Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Brittany’s Lounge Brings Class to 97th Street

Leaning on a granite countertop, soulful guitar flowing behind my ears, I sip a stiff-but-sweet martini called the Affair on 97th. Immersed in the slideshow of nature photographs on the computer screen in front of me, my eyes wander to the right, towards a tasteful oil painting of a female’s backside koi tattoo. It hangs below purple lights, emitted from a cut-out of a woman wearing a top-hat – the logo for Brittany’s Lounge. “I’m thinking about making prints to sell,” says Brittany Halford, owner and bartender of the self-titled lounge. “It’s a popular piece.”

The townsend-harber-brown walls are lined with original artwork from various artists. “I switch them out every couple of months,” she says. Today’s collection includes a black and white Eifel Tower that survived the fire in the Kelly Ramsey building, where Brittany first opened her lounge in 2008. From afar, no one can tell that the smudging at the base of the tower is anything other than purposeful creativity and rather the sinking of a year and a half of renovations. But after being open for only seven months, Brittany – like many other owners who had opened shop in the building – was forced to sort through the proverbial rubble to rebuild her dream.

While some might have looked at starting over as failure, Brittany went into renovations optimistic she had the opportunity to put her knowledge to use. “I had already done it all before,” she says. In October 2011 she officially re-opened Brittany’s Lounge on 97 street. “Brittany’s is an early example of what’s to come for the neighbourhood,” she says. “It’s at the forefront of a new artistic community.”

Out of sight from downtown but just a block away from the library, Brittany realizes the location can be questionable – even referring to it as “sketchville” in finger quotes. “The location is definitely one of the biggest struggles,” she says about the traffic to her lounge. But Brittany explains that the crowd that comes in is a mix of blue collar and white collar individuals from their early twenties to their grandparents. “I’ve had more encounters with homeless people in the old location,” she says.

Brittany is a firm believer in community. As she creates a signature cocktail for my bar companion, we talk briefly about her recent move, the loss of her dogs, her divorce and the importance of community. She tells me that in her spare time she enjoys taking her bike to the trails and watching movies at her new condo. She references the “good people” who live in her building, pointing to a key sitting on the bar. “They dropped me off at work and just brought me the key to the parking garage,” Brittany explains about how she became locked out of her car earlier that day.

Having lived many places previously, such as England and the Northwest Territories, Brittany says Edmonton really spoke to her when she arrived to study business management in 1995. “One of the first things that struck me about this city was the opra,” she says. “Here there were all of these people dressed up, but at the same time Edmonton is very unpretentious. It’s a proud, hardworking city with a love of culture.”

Located among many barred-off businesses and shady stores, Brittany insists 97 street is growing. “Fifty-eight-million was put into the area to upgrade utilities,” she says. What might seem a hopeless dark hole hammered down by the Law Courts, the Church of Scientology and the Police Station, bringing passer-byers to quicken their pace, the area is developing into something worth noticing. Beside the lounge sits a string of restaurants, cafes and hangouts such as Bohemia, a popular live venue, the Early Bird Café, a great place to grab some grub and Oil Lamp, a delicious Mediterranean restaurant.

Brittany isn’t worried about competition. She talks about how she’s eager to be part of the growing neighborhood, with her lounge the only place in Edmonton bringing so many different people together. “There’s something for everyone,” she says. Enjoy a good ol’ fashioned burlesque show by River City Burlesque. Read your own poetry at the poetry readings by Words With Friends. Bring your dancing shoes to Dance Thursdays at 7pm. When I inquired about upcoming events, the lounge’s calendar on their website is jam-packed.

And the string that holds everything together? The Velvet Hour – the lounge’s “good vibe and culture emporium” – offers drink specials from 4:00pm to 8:00pm every week day. It allows Edmontonians a break from rush-hour, where hardworking individuals can expect great, original cocktails such as Brittany’s Spritzer and great, regular musicians such as the Juno-award winning Bill Bourne. “It’s not an open mic,” says Brittany. However, the lounge is open to various talent should they contact her for an audition.

When asked about the future of her lounge, Brittany responds with any entrepreneur’s hope: To breathe life into something new that will improve the lives of the community around them. She tells me about how her passion isn’t just to bring another bar into Edmonton, but rather a place unlike any other in the city. “People love Brittany’s Lounge because it’s what every Edmonton bar isn’t,” she says. “There are so many people who don’t like going out for drinks because you can’t talk over the music. Brittany’s is like a house party with a fabulous bar.”

What makes Brittany’s so different from other venues in Edmonton? First of all, the lounge takes debit, making payment easy and quick without the necessary ATM charge. Instead of the same old pub food, the lounge offers a sharable menu titled Bistro Teatro, including items which are healthy, organic and local such as Tomato Bruschetta with French Bread and Stuffed Dates and Figs. The martini and cocktail menu were hand-crafted on a whim, with the most popular being the Burlesque Martini. Instead of the tiring VLTs and TVs that many bars display, Brittany says you’ll never find them in her lounge. “I refuse to sit here and let the souls be sucked out of people,” she says.

You can find Brittany’s Lounge on 10225 97 street in Edmonton, where Brittany will be waiting behind her bar with a warm smile, ready for down-to-earth conversation. It’s rare for a customer to get to converse with the owner of a self-made lounge while enjoying original food, drinks and local entertainment. If you happen to step in for a visit, make sure to ask her about the artist of the infamous koi painting.

Published in the July/August issue of Edmonton Woman Magazine.

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