When the new Edmonton Brewery District opened, locals were concerned it would be another strip mall full of nothing but chain stores. But one establishment is pulling its local weight.
Wilfred’s is a casual bar and diner located in the old Molson Brewery administrative building on the district’s northwest corner. It’s in a heritage building that, like many of its neighbours, had sat vacant for a while. Before owners Shaun and Nicole Brandt opened its doors last summer, they were a bit nervous that the aesthetic, with its white walls and straightforward layout, was too minimalist and clean. But that changed upon completion of the space’s final feature — a massive mural between the windows on the west wall, depicting a vibrant park scene, full of balloons, ponds and animals as people (similar to the mural in Bemelmans Bar in New York’s world-famous Carlyle Hotel). As soon as it went up, the room became colourful and warm. “It was the last thing we did before we opened,” Shaun says. “And it’s by far the thing most people remember.”
The idea for the mural, commissioned by Vanguard Works, came from a three-month trip to Paris, where the couple was impressed by the liveliness of the public parks. “We were inspired by how communal the parks were, even in the dead of winter,” Shaun explains. “There was always something going on, [they were] always full of people.”
In step with the European influence, the work is full of stylistic and direct references to Babar the Elephant and The Adventures of Tintin, as well as Madeline and Where the Wild Things Are. Shaun’s business partner’s dog, Sinatra, makes an appearance, there’s a restaged photo of Monet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” rabbits setting a wonky table, and if you look closely, you’ll see an alligator spy failing to be sneaky. It’s a coloured-in storyboard come to life, and what was last to go up has leapt off the wall and become central to the store’s branding, with the characters adorning menus, mugs and merchandise, none more prominent than Wilfred the bear. “He’s like the mayor of this fake place we created,” Shaun smiles.
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A customer could be forgiven for thinking the mural’s a print, or even that the building is new, because both are so modern and bright. That may sound counterintuitive for a business housed in a historical building, but it was actually the point. “ [Our] goal in taking a historic building was to make another hundred years be a successful part of the community,” Shaun says. “The way [the mural] is brought into all the other elements, it really pulls in that feeling of, this is a place people have invested in to be, hopefully, an institution, and be in the photos on the wall of whatever is here in a hundred years. That’s the goal.”