Story by Jody Robbins
BANFF, ALBERTA — You won’t find many holdouts from the ’60s in Banff these days, but a trip to the Grizzly House has become as obligatory as munching on a bear claw along Banff Avenue while gazing up at Cascade Mountain.
Back in the Day
Opened as a disco by original owners Barbara and Peter Steiner, the Grizzly House’s fondue pots were brought in by staff to comply with liquor laws. Fortunately, disco-ing at the “the Griz” has gone the way of the Dodo, while fonduing and other socially acceptable practices from that infamous decade remain.
Back to Today
Dining here isn’t just about the food, it’s about the experience. When you think fondue, certain images from the ’70s come to mind. You know, wood-panelled walls, macrame plant holders, resin tabletops baring fondue scars of yesteryear — it’s all still here.
As for the swinging part of that decade, don’t be alarmed if you get a phone call from a diner across the restaurant asking if your rocks are hot enough. Working phones at every table, a holdover from the disco days, are meant to facilitate diners getting to know one another. This place is for lovers and hedonists, after all (and I’m just quoting their tagline).
You can get kinky by dining on the Exotic Fondue ($50.95), heating up frogs legs, shark and alligator on the infamous hot rocks, or stick with tradition and order the Fondue Bourguignonne ($17.95-$33.95) of Alberta beef and free-range chicken. Don’t worry, you can always spice things up by dipping into zesty sauces (the food) or dining and dialling (the company).
But you may as well tap into your hedonistic-side and go all out, with a complete fondue dinner ($43.95-$63.95 per person). These hearty four-course meals include soup or salad, either a Neuchâtel cheese or Bagna Cauda vegetable fondue, choice of meat fondue and is finished off, with a decadent Toblerone chocolate fondue.
When those bubbling pots are placed upon the table, it’s time to get down to business. Spearing bread, vegetables or meat upon your prong, carefully dip your bounty into the steaming fondue. Should your fork come up empty, it’s customary to either kiss your neighbour or buy the table a round, whatever seems most appropriate at the time.
And don’t be too concerned if you’re somewhat over zealous in scraping off the nun’s bum (that toasty crust formed on the bottom of cheese fondue pots). You wouldn’t be the first person to knock pots and food all over the table or have cheese dribbling down your chin.
“If you’re not making a mess honey, I’m concerned. It means you’re not having fun,” advises flirty waiter Billy Irwin.
And the Grizzly House, is nothing, if not about having a raucous time. That’s why it also has a “private dining room” complete with mirrors placed at interesting heights. But one can only go so far in the name of research, especially when you’re not an investigative reporter.
Fortunately, the party can always be brought home, so be sure to pick up a souvenir before leaving. A grizzly-branded thong ($16.95) complete with paw prints makes for the perfect gift for a spouse.
Note: Photos courtesy of the Grizzly House.