Downtown Calgary is lined with so many interchangeable bars it can be damn near impossible to figure out exactly where you want to listen to Usher on any given evening.
But like any city, search long enough and you are bound to find some hidden treasures. One such treasure is The Soda Lounge, tucked between the Hop in Brew and the Drum and Monkey on 2 Ave SW. A combination lounge, cafe, art gallery and live music venue, the Soda is steadily becoming an attraction due to its unique philosophy of giving back to the community.
"For every show that we do, Soda gives a portion back to the community in some way," says Leanne Shamrakov, owner and operator of RX Productions, which works exclusively with the Soda Lounge. "If the band is interested in a certain charity, then a portion goes to that charity. If not, then the Kids Cancer Care Foundation is RX Production's resident charity, and a portion of the proceeds go there. I'm really strict about that. The only thing that makes these shows successful is that these charities are benefiting from them."
The community interests don't end there. Beyond the focus of local charities, Soda also takes pride in bringing Calgary's artists to the forefront. All the art hanging on the walls of the bar is the work of local artists and available for sale, with Soda taking none of the profits from it, and local bands are always at the centre of attention. During her first ever show for RX, Shamrakov didn't realize the level of success she has achieved could be possible in charity work.
"I realized at that time that there's the potential to do something like that. There are so many good artists in this city, and people are so generous," she says. "I think that giving back like this brings out the best in the bands, and the clientele that come to the bar."
Don't fear, however. The Soda Lounge isn't the kind of place you are going to walk into and see a bunch of neo-hippies snapping their fingers to beat poetry, or charity booths lining the walls begging for money. The Soda's main appeal is being an alternative to the R&B blaring clones that overpopulate the downtown night life with flashing neon signs. The bar attracts an eclectic crowd, all of whom are drawn to the more laid back
"It's an intimate, comfortable place to be," says Shamrakov. "It's not pretentious and it's not one of those places you go to get as hammered as you can. The crowd is really genuine. It's just a place to go and listen to some good music, and appreciate the city's art."