A 1985 article about the Grizzly House Restaurant in the Spokesman-Review made sure to make note of the telephones at each table, just in case diners “wanted to pick up somebody at another table.” The phones on the tables are just one of the tells at the Grizzly House, a peek into a Banff of an earlier time, a time where the restaurant’s first life was as the center of the area’s nightlife.
Established in 1967, it began as a coffee house, a spot for the area’s artistic community to gather. Francis Hopkins, the restaurant’s co-owner, explained that his father-in-law Peter Stiener, the founder, wanted it to be a gathering place for writers and musicians. “That was the era for that,” Hopkins told RMO Today, “the late ‘60s. The kind of Beatnik, poetry, music, films, crowd.” It later changed to a disco, the first in Western Canada, bringing with it dancers and touring musicians.
And, as the story goes, music-lovers weren’t the only ones drawn to the restaurant. Inside of its rustic, almost ski-lodge-like exterior, the Grizzly House also earned “a reputation for attracting swingers.” The current-day spot winks at that history with its “For Lovers and Hedonists” tagline, as well as the 70s-era music playing through the dining room.
The journey from 70s swinger’s hotspot to its current-day iteration as a place known for its fondue and wild game gives another piece of the area’s history. Needing to sell food in order to keep its liquor license, the owners made a deal with the Chinese restaurant next door. The Grizzly House would provide the music, dancing, and drinks, while the restaurant would provide the food, which was delivered through a hole in the venues’ shared wall. When the neighboring restaurant closed, Peter and his wife Barbara needed to figure out a way to keep selling food. As one of Banff’s many Swiss immigrants, Peter thought that fondue would be perfect, and he and other staff members brought in their own fondue pots starting a tradition that lives on today.
Diners who want to get wild can try the restaurant’s selection of exotic fondues, which include alligator, caribou, and ostrich. For those who lean traditional, there are also more everyday offerings like chicken and beef. And as for those phones? They still work, and the back of the menu features a telephone directory, another nod to the spot’s swinging reputation.