Everybody has a tie to this place because it’s been here for 100 years. It’s almost two degrees of separation. Everybody has a story.
—Mat Lavielle, general manager
The Royal Albert has survived flooding, closures and Green Day.
But Mat Lavielle isn't focusing on the famous hotel's resume, he's interested in its menu. The Royal Albert Café--under the guidance of general manager Lavielle--opened April 18 for breakfast and lunch. The menu is a mixed bag of classic diner food with a focus on regional ingredients like pickerel, Manitoba ribeye and local produce.
Royal Albert Café chef Phil Kendel chops shallots in preparation for the breakfast and lunch crowds. (Robin Summerfield)
The restaurant has been opening in stages. In mid-April, staff launched the café's evenings-only "gourmet" pizza parlour. "I want to get some people in these seats and turn their heads," says Lavielle.
The restaurant's resurrection has been two years in the making. In May 2011, the hotel, bar and Deseo restaurant closed down after a broken water line flooded the property. Owners spent one million to repair the hotel and upgrade the rooms. Inside the 50-seat atrium dining room, the changes have been limited to a new floor.
Despite the facelift, the 100-year-old hotel still displays its storied history, including its time as Winnipeg's punk rock colosseum. "It's got character," Lavielle says. "It's got beauty scratches...Everybody has a tie to this place because it's been here for 100 years. It's almost two degrees of separation. Everybody has a story," Lavielle says.
Nirvana and Green Day both played The Royal Albert for local crowds before hitting it big. Band stickers still decorate the walls and doorway in the bar. (Robin Summerfield)
The café's chef Phil Kendel has a good one. While performing at the Albert with his punk band Dead City Disease, the then teenager chipped his front tooth on the microphone when a friend accidentally knocked the stand.
The Exchange District has been in the midst of a restaurant Renaissance. Shawarma Khan, Carnaval, Deer + Almond and Corrientes have all opened in the past two years.
The rebirth of the Royal Albert is another sign of progress in the area, says Stephanie Scherbain, marketing and communications coordinator for Exchange District BIZ.
"It's great to see action at that end of the street," Scherbain says. "[The opening] shows me there's still development and growth in the area and that people are still interested in the neighbourhood."
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