For Big Day Downtown this year, Downtown Halifax chose the theme of "People's Choice" and we used our social networks to get ideas for where we could go to spend the $150 that they gave us. Having done earlier Big Days as well, it meant that I had visited much of the downtown area and getting some help with choosing things to do was a good idea. People are good at suggesting where you can spend your money and between some conversations and tweets, I was able to figure out some great downtown businesses to visit.
Downtown Halifax is officially is the area from the Casino to the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market and Pier 21 and extending up to Brunswick Street from the Waterfront. Within that area there are many businesses and they are all fair game to be part of the big day. The bloggers assembled at the newly opened Onyx on Argyle to accept this mission and it was a nice start to the whole exercise with some good drinks and snacks in a comfortable environment with fellow bloggers.
There are a few stops that I had in mind right away, but in asking a few questions my big day got even better with the feedback that I received. Living in Wolfville and working in Dartmouth means I'm familiar with the city and already do a lot of shopping there, but with feedback it helps to discover new places that haven't shown up on your radar. Instead of having one Big Day all together I asked a few questions and incrementally enjoyed a Big Day.
The first question that I asked was about a vegetarian lunch downtown and I got some great responses right away. The Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design suggested Fruition in the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market. Lisa Preston suggested The Wooden Monkey. Abad Khan reminded me that Indochine has a location on Barrington and while a triple-lunch day sounds good, I knew I'd need to spread those meals out a bit.
The second question posed on Twitter was for where to get craft beer and Susan Thompson of Fredericton suggested Stillwell, which in posing my question I was secretly hoping for. She'd visited Halifax recently and thought it was great and I agreed and added that to the plan for my Big Day.
The final question that I asked (knowing I easily could use up all $150 at the locations already suggested) was for where to get bike stuff, clothing, or t-shirts. Steve Keeling suggested Lost Cod on the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk. Arthur Gaudreau (through his HalifaxReTales Twitter account) thought of Biscuit General Store (which I've been to often, and love, but didn't get to visit for this Big Day). Brad Alex Stephens suggested Ideal Bikes. Offline MEC was a suggestion for a spot for bike and clothing stuff as well.
With a to-do list of locations and a prepaid Visa card from the Downtown Halifax Business Commission it was time to make the plan for my day. It ended up being part of three days which allowed for good food and drink along with great shopping in the downtown with lovely late summer weather.
I started off with an old favourite I hadn't visited as part of earlier Big Days – The Wooden Monkey. Having been there often, and usually getting the veggie burger, it was kind of surprising to me that I hadn't tried their Vegan Seitan Donair. Having been a vegetarian for over two decades means that it has been a long time since having a donair, so something new at a favourite restaurant was exciting.
To start I ordered a Big Spruce Brewing Cereal Killer Stout to have some craft beer with my afternoon lunch. Seitan) is not something that I've eaten often, but the way that the Wooden Monkey prepared it with tomatoes, onions, and a sweet coconut sauce all wrapped up in a porridge pita is amazing. With their potato roasties on the side it's one of the best lunches I've had.
Then it was out into downtown again and along the Waterfront Boardwalk to the other end of downtown. The Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market has a great collection of vendors selling food and goods and it can be busy on Saturday morning. But there are many vendors who are there throughout the week, and Fruition is one of them. Their location is bright and right by the windows at the front of the market. Inside they have a range of delicious vegan food and I picked up some of their Power Porridge and got a Carrot Cake Smoothie. The smoothie was just right and a few days later I cooked up the Power Porridge in my rice cooker and that was a tasty breakfast and a nice change from the ordinary oatmeal I have every weekday.
With some clouds in the sky, but no rain, I walked along the boardwalk thinking of where to go next when I remembered that the Smiling Goat had a location downtown now. I stopped in there for a Flat White and used their wifi as I sipped espresso and microfoamed milk. The Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design then suggested I stop in to look at the show in their gallery, so it was back down the boardwalk past the Seaport Market and before Pier 21.
The Mary E. Black Gallery is in the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design and they feature a variety of exhibitions throughout the year. The most recent exhibition (which ended August 31) was "Presence of Absence" which was a collaboration between Catherine Beck and Jeffrey Cowling exploring loss and remembrance. The exhibition was fascinating. There was jewelry from Catherine Beck using human hair as the starting point and funeral urns and reliquary boxes made from exotic woods by Jeffrey Cowling. It's an interesting reflection on loss and memory.
I had parked the car in the parking garage next to MEC and while I had explored the food and artistic parts of my Big Day Downtown, I wanted to start on the clothing and outdoor activity part. MEC is the most regular stop downtown for me and this time I looked through the clothes and got a Castelli Velocissimo Tour Cap that was on sale. In the back of my mind I was thinking of another device to track my bike riding activity and picked up a Wahoo Fitness BlueSC speed and cadence sensor for my bike (semi-subsidized with my Big Day Downtown money). The tour cap is great for keeping sweat and sun out of my eyes, and the sensor measures the speed of my bike as I ride as well as the rate that I am peddling, so you can see when you are coasting and when you are working as you look at the data from a ride.
At the end of a day at work I was able to stop in to Ideal Bikes on Barrington to look through the range of bicycles, equipment, and clothing that they have there. I found some comfortable and durable Darn Tough socks that should last me a long time riding (and they have a lifetime guarantee). Ideal Bikes is also right beside Stillwell, and I met my pal Kendra (@halifaxfilmgal on Twitter) there for some socializing, a beer, and a snack.
Any bar has basic elements that are relatively simple, but are difficult to get right. There is the location, the layout, the staff, the drinks, and the food. At Stillwell they have everything just right. It's welcoming as soon as you arrive and I love the bar. With taps at the bottom of a chalkboard wall behind the bar, it's a simple setup built around great craft beer. The names of the beer are written over the taps. The lineup changes on a continuous basis, so if it is busy you may notice that there is something different on one of the dozen taps on the wall. It's set up in traditional pub style, so you order your food and drink at the bar which gets you moving around a bit.
With a knowledgeable staff and friendly atmosphere it feels just right and time slips away effortlessly. This time I tried something new and had the Bitter Get'er India Black IPA (from Big Spruce Brewing) which is nice. Kendra had Bulwark Blush Cider which she enjoyed. The food at Stillwell is simple, but amazing. My favourite menu choice is the Tokyo Fries which are usually served with Atari Mayo (which isn't vegetarian), but you can get a honey sauce for dipping, or the vegan option which is a Sriracha-based sauce (which I opted for this time). With a coating of Tokyo steak spice, they're perfect and with the hot sauce it's a nice little kick that goes well with craft beer. The menu adds new things often with all sorts of amazing creations, so you can try something different or stick with something that you like. Stillwell is a gem at the heart of a revitalized Barrington Street.
The last stop for food on my downtown adventures was at Indochine. They make the most amazing Banh Mi sandwiches and now have a location on Barrington. My favourite is their Veggie Ball Banh Mi which is a delicious sandwich that is built around veggie meatballs that are made right in the kitchen all within fresh bread. In the summer they have a refreshing iced organic lemonade with mint that is great on a warm summer afternoon.
For the final part of my Big Day I returned to the Waterfront to look at the shops and stop in to Lost Cod Clothing. In a small building packed with t-shirts, hoodies, and hats, they put various logos on the clothing. The logos have a story and they save the history of Nova Scotia by remembering companies that are no longer around. In the shop Chris knows the stories of the businesses that are no longer with us and is more than willing to share them. Looking through the logos and hearing the stories was fascinating. I finally decided on a green t-shirt with the Halifax & Southwestern Railway logo. I like the logo and the story as this was the railway that ran along the South Shore which has a trail I love to bike on.
With my t-shirt and a little bit more time on my hands I walked over to the Black Bear Ice Cream shop to see if there was something there that interested me and there was. Jalapeño ice cream. I like spicy things and after having a sample, I decided to go for it. The locally-owned shop makes their own flavours and the spicy jalapeño peppers are counterbalanced with the coolness of the ice cream which has a fiery aftertaste. It was a good way to wrap up my big day as I sat on the waterfront and looked out at the water at the end of a beautiful late-summer day.