Living Cuisine: I Spy

It’s a windy day in Lethbridge, which isn’t unlike most others. But from atop the Water Tower Grill, it feels like I could almost spread my arms and take flight. Not many can say they’ve climbed to the very foot of the spire of the 192-foot tower. Yet here I stand clinging to it, trying to steady my camera and my footing.

From this vantage point, my eyes can follow the road from businesses along Third Avenue South to golden prairie fields to the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Looking north, the railroad tracks stitch a path in the landscape and the blue sky stretches on for eternity. Some rust has developed on the structure, naturally, and the Christmas lights still hang around the edge with tiny clips. This local landmark is one of the tallest in the city and serves as a familiar green icon for those who live here or return home for a visit.

Built in the late 1950s, the Water Tower was constructed to provide water for the growing residential and industrial developments in the north and south. Its capacity was 1.9 million litres, and the tower served its purpose until a leak was discovered in 1999. The tower was taken out of capacity and sat vacant for a few years until developers envisioned a new purpose and converted it into a restaurant. Ric’s Grill operated from 2004 to 2017, offering visitors the chance to dine with a 360-degree view of the city.

The Vintage Group, owners of several award-winning Calgary restaurants, saw the potential and purchased it. They wanted to continue offering this unique experience and in July 2018, they reopened to the public as the Water Tower Grill.

A lot of attention to detail went into redesigning the space, as elements of the city’s history grace the walls and interior. From the moment you walk in the front door and take the elevator up, you are welcomed with familiar touches of days gone by. Diners can choose from three different experiences - the laid-back lounge atmosphere, which hosts a variety of live music on weekends, the stylish and sophisticated dining room, or the private lounge on the third level.

A few added touches to the lounge include telescopes where diners can spy on the city from any direction, and access to the outdoor walkway for those who dare to take a closer look from above.

“We are North America’s first and only water tower restaurant. That’s the biggest draw. People want to see where they live, where they work, so they get an aerial view from the restaurant,” says Stafa Rekabi, the restaurant’s general manager. “The other thing is we’re all about local. It’s all about nurturing community. Being in a smaller city, it’s nice to have that support and to find local products they can’t find anywhere else.”

As the Water Tower Grill website states, they offer “delicious, farm-fresh food including a classic steak program, utilizing local Alberta beef and treating it right on a charbroiled grill.” Much of their product is sourced from farms across southern Alberta, including meat from Ben’s Quality Meats in Picture Butte and Brant Lake Wagyu, greens and vegetables from Broxburn near Coaldale, Valbella charcuterie meats in Canmore, raw honey from Greidanus Farms, and Fiasco Gelato dessert from Calgary. Craft beer from Coulee Brew is also on tap.

 

“Our steaks are the hottest seller. They really are,” says executive chef Rya Gross. “The quality of meat we provide here is second to none. Ben’s Quality Meats – 97 per cent is AAA and two per cent is prime, so their beef is the best you can get in Alberta or even in North America. We like to provide good local food at the highest quality we can give and every time you come here you should have a fantastic experience.” In addition, several employees are culinary students from Lethbridge College, a program Rya says they are trying to tap into more for their skilled graduates.

The restaurant is dinner service only, with the exception of the newly added Sunday brunch. While it may seem like a restaurant of this calibre would come with a high-priced menu, that isn’t the case according to Stafa. People from all walks of life can come and enjoy the food, whether it’s wing night or an occasion that calls for something extra special. “We’ve had a lot of engagements at the restaurant; we’ve had grad parties, retirement parties… it’s been really awesome to celebrate with our guests,” he says. “Fine dining doesn’t have to come with a price. We have a very diverse menu and they can come have a nice meal with the family.” Stafa hopes visitors will take lots of pictures and enjoy the chance to see the city in a way they typically cannot.

“It’s really not about who comes in here, it’s just about the community gathering and having a good experience.”
General Manager Stafa Rekabi .JPG
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