That is the most common question that is asked by all walks of life and truth be told, I get a kick out of it.

Is it a restaurant? No but it was.
Is it a recording studio? No but we have had musicians play in the front room.
Is it a massage Parlour? Where that came from I don't know…
But no it could be construed as a message parlour due to the chalkboards that I painted on the front panels.

Sometimes I reply that it's my rumpus room because I have some couches configured in the mid-section of the room. Other times when people ask, it is my house of mischief. As I am a MoM (man of mischief) I usually say that it is an art gallery, under renovations. As that is about the most palatable explanation.

In May of 2007, I (Jonathan) moved into the Downtown Core on Stephen Avenue mall. During those heady days of the boom the disarray of street activity and hustle and bustle intrigued him. Repeatedly comments about the worst street in Calgary, that being between Center St. and 1st St. SW made him curious as to the going-ons. As many people would wait on the 1st St. LRT platform facing said street, it was a street-scape that made him sad and mad that it couldn't be a little bit of a happier place. Now it's true that we had a lot of homeless people and street entrepreneurs (wink wink nudge nudge) that were in essence polluting the place and space. One place that continually was mentioned was the Express Café, being a crime-ridden, lowest of the low diner that was a beehive of activity.

Being a restaurant fellow, I decided to investigate the Express Café and entered the restaurant not knowing what to expect. Within 3 steps I was enthralled with the space and the potential that it held. There were numerous attempts to try to purchase the restaurant and try to upgrade it into the funkiest diner that the city had ever seen. Alas some things were just not meant to be. It was a financially challenged business transaction because the property was up for sale with a pending rezoning and redevelopment. That in essence meant that it was a month to month lease which did not provide any security to invest in the project. The restaurant limped on until January of 2012 when it was finally closed for good by the Health Board due to ongoing operational issues.

There is always a market for a low cost affordable diner that services people who are economically challenged for whatever reasons. Although I had intrepridation about digesting certain food items, the home made cheeseburger with homemade fries for $5 was a sweet treat to eat. What I disliked was the negative comments about the place because as Bodiddly said "you do not judge a book by its cover." I felt that the Express fulfilled a critical role in providing homeless people, street people with mental challenges, and the general population with a place and space that wasn't all fancy and dancy.

Case in point: December 21st 2011, I popped in to say hi to Kim Richard and Peter who were the operators of the Express, being a restaurant fella I was confused because I could smell turkey in the oven and inquired why. Kim had responded for Christmas dinner because they were open on Christmas day. When I asked her what did she serve for Christmas dinner it was the following: Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, and turkey gravy all served on a plastic plate with cutlery. When I inquired how much they would charge for a meal like that she responded "$5 including GST." I was shocked and sputtered you should be charging at least twice that and maybe even more. Kim was a really nice lady and she replied to me in no uncertain terms that a lot of her customers could not afford much more than that. I was so impressed as it struck me as a hybrid of Mother Theresa and the Mustard Seed as a business entity in the heart of Downtown.

Unfortunately a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and that applies to all aspects of our city and our society. How people interact with one another affects our quality of life. If you are wondering where this is going read on… Although the Express owners were not people who normally eat chocolates, on December the 23rd I donned my Santa Claus hat and beard bringing a wrapped box of chocolates for them to give to their customers for Christmas dinner. It was approximately 6:00PM and I was just steps from delivering their Christmas present when 3 Peace Officers in their van, spotted Santa Claus and pulled over immediately to investigate splashing pedestrians with the melting slush at the same time. Just as Ol' Santa Claus reached the steps of the Express the bark of the police officer saying "Hey you, what are doing!?" Have you ever heard Santa Claus scowl from behind a beard? Because those police officers sure did. In ten seconds I conveyed to them what I might be doing on December 23rd with a Christmas gift in my hand. This is not to criticize some of our public service workers but it displayed a lack of judgement and bad manners.

It was this Christmas dinner that especially endeared my heart. So lets jump ahead to Spring of 2012 folks…

The property with many others had been purchased and was subject to redevelopment hearings which had dragged on longer than expected. The restaurant was closed with cardboard in the windows and was incurring wear and tear from a leaky roof. In conversations with the Landlord and the Health board, it was not viable to restart it as a restaurant. So what do you do with a place and space that is not beyond repair but beyond a financially viable investment? Oh did I happen to mention that it happens to face one of the busiest LRT platforms in the city, and a recent Calgary Herald article of highly dubious journalism, stated that it was the worst street in Calgary. I was already in love with the place and space so the Landlord and my-self concluded a deal where I would rent the space. They were a little perplexed as to why I would want to rent a desolate spot on a month to month lease with no business model.

Have you ever seen the show called hoarders? Over the years I have collected some good, some bad, and some weird things and was looking for dare I say, a warehouse space to get some of the things organized. Considering that Calgary was Canada's cultural capital in 2012 I was appalled that in the heart of Downtown Calgary, a block away from the Calgary Tower and the Bow building that you would have something that would look straight out of an abandoned Detroit street scene. My first priority was to rip the cardboard out of the windows and put something, I mean anything into the window and consider it to be an improvement. Call it complimentary art for the commuters, to break up the monotamy of them staring at a sad place and space.

So on October the 3rd 2012, I signed the lease and took the place on. I guess if a person says a place is a little bit rough, that could be considered a subjective term. But yes rough would probably suit the description of the place. Leaking roof (14 or 16ft high), buckled tongue and groove floor, and dirty dirty dirty. But oh what a lovely space of 3400 sq ft. Because of the infrastructure and a lack of a business model and the costs associated with having the furnaces and HVAC operating it was not prudent to heat the place and that continues to this day. However some modifications have been made to be able to do some work, mainly heating the front seating booth area. Which if you don't know was actually the Calgary Transit drivers reserved coffee/smoke-room as the LRT platform used to be right in front of the Café. The Café opened in 1980 to service the LRT traffic. One of the things on my bucket list was to do some type of, dare I say Art Gallery and I guess this would be it. From window displays to chalk boards that I painted, it is more or less whatever strikes my fancy to put into the public realm.

I have purposely been vague to pique peoples' curiosity and to stimulate their senses visually and audibly by piping music. Case and point late November 2012 minus 20 with the wind blowing and there is a 50ish couple huddled on the platform waiting for the train in the cold, due to Calgary Transits deplorable customer shelter configuration with one cheesy little speaker playing Daydream Believer, triggered him to do a dance/shuffle around his lady and by the time that he had encircled her it was as if he was dancing to a Queen on a pedestal. Taking her hand he gave her a whirl and a twirl and bent her over and planted a very romantic kiss on her lips, much to the amazement of the frozen bystanders. That's exactly what I am trying to do, to bring some positivity to the dreary industrial LRT platforms that litter our Downtown Core.

For Calgary Transit to call this part of their beautification project is a joke. If people think that standing on the LRT platform staring at this side of the street, you should see it from my vantage point. So in essence the basic gist of where one goes from here is to try to continue and expand this project with a minor fundraising and a major fun-raising plan. At this point in time the property is subject to being redeveloped and that may be April 1st, May, June, July?? That will be determined by the landlord.