Calgary·Video

These restaurant hidden gems lurk behind Coca-Cola machines, bookcases and more

Want to go out for dinner and feel a bit stealthy doing it? There’s places for that in Calgary.

Ajito, Eight and other camouflaged canteens offer a hidden-away dining experience

Chef Takeshi Kawabe makes innovative Canadian-Japanese cuisine at his new restaurant, Ajito. But you'll have to find it first. 1:14

Want to go out for dinner and feel a bit stealthy doing it? There's places for that in Calgary.

Actually, the hidden eating and drinking hideout trend has been — quietly — booming in Calgary of late.

  • Watch the video above to see what's hidden behind that Coca-Cola machine

One of the newest camouflaged canteens in the city is Ajito. It's tucked away inside Sho Sushi on Macleod Trail S.E. And unless you pry open the vintage Coca-Cola vending machine, you'll miss it.

Ajito chef and co-owner Takeshi Kawabe says it's meant to be a sort of hidden playing space for grown-ups, inspired by the kinds of places he knew in Tokyo, where he grew up.

"Ajito" is a Japanese word that translates as secret base of operations or hidden safe place.

"When I moved here to Calgary, I couldn't find any of that kind of restaurant," he said.

Kawabe says he designed the space to feel sort of tight.

"Japanese people always like tight spaces," he said.

The food at Ajito is all about small, shareable plates in the Japanese izakaya style.

Ajito chef and co-owner Takeshi Kawabe says stepping into his hidden restaurant is meant to be like entering a Tokyo izakaya. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"My food is fusion food, because I'm working in Canada, because I'm making for Canadian people," he said.

"Peoples' reaction is very good, so far."

So good, in fact, that he recommends making a reservation, though walk-ins are welcome.

Eight is enough

Eight opened last month tucked inside one of chef Darren MacLean's other establishments, Nupo, a sushi spot at Alt Hotel in the East Village. (Eight)

Another recently opened secret dining spot in Calgary also has a Japanese flair.

Eight is an aptly named eight-seat restaurant within a restaurant. It's tucked inside chef Darren MacLean's new establishment, Nupo, a sushi restaurant-cum-night-spot at the Alt Hotel in East Village.

Eight is a "discreet culinary enclave with matte textured black walls, dark ceilings, black marble counters," according to a release.

"Dining at Eight is about shared conversation between the chef and guests around a modern Canadian table that frames the kitchen," he says.

MacLean is serving a winter-themed Canadian reflections menu until mid-March.

Speakeasy-style cocktails

Betty Lou's Library revives the Prohibition era of jazz and cocktails and hidden entryways through dark alleys, in the middle of Calgary's popular Beltline district. (Yuko Takasaki)

And if you're more in the mood for the Prohibition era of jazz, cocktails and hidden entryways through dark alleys, there's Betty Lou's Library in the Beltline.

Call for a reservation and you'll be given a secret password that you'll need to be invited past the hidden door.

"Take a step back in time when you walk through the hidden door and have a seat in a vintage velvet chair," says the library's website.

There's a small food menu with cheese and charcuterie and such, but the real focus at Betty Lou's Library is hand-crafted cocktails, 1920s-era intimate cabaret and live jazz.

With files from Monty Kruger

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