Looking for a great night out in one location? The Unicorn Super Pub to the rescue! With a new location and new atmosphere carrying the culture and feel we know and love, look no further than this historic Calgary staple
— Justin M. Wilson
When I heard the Unicorn Pub was closing its doors after more than 30 years at the base of Calgary’s historic Lancaster building, I was pretty blue. I’d been there countless times, watched some unforgettable hockey on the projector screen and, on more than one occasion, sat through some pretty abysmal dates amidst the rustic classic pub surroundings. (Note: The bad dates are less the fault of the bar and more that of my poor social prowess.)
So, when I discovered the Unicorn was re-opening its doors branded as “Calgary’s Original Super Pub,” a three level multi-themed pub featuring an expanded menu, a 20 tap beer selection and a street front patio on Stephen Ave, I was both excited and anxious.
I mean, if you’re going walk around calling yourself “Super,” you’d better have a damn good reason. Think about it; without the indicative traits that make Superman who he is, he’s just a guy spending his nights in a blue leotard and red undies. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it tells an entirely different story.
Is it the same Unicorn we know and love? What’s so super about it? Will my dating life improve at the new location? (Unlikely).
Eventually, I decided to direct my questions to someone who could help. I got hold of Unicorn co-owner Bob Bradley, who’s been with the organization since 2002. Bob spoke about the bar’s “Super Pub” identity and quelled the anxiety I felt toward an establishment I hold in high regard, bad dates and all.
JW: First, I’d like to know a little about the move from the old location.
When the term ran out on our lease we knew we’d have to move. The Libertine and Below Deck, bars I also co-owned, were doing great, so we thought moving the Unicorn to those established locations could keep the Unicorn alive while introducing it to a new audience.
Now, the Unicorn is three floors, three bars and three different concepts. There’s no other bar like it in Calgary. Hence why we call it a “Super Pub.”
JW: Can you tell me what went into the concept development for the three floors?
With the main floor, the concept of the Libertine really wasn’t broken so we decided to keep the menu the same and add some nicer cocktails and wine selections. And of course, we added the recognizable Unicorn signage from the old location. We call this floor “Classic Calgary.”
With the basement, we wanted to keep the maritime feel. We began using the term “Celtic Cellar.” We ended up using a lot of the old Unicorn wall decorations, maintaining the culture of the old location by introducing its aesthetic here. Down there you’ll even find some pieces of the old signature Unicorn stained glass.
The upper floor, we went with a whole new concept called the “Sports Cantina.” I felt the need for a good old fashioned downtown sports bar, nothing over the top but something fun dedicated to the good time, colourful, sports bar feel.
JW: Did the staff from the old location move to this location as well?
We still have a lot of the staff from the old location which makes the environment really comfortable. They know the bar. They know the culture. We’ve always had amazing staff at the Unicorn and for them to stay on in this new location brings a really cool energy.
JW: Tell me about the menus and how they fit with the various concepts here.
The basement serves most of the classic Unicorn favourites; the pub-style items that people loved from the old location. The East Coast Donair is definitely a favourite, as are the Crispy Mac & Cheese Bites. Then we have some great mains; the Steak & Guinness Pie and Butter Chicken are very popular.
On the main floor, I was very proud of the Libertine’s menu so we kept that the same only really adding to the drink selections. Our Rustic Pizzas are unique to the “Classic Calgary” floor.
In the sports bar, we really tried to do something everyone likes; the Cantina Tacos are my personal favourite and our Quesadilla selection is great. With the third floor, it was our way of putting a Unicorn spin on the sports bar concept; combining the great food and beverage selection we’re known for with a passion for sports that the old location didn’t really convey.
JW: I like beer, Bob. Let’s talk beer:
Absolutely. On the main floor, we really wanted to show off our craft beer selections, while leaning into the sports bar theme up stairs. We’re actually just getting our Unicorn Brew up and running. We had a great Twisted Horn Ale at the old location and it was definitely a favourite.
JW: I was going to ask about that. If you had it, I was actually going to order one, or two, or three.
Yeah. We’re in the process of setting up all the taps with the beers we really want. It’s hard when you can’t have everything, or when a customer asks for a beer we’d love to carry, but just don’t have the tap space.
JW: The old location had a sizeable stage and was known as a pretty decent live music venue in Calgary. Is this something the Unicorn is still emphasizing?
We still do live music every Saturday downstairs and I’ve come in just to see the types of great bands we’re bringing in. We love live music here. In today’s market, you do what you can to compete and stay relevant, and that means having a nice blend of everything.
JW: It seems the bar has struck a great balance here. With the market always changing and unique concepts popping up all the time, can you talk about maintaining this momentum or staying “Super” going forward?
Well, we have the street front patio, the upper floor sports bar with the open front window concept. We have the main floor offering a more high-class feel without the high price tag, and we have our lower level with the Celtic, East Coast feel. We’re pretty well-rounded.
With the sports bar, we’ll always be looking to add more memorabilia and make this place a fun sports watching destination for Calgarians. I’d love for this place to become that downtown, big city sports bar that every city has. And we’ve been careful to not just recreate the old Unicorn. We wanted the history and the nostalgia to carry over while really introducing something new to our clientele. We’ll always have tributes to it. We want old customers coming in without skipping a beat while new customers can discover us and find a concept that fits them. We’re building a new brand that will survive for another 25 or 30 years.
After talking to Bob, I definitely felt that The Unicorn Super Pub lives up to its name. Imagine joining friends on the ‘Classic Calgary’ patio for some Saturday night dinner and drinks before making your way to the ‘Sports Cantina’ to catch the Flames beat up on the Oilers (Final score, 6 – 0). Then, to celebrate the victory, you head down to the ‘Celtic Cellar’ for some live music, cold beer and East Coast cameraderie.
Basically, if you haven’t been yet, you really should. It’s Super.
Check out the Unicorn’s new location at 223 8th Ave SW or visit www.superpub.ca to find out more!