Unless you’ve got some family roots (like I do) somewhere in the vast expanse of Saskatchewan, chances are you haven’t ventured across the Alberta border to the bustling metropolis that is Saskatoon. Okay... “bustling” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but for a city that’s almost exactly one-quarter the size of Calgary, it’s definitely got a lot going on. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend stopping by for a visit between November to April, as the frigid weather is often too much to handle, even for our winterized Calgarian skin.
Prior to arriving in Saskatoon, you are subject to a rather flat, boring drive. Highlights may include: Canola fields as far as you can see; Hanna, the hometown of Nickelback (okay, maybe not a highlight); and the never-ending lineup at the Tim Hortons in Kindersley. It’s okay though — you’ll have plenty of time to roll down the windows and sing along to “Call Me Maybe.” People still like that song, right?
Saskatoon’s downtown core is small, but boasts some great, old character buildings. Strolling down Second Avenue will lead you to a couple of my favourite stops. First up, O’Shea’s, an Irish pub complete with a leprechaun-sized door — not joking — and rooftop patio. After an afternoon of beers in the sun upstairs, exiting via the miniature door will seem like an excellent idea, and if I can fit through it, so can you.
But, if I’m trying to maintain my dignity and not crawl through tiny spaces, my friends and I generally head to Flint down the block. The surprisingly slick little lounge, with concrete and brick accents, definitely has a big-city feel. Similar to Calgary’s beloved Milk Tiger Lounge, Flint has been crafting quality cocktails for years, long before the current trend of cocktail culture. If you’re looking for some eats to go with your Dark and Stormy, Flint’s charcuterie menu is top-notch. It rotates almost weekly, keeping things local and seasonal.
Moving on, the Broadway district is, without a doubt, my favourite place to spend my time in the city. The area only spans about five blocks, but it boasts six live music venues, boutiques, specialty food shops and an array of restaurants. One bar in particular, Amigo’s, was noted as one of the best venues in Canada to catch a live show by CBC Radio 3. As I’m sure any travelling Calgary musician can attest, Saskatoon has a thriving music scene. If you’re lucky enough to catch a performance by We Were Lovers, Powder Blue, or The Rebellion, you will be more than impressed. Who knows? You may see The Sheepdogs running around town, too.
In summer the city is filled with an array of annual festivals. First off, The Saskatoon Jazz Festival (late June to early July) puts our now defunct festival to shame. This year’s main acts included Feist, The Roots, Janelle Monae, Timber Timbre, Elliott Brood and Jill Barber. Not too shabby. The Fringe Festival (late July to early August) just wrapped up this past weekend as well. Here, Broadway Avenue and surrounding streets are transformed into a world of beer gardens, street performances, food vendors and live music. Always an excellent way to spend a summer night.
As far as dining goes in Saskatoon, I recommend booking a table at either Prairie Harvest Café or Duck, Duck Goose. Prairie Harvest is tucked away in the burbs, but has a hearty menu with a local focus. Their beef short rib lasagna is one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth this entire summer. For something a bit more fancy, the Goose offers an array of artisan tapas — portions are a tad on the small side though, so order lots and definitely try the grilled halloumi cheese. Salty, squishy, cheesy goodness!
If sunshine is on your side, there’s no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon then to head out to Bare Ass Beach, just west of the city. As the name implies, this river beach was once home to many a naked person, but now, to some relief, is mostly comprised of mid- to late-20-somethings out to have some fun. A 25-minute drive will take you out to a set of long, golden sandbars where you can suntan, throw the Frisbee and drink a few beers while watching the Saskatchewan River rush by. As is the case with our own Bow River, it flows fast, so don’t do anything stupid in the water.
See, spending some time in Saskatoon is pretty damn cool, and I didn’t even have to mention the Rough Riders once. Until now.