Neighbourhood Watch: Halifax's North End
Almost 11 years ago, Fred Connors opened the eponymous FRED, an upmarket salon/café/gallery space at the crossroads of North and Agricola Streets. Back then, the address was considered a no-go zone.
In the past five years, however, this once-sketchy neighbourhood has become infinitely more fun to hang out in, and a destination that’s definitely worth checking out should you find yourself with a free afternoon or evening in Halifax. “The North End is going through a renaissance. It’s become more vibrant and alive,” says Connors. That’s largely because some of the city’s very best restaurants and coolest little boutiques have set up alongside the ethnic businesses and public housing projects that defined the area until now.
At the same time, as Connors says, “There are still marginalized people, there’s still a slightly wonky vibe here, that isn’t going to change.” That wonky vibe is, of course, part of what makes the North End such an exciting – and real – place to visit.
When exploring this neighbourhood it’s best to start at the beginning: at FRED. From there, if you head south on Agricola you’ll pass the Mid-East Food Centre, where you can pick up baklava, shawarma. Across from that is Gus’ Pub where you can grab a gourmet burger and catch a punk show. Carry on down the road a bit for some of the city’s hottest new restaurants. If you’re lucky, you could happen upon one of the many community events and festivals held in this hood, or at least have some interesting interactions with the locals — whether that be young hip families, artistic types, or people that have grown up there and love it dearly.
Spending time in this neighbourhood offers an interesting, and more intimate, glimpse of the Halifax that real people live in. You’re more likely to find farm-to-table dining and microbrew than lobster suppers and Keith’s beer. Here are some North End places you’ll want to check out when you’re in Halifax:
This fairly new place has something of a cult following, and for good reason — incredibly good cocktails and superbly inventive sharing plates such as donair steam buns, Spanish tortilla and pork loin, and pork loin with duck egg. Be prepared to wait for a table. The restaurant is tiny, but worth it once you’re finally in.
2076 Gottingen St., 902-405-4506
This multi-purpose salon/ gallery/ café space has been at the heart of the North End revival for more than a decade and is still one of the neighbourhood’s coolest places to hang out, whether you’re looking to get a cut from Halifax’s best hairstylist, Fred Connors, admire some local fine art, or eat a beautifully presented and healthful lunch. If you do want a cut you’ll need to book well in advance, as Connors opened a second salon called FRED NYC in Manhattan last year, and divides his time between both spaces.
2606 Agricola St, 902-423-5400
Quite possibly the best restaurant in Halifax, EDNA takes local food to new heights and never disappoints. The lobster salad is dreamy, and brunch offerings decadent, but honestly, EDNA just does everything to perfection.
2053 Gottingen St., 902-431-5683
Considered by some local vinyl aficionados to be the best record store in the city, this small store (seriously tiny, like being in the living room of someone’s small flat) has a great selection of classic and new music to browse through.
2454 Agricola St., 902-407-7228
Dee Dee’s Ice-Cream
From light and refreshing Shaker lemon to rich and dreamy Mexican chocolate, every scoop of DeeDee’s small-batch handmade ice-cream is heavenly. Grab a cone and walk across the street to sit and chill out on the grass at Halifax Common.
5668 Cornwallis St, 902-407-661
Agricola Street Brasserie
Come to this gorgeous and huge dining room for a fine selection of local beers and wines accompanying a delicious menu of small and large plates. The seafood tower, piled high with lobster, oysters, seasonal ceviche, crab, mussels (and more!) is a truly East Coast feast and a sight to behold.
2540 Agricola St., 902-446-7664
Ratinaud French Cuisine
This delectable French deli makes all its fantastic pâtés and charcuterie (wild boar with almonds, anyone?) in house, using mostly locally sourced ingredients. It also stocks a huge selection of cheeses from Nova Scotia and beyond. Ratinaud is a great place to grab everything you need for a gourmet picnic.
2082 Gottingen St., 902-446-8222
This new twist on an Old World delicatessen serves piled-high smoked meat, corned beef sandwiches, loaded latkes, and diner classics such as fish and chips and excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. Servings are huge – and so tasty.
2389 Agricola St., 902-406-2500
Browse the stalls of this kooky indoor market and gallery co-operative for antiques, unique vintage gear, original artworks and all manner of weird and wonderful stuff. There’s also a little café inside.
2180 Gottingen St., 902-406-1254
Ace Burger Co.
You’ll find the city’s tastiest burgers at this joint, located inside Gus’s Pub (where you’ll find some of the best and rawest live music in the city, as well as fun hipster club nights). Grass-fed beef, locally sourced ingredients, and dedication to burger purity make Ace Burger tops.
2605 Agricola St., 902-406-8050
The Seahorse Tavern
Earlier this year the city’s oldest bar moved from downtown Halifax to the North End (in the former Marquee Ballroom), a sure sign of the area’s growing appeal. If you packed your dancing shoes, then this is the live music venue in town you’ll want to check out – especially on Thursday nights, when much-loved local funk band the Mellotones take over.
2037 Gottingen St., 902-423-7200