For Calgary music fans of a certain age a wooden cutout sign of the cartoon character 10 Foot Henry (if you’re not familiar he’s mute, bald, and old-timey) is kind of a big deal. The sign (which actually is 10 feet tall) was originally made to sit in One Yellow Rabbit co-founder Blake Brooker’s backyard in the early ‘80s (this does not seem unusual to anyone who knows Blake), but Henry eventually became part of the local music scene.
Henry became the namesake of a little music venue/dance club opened by the late (and wonderful) Richard McDowell in 1983 and watched artists like 54-40 and Art Bergmann play in front of his painted-on eyes. McDowell closed 10 Foot Henry’s in 1986 and took Henry to live at his own house, but in the early ‘90s Henry went to live beside the stage in a new Calgary music venue called the Night Gallery, which for years was my own personal stomping ground.
I couldn’t find any photos of Henry in the NG (those were pre-iPhone days) but here’s a clip of Calgary’s Huevos Rancheros (another food named band) playing in the club:
Ex-hipsters in Calgary look back at the Night Gallery with particular fondness — the place was filled with incredibly kitschy décor (the Kennedy brothers rug hook art was my personal favourite) but Henry was the biggest and most prominent fixture. He stood by as bands like Archers of Loaf, Superchunk, Mudhoney and dozens of others (as well as countless local bands) played and many a gintastic (basically a pint glass filled with three or four shots of gin and lots of juice) were served.
But, those Night Gallery patrons have grown up (the club closed in 2005) and so has Henry. After drifting back into someone else’s backyard and then into a spot outside of One Yellow Rabbits’ Big Secret Theatre, Henry has gone to the next level. Like so many of us who made our younger lives about rock ‘n’ roll, Henry is now all about the food. Stephen Smee and Aja Lapointe got their hands on Henry and have opened a new restaurant in the space underneath the old Night Gallery on 1st Street SW.
The restaurant is called Ten Foot Henry and a beautiful bright contemporary space (so, thankfully, nothing like the original Night Gallery). The menu is a collection of a la carte share plates (though you can get more traditional meals at lunch if you’re not into sharing with a client or colleague over a business meeting), with a focus on vegetable dishes. Aja says that the concept was designed for customers who are vegetarian or like to stick to mostly plant-based meals who still want to be able to eat out with their carnivore friends. Go with a mix of veggie lovers and meat lovers, order a couple of plates per person, mixing together vegetables, pasta dishes, fish, and meat, and everyone is happy.
I took my son Henry (yep) to lunch last month and we ordered up a storm: carrots with pistachios and an avocado puree, salmon with chorizo, mushrooms, and avocado, green beans with walnuts, and a deceptively delicious plain pasta. My eight-year-old happily ate everything (even the vegetables) and I took in the complex, creative flavours with glee. Every dish was a winner, but the coconut cake and cream puffs we had for dessert were unreal (word on the street is that the butterscotch pudding is mind-blowing).
And the actual 10 Foot Henry? He’s still lookin’ good and he’s hanging out in the hallway by the bathroom, eagerly taking on his newest adventure.