TIMELESSLY TRUE - Luxury Dining at Calgary's Oldest Restaurant
By Danielle Rourke
It was 1955. Calgary was quickly becoming the fastest growing city in all of Canada. Oil and gas was booming, agricultural businesses were expanding, and populations were doubling. Markets of all shapes and sizes were evolving. For one man, the underdeveloped restaurant market became the ultimate opportunity. Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit, $20,000, and knowing next to nothing about the business, Hy Aisenstat bravely opened the first Hy’s Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar.
Barb Steen, Hy’s current general manager of Calgary’s oldest restaurant explains, “The restaurant’s success started with Hy himself. He was larger a larger than life personality who was a welcome face in the restaurant. His wife Barbara was lovely and always very kind to all the staff.”
Hy’s natural charm and gregarious personality, combined with Chef Fritz Dobernig and then girlfriend, later turned wife, Barbara Mathewson, drove this path to success. Word of mouth and clever remedies of initial short comings paved the way for the following 65 years of Hy’s legacy. Throughout the next 20 years, the team opened more than 10 additional locations across North America including Beverly Hills, Chicago, Saskatoon and Victoria. Today the focus is on the Canadian market where you’ll discover five Hy’s Steakhouse locations in Calgary, Vancouver, Whistler, Winnipeg and Toronto.
Hy’s popularity grew steadily the restaurant became known for their impeccable service and exceptional fine dining. Hy’s Calgary has welcomed many famous guests over the years. Actors Tom Selleck, Vincent Price, Rue McCelland, Luke Perry, Sam Sheppard, Burton Cummings and John Cleese have all dined here. A late night visit after his concert by Julio Iglesias was a memorable highlight for general manager Barb Stern. She agreed when his manager called and asked them to stay open late that night. “He walked through the door, walked straight over to me, and gave me a big kiss.” He was incredibly gracious, generously appreciating and thanking all the staff. Julio is not alone. Musicians, politicians, athletes, and high profile businesspeople have all been dedicated guests here over the years. Barb says that one of the reasons celebrities enjoy visiting Hy’s so much is their discretion. Celebrities can keep a low profile and privacy is respected. But it’s more than celebrities who make Hy’s Calgary special. Hy’s guests are the core of everything they do. Generations of family members celebrating engagements, birthdays and anniversaries have made them family. It doesn’t stop here. The veteran servers and staff who are proud to work here have hundreds of years of hospitality service. They are the heart of Hy’s.
Chef Gary Campbell is one of them. Gary started as a Sous Chef in 1997, and his passion and talent was obvious. He moved onto the floor as a dining room manager, giving him the opportunity to see exactly how the front of house worked. Gary became Hy’s Chef in 2000 and served there until the previous Calgary location closed at the end of 2006, and returned once the new location opened.
A Hy’s dining experience is luxurious and indulgent. The beautiful new Calgary location opened in 2014. It’s 10,200 square feet at street level with soaring windows fronting on both 8th Avenue and 3rd Street. Hy’s utilizes the original Eaton’s revolving door and sidewalk canopy as a separate street entrance. Alternately, one can use the interior mall entrance in The CORE, which provides direct access to the Plus 15. Near Holt Renfrew and next door to Brooks Brothers, the new restaurant offers 270 seats. Guests can appreciate its sleek bar, cocktail lounge, patio seating and numerous private and semi-private dining options.
The dining experience here remains nothing short of spectacular, starting with its timeless atmosphere. Hy’s rich history is balanced with a classic contemporary décor, luxuriously draped in red velvet, custom millwork, antique brass, deep wood grains, dark leathers, white linens, fine cutlery, exquisite glassware and ambient lighting. The famous, iconic, charcoal grill takes center stage in the main dining room. This stunning centerpiece is housed in a beautiful circular glass surround and guests can watch as their perfectly aged Canada Prime Steaks are prepared.
The menu is modern and creative, with its cornerstone being Alberta Prime Beef, the top graded beef in all of Canada, sourced right here in High River, Alberta. The traditional selection of hand-cut filets, New Yorks, and Porterhouse are accompanied by the luxury table side service. Dishes prepared right at your table by expert servers include the traditional Hy’s Caesar salad, flambéed steak Diane, chateaubriand, and bananas foster for dessert.
Choose a fabulous hand-crafted cocktail or a wine from their Wine Spectator awarded list which includes extensive, sommelier-selected, vintages.
Try the irresistible since 1955 cheese toast or the freshest sourced seafood including Atlantic lobster and salmon, sablefish, fresh oysters, jumbo prawns and scallops, crab cakes and more. Dive into the black & blue Ahi tuna with Hy’s own smoky cajun seasoning, a double-cut Berkshire pork chop or roast rack of lamb. The vegetarian meatloaf is a delicious non-meat option and the vegan bowl is a powerhouse of flavour, served with tamarind curry sauce and house made mango chutney.
If a restaurant can have a hometown, that’s what Calgary is for Hy’s. Whether you come in for the lounge/patio happy hour with live music, weekday lunch, a private event or the ultimate intimate dinner, this proudly historic gem will provide you with an unforgettable dining experience.ROSS Magazine on