall/Winter oriented and pair very well with the new Fall/Winter food menu, in addition to being suitable for the holidays. These cocktails were masterfully crafted by ONE18 EMPIRE mixologists and servers, each of whom had their own inspiration and drew from their own past experiences. There are still a few ONE18 EMPIRE classic cocktails still on the menu.
One18 Bourbon Single Barrel Select Reserve
In addition to their amazing and unique cocktails, ONE18 EMPIRE has its own single barrel select reserve Bourbon Whiskey, launched at the end of September 2016, called ONE18 BOURBON. It was made in Kentucky at Knob Creek Distillery, which has kept the same bourbon making process since pre-prohibition. The barrel was hand selected by ONE18 EMPIRE and was a new American white oak barrel that was charred. This unique Kentucky bourbon whiskey was aged nine years and has a maple flavour with a little bit of spice. It is delicious and smooth, a must to try!
Tip: When sampling/drinking whiskey it is best to first smell it, then sip it with your mouth open to help all the flavours come through. You can also add a few drops of water to really open up the flavour profiles of the whiskey.
We started off our dining experience at ONE18 EMPIRE with the original cocktail that took them to fame, the Black Walnut Old Fashioned. This particular Old Fashioned was made with an ice sphere, bourbon, water, sugar cube, angostura, black walnut bitter, and orange rind. It was smoky, smooth, almost like a caramel flavour, with a hint of bitterness at the end. The One18 Empire Black Walnut Old Fashioned was incredible as it was the perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness, and smoke! We did not like Old Fashioneds until we tried this one, so it definitely lived up to its hype. It is possibly the best Old Fashioned in the city!
It was really fascinating to see how ONE18 EMPIRE makes their Old Fashioned at your table, including smoking your glass with a blow torch!
You also have the option to make your own Old Fashioned if you like with ONE18 EMPIRE’s Old Fashioned Central. You get to choose your wood, sugar, bitters, and bourbon, and therefore customize it to your tastes. There are many creative options, for a total of 1800 different combinations available.
The Bourbon Cup Cocktail was the next drink we tried, which was made with bourbon, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Cointreau, cucumber mint infused syrup, and ginger beer. This was more of a subtle drink with light and refreshing flavours, and very uplifting.
First, we sampled the Charcuterie Board (chef selection of meats and cheeses). Ours included house-made lavash (crispy crackers), house pickled mustard seed, pork rillettes, blue cheese, Canadian brie, prosciutto, house-made pickles, Calabrese salami, and Oka cheese. The Charcuterie Board offered a wide range of tastes and textures, from salty to sweet to spicy and creamy to crunchy.
We continued our gastronomic experience with more shareables; the Bourbon Short Ribs, the Maple Bacon Wrapped Dates, and the Seared Diver Scallops.
The Bourbon Short Ribs were accompanied by Yorkshire pudding, smashed peas, and goat cheese with pancetta and mint. They were tender and scrumptious! Each bite was flavourful, like a complete culinary experience (sweet, salty, tender, juicy, fluffy, and airy, with a hint of mint flavour). It is a chef signature dish and a definite must to try!
The Maple Bacon Wrapped Dates were filled with gorgonzola and finished with whiskey syrup. They were delicious and the perfect complement of sweet and savoury.
The Seared Diver Scallops with pork belly, creamy polenta, and mustard jus were succulent and melted in your mouth. They were the best scallops we have ever had! It is no wonder that they are both a staff favourite and guest favourite.
The Tuna Tataki was served with slaw (shredded cabbage, carrots, cucumber) umami sauce, and sesame vinaigrette. The tuna was lightly seared (served rare), was fresh (did not taste fishy), slightly chilled, and the flavour of the dish was light and refreshing, with a hint of Asian flair.
The Simple Beet Salad (with slow roasted beets including red beets, golden beets, and striped beets, pistachio vinaigrette, and goat cheese) was delightful. The salad was creamy, pistachio flavoured, and an amazing mix of tart and sweet beets. It is a pretty unique version of the beet salad and is a signature dish that has become a standard favourite. Even I was converted! I am not a fan of beets, but I could easily eat this salad every day!
Other popular menu items are the Honey Bourbon Wings, the Alberta Beef Tartar (which did so well at the Big Taste Food Festival in Calgary that it was added to the menu), the Crab Dip, the Tofu (for vegetarians), the ONE18 Caesar Salad (made with kale), and the Braised Octopus.
Next, we had the Near Miss and Temperance Cocktails, both classics on the menu.
The Near Miss cocktail was made with bourbon, freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, Peychauds and grapefruit bitters, and soda. This cocktail was named in honour of the poker players who didn’t stop their poker game in the basement of the old Empire Hotel, despite the hotel catching fire and burning down (one of the two times the Empire Hotel burnt down). The Near Miss was tart, zingy, and bubbly.
The Temperance Cocktail consists of whiskey, strawberry infused syrup, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and Steller’s Jay sparkling wine. It is a fruity drink, sweet (but not overpowering), with a little bit of tartness, bubbly, and a hint of whiskey. This was my favourite drink at ONE18 EMPIRE, and one of my favourite cocktails, as it has all the components that I want in a cocktail.
All of the cocktails at ONE18 EMPIRE were delicious, with each having their own distinct flavours and personality.
Signature Dishes (Entrées)
We enjoyed these cocktails with some signature dishes, the Seared Duck Breast and the Alberta Grassfed Petite Tender.
The Seared Duck Breast is a previous favourite on the menu that was added back on (was taken off for summer as it was out of season). This Fall/Winter version is served on a bed of Swiss chard, alongside Celeriac (celery root) and apricot purées, and topped with honey gastrique. The whole dish was very robust in flavour. The duck was rich and tender, the swiss chard was bitter and pungent, the Celeriac purée was silky in texture and light in taste, the apricot purée offered a hint of sweetness, and the honey gastrique gave a little bit of sweet and sour to the dish. Duck is really great for the season, especially a colder afternoon/evening.
The Alberta Grassfed Petite Tender is not a cut you see often. It is from the tender part of inside the shoulder of a cow, is lean as it was grass-fed, and was raised in Alberta (from Black Apron). The Petite Tender was tender and juicy and was served with poblano chimichurri (poblano peppers and herbs so it was mildly hot), king oyster mushrooms (was grilled and had a meaty, mild flavour), and pomme purée (mashed potatoes).
Finally, we finished our dining experience with a Sticky Toffee Pudding, Calvados Gelato, Cheese Cake, Milk Chocolate Mousse, and the ONE18 Chocolate Cake.
The Sticky Toffee Pudding is a dessert consisting of a very rich moist sponge cake covered with a butterscotch sauce, sprinkled with crushed praline, and served with Calvados gelato (vanilla flavoured with a hint of apple brandy). This dessert was sweet, moist, syrupy, and very yummy. The gelato complemented it very well.
The Cheese Cake was unique as it was made with goat cheese, salted caramel, graham cracker crust, and Amarena cherries. It was light and less rich than classic cheesecake, slightly sweet and salty, silky in texture, and very enjoyable. The cherries were rich, luscious, and intensely flavourful, which rounded out the taste profile.
The ONE18 Chocolate Cake had orange caramel and gianduja crunch (a sweet chocolate spread containing hazelnut paste), and decorated with a few different colours of chocolate covered rice balls. This chocolate cake was decadent, rich (but not overpowering), velvety, light, and simply heavenly! It was served with a Milk Chocolate Mousse which was smooth, creamy, light, and airy, and topped with a chocolate gold leaf. I am not usually a chocolate cake lover, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one!
The servers, bartenders, and staff are all super nice, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about the food and drinks; they can help you create a customized menu as you go. Furthermore, they often engage in storytelling about the history behind ONE18 EMPIRE, which is quite interesting and informative, and adds to the experience.
ONE18 EMPIRE is a wonderful gastronomic experience from start to finish! It is a contemporary bar and restaurant that showcases Calgary’s past and present. The food and cocktails are exceptional and the service is outstanding! There is a great amount of attention to detail in everything; the ingredients were all of high quality and when possible sustainable and locally sourced. The careful choice of ingredients and flavour combinations made a huge difference. Everything was beautifully seasoned and presented, and complemented each other well. The unique twist on the dishes and cocktails elevated them and made them extremely satisfying. The selection of whiskeys, including fine whiskeys, is vast and impressive.
The passion of everyone at ONE18 EMPIRE is clearly evident. In Chef Senechal’s words,
“I would also like to note that we wouldn’t be the restaurant we are now without the help and dedication of everyone at ONE18 EMPIRE from the back of house to the front of house, team work and dedication to our craft is what brought us here.”
This happy, warm and welcoming, and relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place to visit and unwind with colleagues from work, on a date night, with friends, and/or with family. Whether you are a foodie, cocktail lover, whiskey lover, or just want to enjoy a great meal, it is a must to visit ONE18 EMPIRE! It is an unforgettable and unparalled food and drink experience!
Please note: We sampled a wide variety of drinks, dishes, and desserts in order to be able to give you as much information about ONE18 EMPIRE as possible. It is not necessary to order this much food and desserts during one visit to be full.
Map of ONE18 EMPIRE
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The food and drinks were complimentary courtesy of ONE18 EMPIRE. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.