Hangout Handbook The Shmancy Side of Halifax

Hangout Handbook The Shmancy Side of Halifax
Photo: Chris Bubinas

In our annual Hangout Handbook, Exclaim! asks some of our favourite artists to discuss an ideal day in their hometown. Here, Ben Caplan discusses his favourite spots in Halifax and beyond. 

Going Coastal
My favourite breakfast in Halifax has got to be The Coastal Café (2731 Robie St.) They are a little joint in the North End with an exquisitely curated menu. It is gourmet shmancy breakfast at its finest. Sure, you could go find eggs and toast, maybe some breakfast falafel, and a cup of coffee for $5.99 at any other joint in town, but if you feel like dropping triple that on your first meal of the day, then this is the spot. There is often a lineup, but once you get a read through their menu, you'll understand why. This place is usually my first choice when I want to take a guest out for a special Halifax morning experience.

In With the New... and the Old Too
If you are in Halifax over a weekend, then you've got to stop by the farmers' markets. There are two Saturday markets that I visit whenever I am in Halifax over a weekend. There's the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market (1209 Marginal Rd.), the "new" market in a modern new building along the waterfront by Pier 21. And there's the Historic Farmers' Market (1496 Lower Water St.), the "old" market in the historic Alexander Keith's brewery. I like both markets for different reasons. The "old" market is way less touristy and much quieter. It used to be slammed every week, but these days it's more peaceful. I think the produce and food at the old Keith's Brewery market tends to be less expensive. Lots of vendors there selling everything from artisanal cheeses and fresh breads to vegan kimchi and handmade crafts. You'll find great local produce at the "new" market too, along with a wide array of other local products and international cuisine.

An Aptly-Named Attraction
If you're going to head down to the South End to check out the market, you best not miss Point Pleasant Park (5718 Point Pleasant Dr.). Go there any day of the week. It's one of my favourite places in the city. An immense public green space on the tip of the Halifax peninsula. Good place for a stroll, run, or bike ride. Excellent for picking blackberries in the late summer/fall. Nice spot for a pickup game of badminton with an imaginary net. Watch the ocean waves roll in. Park your tour van in the seaside lot and fall asleep while reading Baudelaire. Les Fleurs du Awesome.

Rainy Day Activity
If you want something cool to do indoors, the Seven Bays Bouldering climbing gym (2019 Gottingen St.), is real cool Halifax hang. I've never actually tried climbing in there, but they've got a licensed cafe in the same space. And I do love espresso and beer. And watching people climb. That's not creepy, is it?

Heavy Rotation
So... I am on tour basically all of the time. I like that. But one of my regrets is that I am never home long enough in the summer to get a chance to enjoy a beer at Stillwell's pop-up beer garden (5688 Spring Garden Rd.). They've got 10 rotating taps of local craft beer. They've got an impressive little snack menu too. Open from noon till dark. I am dying to get Wednesday afternoon tipsy and play some backgammon on that patio. Do it for me, so I can live vicariously through you.

Sweet Stacks of Wax
I usually prefer not-shopping to shopping but sometimes, when I pop into Obsolete Records (2454 Agricola St.) to check on some new consignment stock, I find myself accidentally having a nice time and buying some new vinyl. They've got a wonderfully curated selection of music. Lots of great indie and local artists as well as the classics. There's also Taz Records (1521 Grafton St.) downtown. I am sometimes spotted accidentally having a nice time in there too.

Friendly Faces
Oh! Also! I haven't been there yet, but Joel Plaskett has recently opened up his own coffee shop: New Scotland Yard Emporium (41 Portland St.) over in Dartmouth. Take the ferry over. You can also peruse records and get a haircut from Joel Plaskett Emergency bass player Chris Pennell while you are at it. If I was in to haircuts, I would probably sip my espressos and buy my music across the water in Dartmouth. But I am not in to haircuts. Stay back, Pennell.

Having Fun Isn't Hard...
The new Halifax Central Library (Spring Garden Rd.) has gained a lot of attention since it was finished last year, so it's not a very well kept secret, but I am still surprised at how much I like hanging out there. As a self employed entrepreneur without a proper office, I spend a lot of time floating from cafe to cafe trying not to overdose on caffeine while I work through my myriad tasks and scribble in my notebooks. The library, especially the gorgeous rooftop terrace, offers a spectacular escape from commercial space and allows you to just read, write, type or reflect in a beautifully imagined public space. They've got a great cafe too if you still need to feed the habit.

No Politics, Just Good Food
When I think fancy dinner in my neighbourhood, I think EDNA (2053 Gottingen St.). The restaurant opened up a couple years back now. It was one of the first of a series of businesses owned by younger entrepreneurs trying to carve out their own niche in Halifax's less expensive North End. The influx of capital into the North End over the last few years presents some complicated challenges. One person's "revitalization" is another person's gentrification. But I am not here to talk politics. EDNA is really great restaurant. Meticulously beautiful with an ever-changing menu of gastronomical wonders both locally and seasonally focused. They also have excellent drinks and desserts.

Horsing Around
Well, if you and I just had a romantic dinner at EDNA, then what better place to go for a show than the new Seahorse Tavern (2037 Gottingen St.)? This old Halifax institution used to be located in the centre of Halifax's downtown. No more. With a new massive skyscraper being built, Halifax's new Convention Centre, the Seahorse has migrated out of the downtown core and moved into the North End, right across the street from EDNA. I've got a real affection for the Seahorse. Getting onto that stage was a real benchmark for me as an up-and-coming musician. Selling that room out for the first time marked a shift in my career. A lot of great East Coast talent has been raised up in that establishment. Go listen any night of the week. You'll hear any of half a dozen genres of music, or maybe an open mic where you can discover some rough gems.

The Only Constant is Change (and a Good Time)
I like to cap off a night on the town with a shmancy cocktail. There are a number of excellent cocktail bars that have opened in Halifax in the last year, but I am a little out of touch because I'm so often on the road. My local favourite in the North End is Field Guide (2076 Gottingen St.) Their drink menu seems to change every time I go in there, but I don't make it in more than once every 3 or 4 months. Really superb mixed drinks, from a simple Old Fashioned to.... other things with fancier names. Great menu here too.

Leave the Car at Home
Halifax is a great city to explore by foot. The Halifax waterfront is beautiful but the ocean view from Dartmouth, only a ferry ride away, is even better than the Halifax view. You can walk from Point Pleasant Park, the southernmost point of the peninsula, to the top of the North End in less than a couple of hours, but what's your hurry? Take your time and let the city slow you down.

Ben Caplan's sophomore album, Birds With Broken Wings, was released by Coalition Music last year.