One of my greatest loves in the world is live music. That can be anything from a huge arena pop concert, right through to being the only one in a venue listening to a two-man band just starting out. There is just something completely magical about the experience of live music, the music itself feels more vibrant (presumably due to the literal vibrations in the air around you) and witnessing the expressions on the musician’s faces is particularly engaging. So, this being said, when I am lucky enough to be visiting my friend in Calgary, we always make a point of seeing some form of live music whilst I am staying with her. During my most recent trip we made our way underground and back in time to the roaring twenties to experience live jazz and delicious cocktails at the hidden treat of the city, Betty Lou’s Library.
Back in January, when we were fresh into this new decade, it seemed only right to really start the 2020s in style with a trip to Betty Lou’s Library. This is no ordinary pub or bar, the Library is a secret underground speakeasy in South West Calgary that offers one of those beautifully immersive experiences that completely sweeps you away from the world outside.
You must make reservations for Betty Lou’s Library, especially in the current Covid-19 climate and once your reservation is confirmed you’ll be informed of the secret password for that night. This is a speakeasy after all, can’t just let anyone in! Your experience therefore begins long before you even arrive at Betty Lou’s Library but really ramps up a gear from the moment you head inside the inconspicuous door of the building, and down the stairs where a vintage telephone greets you. Then, drawing as little attention to yourself as possible you must wait for a member of the Betty Lou’s team to draw back the velvet rope and bring you into the speakeasy. It’s decadent, it’s stunning, the lighting is breath-taking and the atmosphere whacks you over the head straight away. I was in heaven.
There are some house rules of Betty Lou’s, to ensure the ambience is protected they request patrons do not make calls on their mobiles (although texting is permitted), they offer a range of incredible cocktails (no jagerbombs in sight here!) but obviously these take time to make so they ask for your patience, and they request that nobody loiters at the bar or standing as Betty Lou’s is laid out perfectly to give each patron the ideal experience, without worrying that someone is hovering over their shoulder. They also request that guests do not approach other guests unless explicitly invited to do so – wonderful! Cocktail attire goes down well, but it is not essential, just no baseball caps/hoodies etc. So, now we’ve got the housekeeping done, onto the actual experience!
Thursdays at Betty Lou’s (pre-Covid-19) involved some sublime classic jazz from the Redline Trio. This popular Calgary based trio captured the mood of the bar brilliantly, with everything from low key classics to outrageously vibrant originals with solos that had my friend and I cheering and applauding at every moment we could. If hearing an artist play their own music is a thrill, hearing someone improvise something and just absolutely nail it is the next level on that.
On top of the music, of course there are the cocktails on offer. The menu is detailed and well researched, with no expense spared on the choice of bourbons and other spirits available. Over the course of the evening I sampled a Jane Eyre (FYI if you order a Jane Eyre in a British accent the staff absolutely love it. I suspect this only works if you do genuinely have a British accent though…) which bills itself as containing, Alberta Premium Rye, Pike Creek Canadian Whiskey, Carrot Cake Tea, Rhubarb Shrub, Lemon, Mint, Fig and Cinnamon Bitters. Boy oh boy it was absolutely delicious. The classic, so I was told, was to try the Josephine Baker as well, another sweet and spicey cocktail containing, House Bourbon Blend, Hennessy VS, Nutty Solera, Sherry, Lemon, Apple Pie Syrup, Orange and Calvados Spray. Again, completely irresistible and if I had the knack I might try making these cocktails at home. They also had some beers (the local favourite Wild Rose was on the menu), some impeccable sounding sparkling wines and champagnes as well as a selection of red and white wine.
Now, the menu at Betty Lou’s doesn’t clearly contain anything non-alcoholic, however you will be given water (still or sparkling) throughout the evening and if you speak nicely with your server they will create something delicious and non-alcoholic for you to enjoy as well. They even ask you if you have a favourite cocktail or other drink, so that they can base the non-alcoholic drink off of that.
Be warned, on popular nights (Friday and Saturday usually) your table is only allocated to you for two hours but for the rest of the week you’re free to enjoy the delicious drinks, the immersive atmosphere and the magnificent music to your heart’s content.
So there you have it, my experience at Betty Lou’s Library. It feels exclusive, it feels glamorous and it’s tons of fun. If you’re popping through Calgary on your travels then I wholly recommend a visit, and if you’re in the area for a longer period of time or are lucky enough to live nearby then it’s the perfect spot for a lovely celebration with friends and family!