Food halls have arrived, and they have the potential to revitalize downtown Calgary.
The old food court is dead; long live the food hall. This shopping centre staple is hipper, more local, and more diverse than ever. We now have eateries, food halls, food trucks and food barns catering to the latest ethnic cuisines and diet trends. But in downtown Miami in the winter of 2018, I spotted an intriguing variation on this theme.
“The Village Restaurants & Shops” is an open-air food market, offering a diverse set of restaurants arranged around an open seating area that is completely blocked off from the street.
Walking up to the building, it looks like an ordinary plaza, with fast-food franchises and local shops on the street. But head through one of the three entrances and you’ll find yourself in a wide European-style alleyway filled with small tables and awnings, decorated with foliage and intimate lighting. It feels like you’ve stumbled upon the hottest secret restaurant in the city.
There is little overlap in the restaurants’ offerings, but they have a symbiotic relationship; there’s something for everyone, and each concept is fresh, unique and committed to quality.
You can find:
This spot gets a lot of traffic in the evenings; the city noise is shut out and the ambient noise level allows for music and conversation. It’s not just a lunch place for nearby workers; it’s somewhere you want to go with friends for dinner, or even stay and dance to live Brazilian music until the early hours (the Village is open past 2 a.m.)
The Village is a success story in an area of downtown Miami that has seen failed restaurants and lacklustre traffic for years. The area is slowly becoming a destination for locals and tourists, and The Village is joining the movement with its diverse food offering and cozy eating space that draws customers day and night.
What’s so attractive about this particular concept is that it wouldn’t take much to translate it to a northern city; with proper screening, a retractable roof and space heaters, the open-air seating could work year-round, taking full advantage of our beautiful summers and the occasional Chinook.
Another design change would be to add indoor seating in each restaurant and use the outdoor seating as an optional overflow space. In Calgary, we have recently seen restaurants raising the bar when it comes to their urban design and street appeal:
All of this street-level engagement appeals to passers-by, who don’t seem to mind the intrusion into their public space and instead become increasingly interested in the conversations, laughter and delicious smells coming out of the restaurants.
This is a good start, but The Village in Miami shows how much more we could do to make urban eateries a real draw to downtown; similar to Avenida Food Hall in Avenida Place Shopping Centre on Macleod Trail, but open-air, open late, featuring live entertainment, and located right in the core.
There is even an existing location in Calgary that’s tailor-made for this concept. Between 12 and 13 Aves SW, west of 1 St SW, there’s a narrow lane that functions as a back alley for several restaurants including Ten Foot Henry and St. James Pub. On the west, it’s flanked by a good heritage building which housed various restaurants in the past. It seems that with a relatively simple remodel, this spot could be our next open-air food market.
The City planners and business community have been making steady improvement when it comes to urban space. Let’s hope they decide to get even more creative and adopt this highly successful model for the next applicable downtown development.
Photo credits: Tomasz Sztuk, Google Maps
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