Plenty to savour in heritage district

It's always time for a beer in Old Strathcona.

Sitting inside the former Strathcona railway station, I'm wrestling with the question that has plagued travellers since the dawn of time: Is it too early for a beer?

It's a hot morning in Old Strathcona, which lies south of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, Canada. Starting life as a separate city in the late 19th century, Strathcona had a promising beginning but was eventually absorbed by its northern rival.

An overlooked district on the wrong side of the tracks, Strathcona gradually declined until a heritage movement in the 1970s saw it reborn as Old Strathcona, a lively nightlife district of theatres and bars.

Sadly, the trains don't stop at the railway station any more, but the heritage building with its distinctive polygonal tower and timber-lined interior has been transformed into MKT, a specialist beer bar, with more than 100 beers on the menu.

Old Strathcona is an easy place to explore, its attractions centred on Whyte Avenue. Walking west from the former station, I pass the Strathcona Hotel, an imposing 1891 timber structure. It's surrounded by brick buildings about a century old, including the Princess Theatre, Edmonton's oldest surviving cinema, which now screens arthouse films.

On a nearby corner is Block 1912, a big friendly cafe with an eccentrically decorated interior scattered with mismatched chairs, ancient sofas and a huge wall painting of Bedouins camped at an oasis.

Lunch is around the corner on 104th Street at Accent. With flower boxes set within a small terrace and an interior of brass-topped tables and timber-panelled nooks, it's doing a good impression of a European wine bar.

Across the street is The Next Act, a bar that looks like the diner it once was. Its clientele of locals is supplemented by actors from the nearby Varscona and Walterdale theatres, especially when the massive Edmonton Fringe Festival hits Old Strathcona each August.

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

THE FACTS

FLY United flies to Edmonton from $2000 economy return ex Melbourne.

STAY Mettera Hotel, 10454 82 Avenue, Edmonton. Varscona Hotel, 8208106 Street, Edmonton.

EAT MKT, 8101 Gateway Blvd. Block 1912, 10361 82 Avenue. Accent, 8223 104 Street. The Next Act, 8224 104 Street. Packrat Louie, 10335 83 Avenue.

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