This month I’m outside my beloved Michigan travelling through the Canadian Rockies.  I’ve spent a week in Lake Louise thus far.  In my adventures I have discovered the town of Banff — a thriving, young, affluent town similar to a Royal Oak, albeit with a much more athletic population (no offense, RO).  I spent a day trying to dig up its hidden cool spots and here’s what I discovered.                                                                             
Nestled high up in the Rocky Mountains in the province of Alberta, near the border with British Columbia, one might expect Banff to be a sleepy town.  However, the backpacking, skiing, and snowboarding industries have transformed it into a mega-tourist haven and a thriving semi-urban area.  High rise malls have sprung up and young people flood its streets.

One would assume that Banff has an active music, art, and culture scene, much like we do back in Detroit.  With that in mind I went digging, spending Tuesday afternoon running around town, trying to find everyplace cool, obscure, and otherwise worthwhile in this busy town.

The first place I came across was Hero Shirts [Facebook].  Hero, has partnered Ames Bros, a cheeky T-shirt company from Seattle, Washington.  They sell a mix of their own designs and AB’s designs.  Both companies share a wonderful and at times quirky sense of humor that floods onto their T-Shirt art.

T-Shirt from Hero Shirts, Banff

T-Shirt from Hero Shirts, Banff

Moving on, I discovered “The Last Temptation Thrift Shop” [Facebook].  Located just under the town movie theatre, down a flight of stairs, this shop sells old books, old clothes, movies, vinyl records, and even musical instruments.  It had some beautiful looking guitars at reasonable prices and an absolute wealth — practically a wall full of vinyl.  While lacking the number of records of say, Detroit Threads or The Record Collector here in Detroit, they certainly had a nice selection.
Last Temptation Thrift Shop, out front

Last Temptation Thrift Shop, out front

Traveling along, I next came across Analog Books and Music.  This small shop has been open for over a year, but just moved to its new location a month ago.  It sells a variety of books, CDs, movies, and vinyl.  They vinyl selection was small, but I did spot some catches in both there and the CD bin.

Analog Books and Music

Analog Books and Music

I talked with the owner and he told me music-wise most stuff is going on in the neighboring town of Canmore (sort of the Ferndale, to Banff’s Royal Oak).  A poster seemed to confirm that, telling about an upcoming indie rock concert at the Stan Rogers Stage in Canmore.  Persistent I asked several more people about music in Banff.  One girl told me that there had been a really good band called Blacked Out, but that they moved to Vancouver, to try to reach a wider audience.

Moving on from music, I found another thrift store called the “Ark Room Thrift Shop”.  While the name sounds somewhat religious, I found a used Offspring CD (Americana) inside — so don’t worry, they aren’t looking to preach or convert.  Looks like a great place.  It offered some really cool paintings for just a few dollars.  Too bad I could never check that!

Ark Room Thrift Shop

Ark Room Thrift Shop

But my adventures in used stuff were not over.  I traversed across the street to the swank “Ski Lounge” [Facebook].  Inside guests are greeted with a chic lounge, complete with Warhol-esque colored prints of ski boot photos by year.

The Ski Lounge

The Ski Lounge

Surprisingly the lounge doubled as a used record store.  And they even sold coffee.  The owners says that generally girls come there and shop for clothes, while the dudes tend to like to leaf through the vinyl and drink coffee.  And for hiking geared types (like me) or biking types, the lounge offers daily organized hikes to nearby locations — all for free.

More free could be had at the nearby Lululemon sports clothing shop.  They apparently offer free Yoga lessons on a weekly basis.  Rushed for time, I was unable to inquire fully, but this seems sure to be another addition to the cool list.

Lululemon, Banff

Lululemon, Banff

Rounding off the list of essential stuff in Banff, I came across an old clocktower building that at night transforms into a nightclub, named Aurora.  DJs from all around Canada and the U.S. come there on weekend nights and spin House, Techno, and other types of electronica.  It looks like a very interesting atmosphere, and it was entertaining to see electronic music alive and well, even out here in the wilderness.

Aurora Nightclub

Aurora Nightclub

One major disappointment was that I somehow missed the Nourish Vegetarian Bistro & Tea House.  I was told by my traveling companions that they spotted this in the upstairs of a mall and that it looked great — but I don’t have any photos.  Sorry!

In all my hunt for cool stuff in Banff left me with mixed, but generally positive reactions.  While I was disappointed at the lack of a music scene, there seemed to be a thriving artisitic community — albeit somewhat tourist geared.  And the many thrift, reuse, and skate shops indicate a nice amount of culture as well.

And the wealth of free athletic activities is great.  And there’s even a night club to help you unwind.  Not too shabby for this active mountain town.  It appears, when all is said and done, that Banff is indeed a chic town.  Hopefully if you ever make it out to the Canadian Rockies, you check it out for yourself and pay these places a visit.