Story by Jenn Smith
SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN — “Saskatoon has become a rainbow in the pocket of Canada,” Danny Papadatos declared with enthusiasm during our brief meeting in the lounge of the Sheraton Cavalier’s 6Twelve. Oozing personality and pride to spare, he chatted about his vibrant hometown, which Papadatos says is especially welcoming to lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer (LGTBQ) residents and travellers.
Chair of the Pride and Diversity network, which runs the Saskatoon Pride Festival, Papadatos, a past winner of Mr. Gay Canada (2013), committed community activist and resident cheerleader, is a firm believer that Saskatoon deserves to be on every traveller’s list.
“It’s always had its arms open. It’s that sense of community whether it is LGTBQ or not. It’s always there and people take pride in being from Saskatoon, and that is great.” Papadatos spoke at length regarding the mass support from local business and organizations alike that make Saskatoon inclusive to all visitors.
This year’s Pride Festival, which took place June 7-14, was bigger and better than ever with Papadatos at the helm, marking its 15-year milestone. “When we took over pride, there was five events during the week and now it’s more like 13, 14.”
Other significant changes included a move downtown, giving the festival significant profile. “I wanted to bring this to the heart of the city,” said Papadatos. “This was the largest pride festival Saskatchewan has seen.”
In addition to Pride, Papadatos is an integral fixture in Saskatoon’s LGTBQ community. Constantly advocating, supporting and shaping the community, he works closely with Tourism Saskatoon and outreach centre, OUT Saskatoon.
Beyond the city’s inclusivity, beauty and community, Papadatos believes travellers also arrive for the food.
“I’m very biased,” he said as I encouraged him to dish on the city’s quickly evolving food scene. “I absolutely adore food.”
Saskatoon Tips from Mr. Gay Canada Winner
He revealed that Poached — a breakfast spot by day, cocktail lounge by night — is a favourite haunt. “It has a quaint little patio with a real French bistro feel and at night they play old movies on the wall.” His advice? “Don’t miss ordering the breakfast plate with potato croquettes and bacon-wrapped pecan bits — they are unreal.”
When asked about where he loves to lunch, he suggested Odd Couple, a restaurant found in the Riversdale area; a recently energized district of town chockful of new restaurants. “You can’t not hit a brand new restaurant in Riversdale,” said Papadatos, “It’s transformation over the past three years has been amazing.”
One of those new Riversdale finds is Drift Sidewalk Café. It offers something unexpected; an escape in the inner city. With its beach-like atmosphere complete with parklet, Drift is both café and tapas bar, featuring hanging hammocks and windows that let in airy cool breezes — the perfect place to sip a latte or catch up with friends.
Naturally our conversation evolved into discussing dinner options. It’s nearly impossible to chat about dining out in Saskatoon without mentioning Ayden Kitchen and Wine Bar — a restaurant known as a game changer in the city. “It’s an absolute must-stop location for those who really like to enjoy food,” said Papadatos.
No stranger to Vacay.ca, Ayden debuted on the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada rankings at No. 10 in 2014, and ranked 17th in 2015, thanks to chef Dale MacKay and his talented team, including co-chef and butcher Nathan Guggenheimer, mixologist Christopher Cho, and head chef Jesse Zuber.
[box_light]See a Video of the Ayden Team at Work on Their Famed Butcher Burger[/box_light]
The much-coveted restaurant upped the ante in the city over the past two years — helping stamp Saskatoon as a culinary destination on the rise. It’s not just the city’s incredible food scene propelling Saskatoon forward as a destination insisted Papadatos. It’s the energy, youth and more. “There’s just so much going on. I’m also really excited about the new Remai Gallery and the children’s museum that are just being built. They are both going to be great.”
At night, when not working on his many spare projects, Papadatos unwinds with a long walk along the city’s scenic waterfront bordering the South Saskatchewan River. “It’s the best way to see what the city is all about. You feel the buzz of the city yet you can also feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. “
When asked what other Canadian destinations come to mind specifically as appealing to LGTBQ travellers, he was quick to identify Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal as wonderful and welcoming cities to visit. The thing about Saskatoon he insists is that it’s a bit of a surprise.
“I don’t think anyone’s gonna disagree with me when I say, besides Saskatoon, go to Vancouver, go to Montreal,” said Papadatos. “But we are the most underrated and unexpectedly great LGTBQ destinations to go to. Visitors will be pleasantly surprised. We are like a rock you find on the beach and you take it home with you. It’s one of those special places that once you visit you can’t wait to tell everyone about it.”
SUGGESTIONS ON VISITING SASKATOON FROM DANNY PAPADATOS
Dine: Chef Dale MacKay’s newest venture, Home Slice — a pizza restaurant located in the city’s north end featuring cured meats made in-house at Ayden Kitchen and Wine Bar.
Day Stop: If you are in town on a weekend or a Wednesday go eat at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. While there, hit up the Garlic Guru, “It’s all fresh, veggie, vegan — think quinoa salads, quinoa lasagnas — healthy.”
Night Stop: The night festival, Nuit Blanche, closes down 20th Street in Riversdale and features art exhibits in the shops, and music in the streets. The 2015 edition takes place on September 26.
Attend: The Saskatchewan Jazz Festival (June 25-July 5). “It draws people from near and far, and always has a fantastic line-up.”
Watch: Fabulocity, a new travel show, which will start by airing on OUT TV across Canada in January 2016, and then have an international reach after season one. Saskatoon is one of two Canadian locations selected for the first season.
Visit Online: www.tourismsaskatoon.com/rainbow and saskatoonpride.ca for more information on LGTBQ events and news.