Major Tom Bar and Fairmont Banff Springs restaurants raise the bar for dining

Restaurants are reaching new heights with the much-anticipated opening of Major Tom Bar, the swishy lounge-restaurant perched on the 40th floor of the downtown highrise formerly known as Scotia Centre.

Puns aside, this latest offering from Concorde Group, has all the ingredients for a great night out: an incredible cocktail and wine list, impeccable food that plays on steakhouse classics with a modern approach and, of course, a killer view to Banker’s Hall, the mountains and the seemingly-stunted-in-comparison Calgary Tower. 

Joining the likes of Bridgette Bar, Lulu and Model Milk, Major Tom is another destination spot — with perhaps more emphasis on the destination part. 

The experience starts on the main floor where a host checks you in and guides you to the bank of elevators for the quick ride up into the sky. Upstairs, another greeting at a second host stand unfolds before stepping into the restaurant. The back of the bar prevents an initial good look at the view but the space — designed by Calgary’s Frank Architecture & Interiors, which has handled many of Concorde’s other properties — then opens up to a lounge-like room with banks of windows. Although a startlingly large space, with seats for 198, the room feels warm and welcoming. 

But the real magic is in the menu — both food and drink.

Signature cocktails come with a show. The Peach Old Fashioned is set aflame tableside, while the signature martinis (gin with lemon-mascarpone olives or vodka with blue-cheese-stuffed olives) are made in batches, bottled and set in the freezer before they’re served with a gold coaster and pop-of-the cap flourish — icy, balanced perfection. 

The Butterfly’s Elbows, with its pleasing lavender colour and sprig of baby’s breath clipped to the glass, is also a popular choice. 

While a well-populated cocktail list, beer lovers and wine enthusiasts also have plenty of options. 

On the food side, beef is centre stage with Benchmark Angus filet mignon, striploin and porterhouse, Alberta Prime prime rib and New York strip, not to mention decadent Wagyu beef. 

Steak may be in the spotlight, but don’t overlook the sides. The cheese toast is luscious, the tomato and brioche salad, summery and lush.

Under the guidance of Concorde culinary director Garrett Martin, it’s no wonder the food is as spectacular as the view. At turns the chef at Pigeonhole, The Willows on Lummi Island in Washington state and the man behind the crave-worthy Crunchy Mister’s popups (with a killer fried chicken sandwich and lobster roll), Martin brings together his skill and talent with an inherent understanding that good food doesn’t need to be fussy. 

Extensively delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major Tom is making up for lost time, delivering on all the anticipation built up before opening. 

And Calgarians are eating it up — reservations are an excellent idea, though part of the bar area is set aside for walk-ins.

Banff Springs Hotel back in full action

In the mountains, the iconic Banff Springs Hotel has officially opened all its restaurants again and has new offerings in the mix, including cocktail classes and the private Moet Lounge experience, which features five intimate lounges open for private bookings. Designed for four to six guests, the 90-minute bookings include a bottle of Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut, plus either PEI oysters or a charcuterie board featuring locally-sourced meats and cheeses for $250.

Over in Rundle Lounge, bartenders are running daily cocktail classes, making the three signature mountain property cocktails offered by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Jasper Park Lodge and BSH. Along with the lesson and snacks, guests taking part in the classes will get to take home a bottled version of one of the cocktail trio.

For the morning, the Vermillion Room is now offering an all-you-can-eat brunch.

That restaurant also has a new executive chef at the helm. 

Chi How Kit has worked for Fairmont properties across Canada, including Le Chateau Montebello and Tremblant in Quebec, Royal York in Toronto and the Hotel Vancouver. 

Can’t decide which spot to hit up in the hotel? The Eat the Castle tour removes making choices from the equation with a 2.5-hour tasting experience that takes guests from Stock Food & Drink to the Vermillion Room, Rundle Bar and 1888 Chop House. Along the way, tour participants learn more about the historic hotel.

Tours, which cost $175 per person, take part on Fridays at 3:30 p.m.