Chorney-Booth: Prosperity Bar brings tropical vibes to historic Chinatown location

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Calgary’s Chinatown and its eclectic collection of restaurants have always been an important part of the beating heart of our city. It’s the gateway to downtown if you’re coming across the river from the north part of the city and functions as a cultural hub as well as a vibrant neighbourhood where people live, work and, of course, eat. But, as with every area in Calgary, as longtime Chinatown business owners age and contemplate retirement, commercial storefronts are changing. Maintaining a thriving Chinatown is going to require a cohort of younger entrepreneurs to come in and enthusiastically operate in the spirit of the historic community.

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This is what Nhi Tran and Tanner Ennis had in mind when they opened Paper Lantern, their popular Chinatown speakeasy in mid-2020, one of the first new restaurants to open after the start of the pandemic. When the legendary Golden Inn restaurant, located just a few doors down from Paper Lantern, closed in 2022 after 45 years of operation, the couple, like many advocates for a strong Chinatown, wanted to ensure younger Asian-focused restaurateurs would take over the space. Knowing they had another great bar in them, Tran and Ennis decided to take on the unit themselves, opening Prosperity Bar in February.

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Prosperity Bar has opened in the former Golden Inn space in Chinatown. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

“Chinatown is in a situation where everyone is retiring. Our favourite restaurants are closing down,” Tran says. “We used to drive past Golden Inn every night. The landlord really wanted someone to do a new kind of bar in Chinatown and had a level of trust with us because of Paper Lantern.”

Unlike Paper Lantern, which is hidden in a basement behind a faux sewing shop facade, Prosperity Bar is big and bold — drivers can’t miss its exterior sign as they roll down Centre Street bridge. Paper Lantern has always positioned itself as a tropical bar, but Tran and Ennis lean into the island décor even further with Prosperity Bar. They’ve gone full tiki, though excluding the outdated elements of sexualization and cultural insensitivity that have earned mid-century tiki culture much-deserved criticism. The walls of the 60-seat room are lined with bamboo, the booths are roomy and suitable for larger groups, the music is of the groovy Don Ho variety, and Ennis has some tricks installed behind the bar to add some drama and atmosphere.

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The ‘Saturn’ cocktail is shown at Prosperity Bar in Calgary’s Chinatown.  Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia
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The ‘Zombie’ cocktail at Prosperity Bar. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

Both Paper Lantern and Prosperity Bar are tropical-themed, but there are some marked differences in the food and drink offerings. Paper Lantern is very much a love letter to Tran’s Vietnamese heritage — her mom, a former restaurateur herself, works in the kitchen, whipping up incredible Vietnamese bites — and the cocktails fall into the realm of cool envelope-pushing experimentation. Over at Prosperity Bar, Ennis intentionally caters to the city’s hardcore tiki nerds (yes, this is absolutely a thing), with well-constructed versions of rummy Mai Tais, Zombies, Jungle Birds and Painkillers, as well as daiquiris and creations like the Golden Girl, a homage to a drink served at Ennis’s cousin’s bar in Missouri.

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Prosperity Bar’s Big Mac Egg Rolls are a snacky food added to the menu. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia
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Prosperity Bar’s Shrimp Rangoon. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

As for the food — and there is plenty of food — expect riffs on classic tiki bar fare, which is usually a fusion of pan-Asian, Polynesian, and American influences. At Prosperity Bar, this means playful bar snacks like crispy, bite-size rangoons filled with cream cheese and fried shrimp ($12), savoury Big Mac egg rolls stuffed with ground beef, cheese, pickles, and a Mac sauce ($13), BLT fried rice ($14), and a Philly cheese steak banh mi sandwich ($12). It’s all meant to be cheeky and nostalgic, but created with meticulous precision, just like the rest of the bar.

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Prosperity Bar is located at 107 2nd Ave. S.E. and is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4 p.m. onward. The restaurant can be reached at 825-540-1232 or through prosperitybar.ca.

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In other restaurant news, food-centric happy hours seem to be popping up all over the place and one of the newest is from the team at Modern Steak. The restaurant recently launched its Club Steak Frites happy hour, held on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. As with any good happy hour, there are deep discounts on drinks (including all spirits, cocktails, and bottles of wine), but more importantly, it’s a great opportunity to try out a higher-end restaurant at a more budget-friendly price point.

The star of the show here is, of course, the steak frites ($24.75 to $33.75) with three different cuts available, including a flatiron cut of the restaurant’s exclusive Modern Benchmark beef, all served with shoestring fries, with the option to add on sauces, salad, or shrimp. Because happy hour is also about grazing, there is also a selection of small plates, including beef tartare, shrimp cocktail, oysters, and more. The happy hour is available at all three Modern Steak locations — visit modernsteak.ca to learn more.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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