Winnipeg’s Exchange District is not only home to North America’s finest collection brick and mortar buildings; it’s also where you will find some of the hippest happenings in Canada.
The whole 20-block area is a National Historic Site, featuring an impressive display of architecture – including around 150 heritage buildings — which was founded when Winnipeg was booming and considered the Chicago of the North from the 1880s into World War I.
These buildings and tree-lined streets, which were once warehouses and “terra cotta skyscapers” that housed financial institutions, have since become Winnipeg’s cultural hub, blanketed with restaurants, galleries, coffee shops, hip clothing, lifestyle and design stores. It’s also become the home to Winnipeg’s hip businesses including many graphic design and architecture firms, start-ups via Innovation Alley and photography studios, while above the streets many of these older building’s floors have been converted into stylish studio apartments where a lot of the city’s hip set has started to migrate.
Where to eat
For starters, you know that in such a cool neighbourhood that there will be coffee, and the place that started Winnipeg’s coffee revolution is Parlour Coffee, where owner Nils Vik and his crew will make you a killer cappuccino from some of Canada’s best roasters from whence you can observe thin-tie or floral print wearing hip chicks and dudes from surrounding businesses.
New kid in town Miss Browns also does excellent coffee (from Portland’s Stumptown) along with awesome Aussie-style breakfasts (chef Steve is from Down Under) along with pressed sandwiches made with house smoked meats that are so good they’ve brought tears to our eyes – seriously.
For casual lunch and dinners check out Shawarma Khan, owned by former pro football player and all round great guy Obby Kahn, which does excellent variations on the middle eastern classic all made with primarily locally-sourced ingredients – including natural meats free of hormones/antibiotics and all that other stuff. Or, King + Bannatyne, a licensed sandwich shop specializing in mouth wateringly tender house made meats which has the young business community queuing everyday at noon.
And one mustn’t forget King’s next-door neighbour (as if the lineups would allow it) Bronuts, whose gourmet donuts and coffee have created a devout following, while a “fun with your friends” can be had at Across the Board Game Café where an eclectic menu including bahn mi, stews and Vietnamese salad rolls are accompanied by surely one of the most impressive board game libraries you’ve ever seen.
Acclaimed dining includes Deer+Almond, where chef Mandel Hitzer’s whimsical share plates menu has put on several of Canada’s best restaurant lists, as well as featured in the New York Times and several other global publications for his unique winter pop-up restaurant on the frozen Red River, RAW:almond; The Mitchell Block, where fresh pastas and really well executed entrees (if you see arctic char on the menu, order it!) are the name of the game; and The Peasant Cookery, a farm-to-table, whole animal bistro where cocktails and charcuterie headline in a beautifully restored dining room and adjacent bar.
Meat lovers unite at Carnaval Brazilian BBQ where aromas from this authentic churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) tantalize when you walk in. Pizzas, empanadas and Cuban melts are on the menu at Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria, while big hunks of beef and South American cuisine are the staples at Hermanos Restaurant and Wine Bar – the dining room of which is a fine example of The Exchange’s architecture with its exposed brick and beam.
Creative and quick are trademarks of what’s prepared at Bodegoes Restaurant. It’s hard to choose from noodles by the box, chicken fingers or hand-dipped fish and chips, but your taste buds won’t regret a box of coconut chicken green curry noodles while White Star Diner is a “good things come in small packages” kind of place, where from-scratch diner fare is always good.
For some sushi before a show in the theatre district, Blufish Japanese is a nice choice, while Boon Burger Café is Canada’s first all-vegan burger joint, where the flavours are so big and bold that you’ll never miss the meat.
As to watering holes, we could make a massive list, so in the sake of expediency, let’s just stick with a couple.
For starters, The King’s Head is a pretty iconic British Pub where live music, pints, and some well executed curries are always on the menu while newbie Albert Street Cocktail Company has arguably the best drinks in town, where booze is mixed by bartenders who truly take pride in their craft.
Of course, there are also clubs galore including 441 Main – which caters to a “graduated from university” kind of crowd with a mixology-focused bar (it also has food); The Palomino Club which features great tunes and bands playing all the best music from the past and present and District Stop.
Top Things to See and Do
A visit to the Exchange during the summer must include a visit to Old Market Square, which plays host to numerous summer events and festivals. The Winnipeg Fringe Festival and the Soca Reggae Festival are two of many must-attend events. The Square is located at the corner of Bannatyne Avenue and King Street.
Local cultural institutions like the The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, touring shows such as The Book of Mormon, and big name acts like Bryan Adams and Diana Krall, are just some of the performers to grace the stage of the 2,305-seat Centennial Concert Hall, making it one of the city’s top entertainment venues.
Movie buffs head to Cinematheque, which is run by the Winnipeg Film Group. This intimate theatre screens top art house film titles in Canadian and world cinema.
In summer months, tour an exceptional collection of turn-of-the-20th-century buildings led by knowledgeable and dynamic guides hosting the Exchange District Historic Walking Tours.
Explore nine permanent galleries and an ever-changing variety of specialty exhibits that explore the human and natural history of the province at the Manitoba Museum. Certain highlights including climbing on board the Nonsuch, a 17th century merchant ship; watching an animated underwater adventure that takes you back 450 million years; and viewing the HBC Gallery which, “tells the story of one of the oldest commercial enterprises still in existence and the incredible impact of its commercial undertaking on the history of Canada.”
Catch live scheduled entertainment in the ornate theatre at Pantages Playhouse Theatre. This Exchange District landmark has played a vibrant role in Winnipeg’s arts community since it first opened in 1914.
The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre – Canada’s first regional English-speaking theatre – presents more than 250 performances annually. Autumn through spring you can catch a play at the main stage or warehouse venues – including the Master Playwright Festival, while the Winnipeg Fringe Festival performances happen in July.
Where to shop (a snapshot, because The Exchange is chock-full of shops)
Women’s fashion boutique Paperdoll Clothing is a must-visit shop for ladies looking for trendy, glamorous and sexy styles, while the retro finds at Rhymes with Orange are just as unique as this shop’s name.
Luxury furnishings take centre stage at Blue Moon Furniture, whose various collections – be it sculpted wood or industrial chic pieces – would be a welcome addition to your home. Hut K high-quality, cool, modern pieces such as furnishings, lights and accessories that will have your inner interior designer swooning.
Step back in time at Into the Music. This record lover’s paradise houses new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs and full collections, and hard to find albums making for hours of browsing, buying and listening fun.
If you’re looking for something a little off the wall, chances are Antiques & Funk will have it. They buy estates, entire households, collections and single items and then sell their odd and unusual finds. At Hoopers, unique and edgy is the name of the game. This furniture store specializes in Danish, mid-century and modern furnishings from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s and will have anyone with that Mad Men aesthetic in awe.
Looking to boost your assets with a corset? Callisto Couture Custom Corsets brings these garments, which date back to 1600 BC, to modern women looking to dazzle as brides, at formal events or in the boudoir. Guys and girls alike love The Haberdashery where dapper hats, bows and buckles, silky scarves and fashion-forward fascinators, will help complete any outfit.
Your kids (and the kid in you) will freak out at Toad Hall Toys, where an incredible treasure trove of books, miniatures, games, and magic are sourced from around the world. Half a block down the street is the adorable-yet-indulgent boutique bakery Cake-ology, where the picture-perfect cupcakes, cookies, cakes and shakes taste even better than they look.
Prestige dealers at Mayberry Fine Art are experts on Canadian art; specifically, they specialize in paintings from the Canadian Group of Seven. At Gurevich Fine Art contemporary art from both established and emerging artists is on the walls; while Urban Shaman Gallery is a foremost home for contemporary Aboriginal art.
At Hilary Druxman meticulously hand-crafted silver and gold jewellery are made onsite, while the luxurious, hand-made candles made at Coal and Canary are the ideal gift for that special someone in your life (or, what the heck, to treat yourself).