Many of Calgary's oldest buildings are known for the places that occupy them.
Cardinale in the East Village is a new, modern Italian joint in the same space that for a decade housed La Vita é Bella, and a string of Italian restaurants before it.
"The gentleman who owns these buildings is Italian," says co-owner Jared Kichula, who also owns the Hayden Block in Kensington.
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"The only thing that can go in here is an Italian restaurant. You can't change it — it's in the lease."
The building's owners ran an Italian restaurant themselves in the same space back in the 1980s. They lived across the street.
Not that they wanted to change it. They just wanted to give it an overhaul.
"We've been here 10 years. We didn't want to leave, but we wanted something that worked," says Kichula.
"It was cute, but it was dated. After 10 years, we figured it was a slow summer, and a good time for a change."
Situated at 401 12th Ave. S.E., the location would seem to be prime real estate for an eatery. It's near the Saddledome, Cowboys Casino and the BMO Centre.
Kichula and partners chef Steven Dowdell and general manager Graham Teare are hoping to draw in a later crowd, which they weren't getting as a fine dining restaurant.
"We had talked about the Italian cocktail culture, and that there weren't a lot of places in town who do cocktails really well in an Italian restaurant," Kichula said.
"Having the bar up at the front allows you to come in after a hockey game or a little later on a Friday night and not feel out of place."
The cardinale, a classic Italian cocktail, inspired the name.
The pastas are made from scratch every morning and are offered for half price after 9 p.m. to get rid of the day's stock. The panzanella salad is piled on grilled pagnotta toast, heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, capers, olives and cucumber.
The extra-creamy carbonara is enriched with bone marrow and pecorino, and studded with pork belly they cure in-house and lightly smoke over at the Hayden Block.
There's also a focus on interesting cocktails, with a lineup created by Teare (who also created the cocktail program at Hayden Block) using mostly Italian spirits and ingredients that mirror the menu.
"I like bringing ingredients from the kitchen to the bar," says Teare, as he shakes and strains a brilliant green Sage Advice cocktail, made with muddled and double strained green peas, sage, lemon, Panarea gin, Cocchi Americano and bitters, for the busy lunch crowd.
The Ciccone, a riff on a bloody Mary (he named it after Madonna, whose last name is Ciccone), is made with vodka, sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and clam brodo from the kitchen.
Private rooms offer privacy for larger groups. The main room can accommodate about 50, the two smaller adjacent rooms about 25.
There's a small, cozy patio along the east side of the building, partially open to the street and strung with white lights.
Inside, exposed brick walls and layers of vintage, flowered wallpaper they were surprised to uncover during reconstruction has been kept intact. It's a reminder of the building's rich history and the room's evolving esthetic.