Spotlight: Infinity Ultra Lounge
As his part in helping to revitalize the downtown core for the LGBTQ+ community, Allan Carswell has harnessed his diverse experience in business and travel to open Infinity Ultra Lounge, a unique community-focused event space in the historic Grain Exchange Building, and its upstairs sister cocktail lounge, Bar Patricia. Infinity Ultra Lounge will be the place to be after our Pride Kickoff event as the official after-party space with a special performance by Amy Hef and Allan is generously opening the space to attendees with complementary cover for VIP ticket holders and half-priced cover for our guests. We sat down with Allan to talk about what it’s like operating a business during rocky economic times in Calgary.
Pride In Business: Can you tell me a bit about your background in Calgary?
Allan Carswell: I am a born and raised Calgarian and spent the majority of my life here. I’ve worked in all kinds of different businesses but more recently I've taken on more of an entrepreneurial role. I'm a proud Calgarian and obviously the city has been going through a bit of a tough time economically and it's kind of hard to watch what’s been happening and just sit on the sidelines.
PIB: What was the motivation behind opening Infinity Ultra Lounge?
AC: Almost a year ago, we bought the Civic Tavern, and continued it as a unique one of a kind spot in downtown Calgary. Although I wasn’t actively looking for it, the opportunity came up with the space that is now Infinity Ultra Lounge and Bar Patricia. I actually have a fair bit of history in this location. I've have done a lot of different things in my life and not a lot of people know that I started university as a music major and used to be a professional musician and played jazz in this same space when it was called Beat Niq. Infinity is located in the Grain Exchange building, which is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in Calgary and when it was built, it was actually the tallest building in Alberta. When I was a little kid, my grandmother used to work in a retail space upstairs and I remember being in the Grain Exchange from the time I was really small.
I spent a lot of my career working in office towers downtown and always felt that it would be nice to have an LGBTQ+ space right in the downtown core. I like the idea of a downtown space that's truly inclusive and accessible to everybody of all different backgrounds. I'm trying to do my part, I guess. Part of the reason Calgary struggles a little bit is it's been too focused on the energy business so I’m trying to help revitalize the core and bring some other different kinds of things that might start bringing more people downtown.
PIB: How would you describe the vibe at Infinity Ultra Lounge?
AC: I think most people that know me know that I also spend a fair bit of time outside of Canada, so, I think I've seen a lot of things and I'm just trying to bring something that is a little different but also complimentary to what we already have in Calgary. I'm trying to add something a bit new and different to the equation so when people from the LGBTQ+ community are going out on the weekend or whatever, that there's a bit more variety. I’m a believer that the more diverse options we have, it benefits other businesses and the whole community by bringing more people out.
I’ve called it Infinity, as the intent is to come as you are. You can just be yourself here, and feel comfortable. The concepts of being un-boundless and infinite possibilities. I’ve also branded it as an “Ultra Lounge” because, to me, it's more than a bar or a lounge. We have live music, drag shows, acrobats, pole dancers and, you'll see as things go forward, we'll be bringing in all different kinds of unique entertainment. The focus is on local performers and artists, to give them a home to be creative and help support the local community. Upstairs is Bar Patricia, a restaurant-cocktail lounge. The name pays homage to Princess Patricia who had a significant history in Calgary and was one of the first strong iconic women that helped shape western Canada. Patricia was also the name of my Mother.
We also serve food, which if I do say is quite tasty with focusing on share plates and being social. We are licensed for minors until 9 pm, so we've even had some LGBTQ+ couples in there with children — which I love — as well as the ability to do some all-ages events which we will be kicking off during Pride.
Some people might think I'm a little crazy opening these new spaces in this current economic climate— maybe I am — but I think this is one of the most unique and beautiful spaces in Calgary. As a proud Calgarian, I'd like to put Calgary on the map and, instead of everyone going to other places for vacations etc., why not have people from Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal come here. Let's work together and create some really fun, cool stuff here in Calgary and help make Calgary a more fun destination to attract more people downtown and be a more vibrant place.
PIB: Like you said, most people may perceive it as a rocky time to be starting a brand-new business in Calgary. What have you learned since opening the doors to Infinity?
AC: You know, certainly, I've learned a lot and continue to do so. We're following a brand and sticking to that but I'm also focused on listening to people and getting feedback on things that the community wants.
PIB: Whether it's with the Civic Tavern, Bar Patricia or Infinity Ultra Lounge, how have you found navigating Calgary as an entrepreneur?
AC: It's never easy. I think maybe it's a little different for me having been born and raised here. Calgary was significantly smaller when I was born than it is now and I think my experience through my various trips outside the city, and different paths I've crossed like music, business and meeting other entrepreneurs, have helped me connect to the greater community. When I think about my vision for an LGBTQ+ space, it's one that's truly inclusive. I've always felt like it's not just about us in the community, but also our allies. For people in our community to be totally accepted, it's not only about us accepting each other, but also accepting people from the greater community of Calgary. I love it when I've got customers that come in that say they've never been in an LGBTQ+ space before or have not in a very long time, and they had a great time and that they'll be back. It's building those bridges amongst the greater community that can be really impacting.From the entrepreneur side, by doing that it's also reaching out to a bigger audience. I want this place to be truly inclusive, I'm trying to really target everyone from the LGBTQ+ community, not just certain segments. I want everyone to feel equally as comfortable. Maybe because I was born and raised here and I've had different experiences through my past, and perhaps I'm one of those people that can connect people from different backgrounds and can help bridge different communities together and kind of weave that community fabric so to speak.