Eat, drink and explore all Winnipeg has to offer
I know. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Winterpeg? Seriously?’ But forget the frozen wasteland you think you know and get ready to embrace the most under-the-radar-cool city in the Prairies. From bang on-trend coffee and cocktail spots to über-cool museums, art galleries and amazing yoga spaces: I’m telling you, Winnipeg’s got the lot.
You probably already know about the Forks with its food market, the Children’s Museum, year-round festivals and thought-provoking Canadian Museum of Human Rights, but here are 12 more great reasons to visit the ’Peg that may take you by surprise...
1. Snack Spanish-style at Segovia
Segovia/InstagramIn the heart of the Osborne Village ’hood you’ll find one of Winnipeg’s most reliable culinary delights: Segovia, a terrific spot dishing up some of the best Spanish-inspired small dishes I’ve had in Canada. The room is gorgeous: located in a heritage walk-up house, it's all exposed brick, candlelight and those ubiquitous hipster hanging bulbs. On the menu, delicious things done simply and done well. In a world of too many ingredients excitedly slung at a plate with little thought given to the consequences for customers’ taste buds, when you find a place that’s confident enough to serve up a perfect jamón ibérico de bellota wholly untouched, it's cause for celebration. So yes, have the croquetas, have the thin-sliced patatas bravas, go nuts with their authentic cheeses and charcuteries and then suck down some killer cocktails and yummy sherries. This place is the bomb.
2. Be dazzled by dioramas at Manitoba Museum
I have to confess, I really dig a great diorama and the Manitoba Museum is stuffed with ’em; my favourite featuring a polar bear and seal that you walk through a faux-ice tunnel (complete with howling Arctic gale!) to see. This excellent museum has a planetarium, science gallery and immersive walk-through galleries where you can really dig into the natural and human history of the region. Perfect for a morning or afternoon’s adventure, its highlights include an exact, fully explorable replica of the Nonsuch, the 17th-century ship that made the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first voyage from England to what would become Canada. The replica was built in 1970 and towed across the Atlantic to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the HBC; the gallery where it now resides was built around the ship to recreate the waterfront of Deptford, England, as it existed when the Nonsuch set sail in 1668. There are also more than 2,600 artifacts from the Hudson’s Bay Company collection on display, so you can learn more about the fur trade, including how mind-blowingly massive their York boats were. In short: this is great. Go!
3. Admire Inuit Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery
Established in 1912, as Canada’s oldest civic art gallery, the WAG still manages to look thrillingly up-to-date and has the largest publicly displayed contemporary collection of Inuit art in the world, which is replenished by on-going relationships with indigenous artists and the Government of Nunavut. The robust permanent collection has art from the Renaissance through to the Group of Seven and there are regular visiting collections on display too. Check out the fun “Maker Labs” series, where you can partner up with paper makers, illustrators and other artists to learn new skills. The WAG also has a satellite gallery at the Assiniboine Park and Zoo, and a shop at the Forks with an Inuit artist-in-residence program.
4. Stay at the Alt Hotel
The massive photo mural in the entrance, the hipster snacks on display, the groovy red string-back chairs and all-round vibe of ultra-funkiness mark the Alt Hotel as the place to stay in the ’Peg. Rooms have a utilitarian design with exposed concrete pillars, floor-to-ceiling windows (all the better for looking out over that endless flat prairie land) and eco credentials that include geothermal heating and cooling, and automatic lighting that’s activated and deactivated by your key card. There’s also a gym, and you’re right next door to a massive MEC store and just a stone’s throw from the MTS Centre, home of local heroes the Jets.
5. Brunch up at Clementine
Hidden in a basement on Princess street in a stylish industrial space in the city’s Design District, welcome to your new brunch home, the very Café Medina-esque Clementine. You’ll likely queue for an hour at peak lunch times, so head there early after the lunch rush to walk straight in. On the menu, some terrific dishes: absolutely have the Arctic char, bright and wonderful with dill and a silky potato cake; the piled-high fried chicken on toast with tart bread-and-butter pickles is a real keeper too. Thoughtful cocktails (labelled “Drink this, it’ll help...”) are well-balanced and far too good to have just one: try “The Dude” for bourbon-spiked espresso, and “Morning Helper” for sunny gin, St. Germain and herbaceous thyme.
6. Shop for Aboriginal arts and crafts at Neechi Commons
Neechi means friend/sister/brother in Cree and Ojibawa, and Neechi Commons is where you’ll find beautiful Aboriginal artwork and crafts—especially intricate handmade moccasins, adorable stuffed narwhal toys, and jewellery—upstairs from this Aboriginal-owned-and-operated co-operative grocery store. Artists and makers trade their wares for groceries so when you buy something, you’re contributing directly to supporting the Aboriginal artist community. Once you’ve shopped, stop by the Bison Berry restaurant and bakery for tasty bannock pizza and local treats such as pickerel, wild rice pudding and bison.
7. Get caffeinated at Forth
If only Vancouver real estate was the price of Winnipeg’s... oh my, what we could do! This superb coffee-and-cocktails spot is laughably vast, with wide-open space for locals to chill, work, gossip or ponder the tempting range of desirable knick-knacks on display, from local creamed honey to House of Ace leather crafts and in-house Dogwood Roaster coffee beans. By day this is a coffee shop with decent brekkie on offer: they do one of the best flat whites I’ve ever had and the avo-on-toast is made with superb sourdough bread from the bakery at the Fort Garry Hotel (which, wonderfully, is on sale in the hotel gift shop and has rightly attained cult status in the city). By night it transmogrifies into a cool cocktail/wine bar. Prepare to make multiple visits.
8. Check out contemporary Indigenous art at Urban Shaman
Urban Shaman/FacebookHead upstairs to track down this artist-run non-profit gallery that’s been part of Winnipeg’s cultural community for 21 years showcasing the work of Indigenous artists. Urban Shaman curates around 12 different shows each year in their two gallery spaces, which focus on visual and media arts. Open Tuesday-Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m., it’s free entry (although donations are appreciated) and you’ll get to see work from First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists designed to challenge preconceived notions of “Aboriginal art.”
9. Have a spa-gasm at Thermëa
I’m on record as a roaring fan of the folks behind Thermëa spa—their Nordik Spa-Nature in Ottawa is pretty much one of my favourite places on earth, so naturally their Winnipeg outpost is a delight too. Soak up Nordic-style thermal spa-ing in gorgeous surroundings with hot pools, a scented steam room, sauna, cold plunge and plenty of relaxation areas. I gave the new Hydrothermëa treatment a try and loved how it mirrors the bathing experience with a cold mitten body scrub to exfoliate your skin, alternated with hot packs to help improve circulation. The second part of the treatment is a soothing RMT massage which had me like putty in the hands of my exceptional therapist, Rain. Can I just say again: Guys, please open up in Squamish! That would be awesome!
10. Sip all the fancy dranks at Roost
Winnipeg’s most creative cocktail spot is perched upstairs through an unmarked door in the Corydon ’hood, the ’Peg’s summer hot spot. There’s a great patio for people-watching, delicious snacks on the menu (seriously, the gnocchi is amazing) and most importantly, a thrillingly huge list of signature and classic drinks. Everything I tried was dangerously drinkable, from the snap pea-infused, Dillon's Gin-spiked “Back to the Garden” to “Pennies from Heaven,” a gloriously booze-forward pecan-infused Buffalo Trace with coffee-infused Green Chartreuse. Unmissable.
11. Breathe, stretch and release at Yoga Public
Yoga Public/FacebookAgain, it’s hard to look at this space without imagining how expensive it would be in Vancouver... Behold! A two-level temple to all things wellness: from a fitness and personal training studio and hot yoga room, to a gorgeous zen white drapes-muffled “om” meditation room and TRX studio. I tried a 90-minute class here which blended yin with Thai massage for an incredibly relaxing gentle stretch. They seem to specialize in funky and unusual classes, including yin with live music, floating yoga in a hammock, meditation with Tibetan singing bowls, and TRX and yoga wall-suspended classes for building core strength. Add to that a very groovy interior with cow and sheep statues dotted around the astroturf and a well-equipped changing space stuffed with everything from hair elastics to straighteners, and it looks like Winnipeg beats “yoga city” Vancouver at its own game.
12. Go old skool at Rae and Jerry’s
If you yearn for those good ol’ Mad Men days, when lunch meant a three-hour blur of steak and martinis, then you absolutely have to check this spot out. Unchanged since its heyday in 1957, this is a classic red leather-clad temple to all things steak ‘n’ booze. Set up shop in the lounge and slurp down a martini (or three) before sliding into a steak supper. FYI: their dirty martini is filthy in all the right ways.