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Cham­pagne, fon­due and an en­chant­ing back­story bring big charm to tiny bar

If you’ve walked or driven through Bridge­land you’ve prob­a­bly seen it: a bright pink build­ing that looks too small to be a house, but prob­a­bly also too small to be a restau­rant. The charm­ing lit­tle struc­ture has al­ways been des­ig­nated as a com­mer­cial space — most re­cently it was Grate and Bar­rel, a sassy lit­tle grilled cheese restau­rant. But the build­ing per­haps fi­nally found its des­tiny when it re­cently opened as Moon­light and Eli, a uniquely spe­cific fon­due and cham­pagne bar.

Owned and op­er­ated by Mhairi O’Don­nell (who was also be­hind Grate and Bar­rel as well as the now-de­funct Mis­sion Diner and The Loop) and her husband, mu­si­cian Rus­sell Broom, Moon­light and Eli qui­etly opened this July. Af­ter find­ing old pho­to­graphs of her then- 20-some­thing late grand­mother with an uniden­ti­fied young man that were all care­fully la­belled “Moon­light and Eli,” O’Don­nell fan­ta­sized about one day open­ing a cham­pagne bar to pay trib­ute to what had be­come an en­chant­ing fam­ily mys­tery.

“It was the most at­mo­spheric and ro­man­tic thing I’ve ever seen,” O’Don­nell says. “I knew that one day I wanted to open a cham­pagne bar and call it Moon­light and Eli.”

O’Don­nell’s grand­mother’s hand­writ­ing from one of those photos makes up the restau­rant’s logo and one of the photos of her and the enig­matic Eli takes up con­sid­er­able real es­tate in the tiny restau­rant. And it is in­deed as tiny as it ap­pears on the street — there are a hand­ful of ta­bles within, a back room that’s big enough for a group of eight, and a long(ish) bar to sit at. The kitchen is a small strip that runs along the west wall of the build­ing, just big enough to prep bread and other small items to dip and a stove to get the vin­tage Le Crue­set pots of fon­due go­ing be­fore they get placed on small can­dle-pow­ered burn­ers at the ta­ble.

As for Moon­light and Eli’s menu, it is lit­er­ally just cham­pagne and fon­due. O’Don­nell wanted to pick one dish that she could do well, that worked within the restau­rant’s tight quar­ters.

Cus­tomers can choose from an al­ways-avail­able house fon­due with em­men­tal and gruyere cheeses ($25 per per­son), bread cubes, green ap­ples and pick­les, with op­tional add-ons like meat­balls ($10), grape toma­toes ($4) and steamed new pota­toes ($4). O’Don­nell also comes up with a spe­cial each week, al­ways with an em­pha­sis on alpine cheese. The restau­rant also serves a few bar snacks and a choco­late dessert fon­due ($20 for two peo­ple).

As for the drinks, when O’Don­nell says Cham­pagne, she ac­tu­ally means Cham­pagne: there are half a dozen le­git­i­mate Cham­pagnes on the menu, with both bot­tles and glass pours avail­able. Since the real stuff doesn’t come cheap, Moon­light and Eli also of­fers a nice se­lec­tion of non-cham­pagne sparkling wines and some sparkling cock­tails.

Moon­light and Eli is lo­cated at 627 1st Ave. N.E. (look for that lit­tle pink house) and can be con­tacted at 587-907-8316 (text only) or moon­ligh­

Nights and Week­ends, the popup restau­rant that’s been op­er­at­ing out of the down­town Meat and Bread sandwich shop dur­ing off-hours, has moved. Nights and Week­enders can now get their fix at Shiki Menya in Bridge­land (827 1st Ave. N.E.), a restau­rant that is typ­i­cally only open at lunch. To cel­e­brate the new host restau­rant, chef Nick Berenyi’s first menu fo­cuses on Ja­panese drink­ing food and small plates, with yak­i­tori skew­ers served over rice or in a bao bun (prices vary), an in­cred­i­bly flavour­ful kohlrabi salad with mint and daikon ($10), and a wagyu skirt steak with sesame crème and vanilla ($38). There’s also a new col­lec­tion of cock­tails made with in­gre­di­ents like Ja­panese whiskey, plum wine, and matcha.

As with the old lo­ca­tion, the menu con­cept changes ev­ery few months. Nights and Week­ends is open Thurs­day, Fri­day and Satur­day nights. For more in­for­ma­tion or to make reser­va­tions, visit night­sandweek­

For some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, food lovers can cel­e­brate friends and fam­ily while sup­port­ing a good cause next month by par­tic­i­pat­ing in The Big So­cial, a cross-Canada food party that will ben­e­fit Com­mu­nity Food Cen­tres, in­clud­ing the lo­cal cen­tre run by The Alex here in Cal­gary. The Alex is invit­ing Cal­gar­i­ans to host their own par­ties in their homes or of­fices from Nov. 1 to 10, ask­ing guests to bring a do­na­tion rather than a bot­tle of wine or a gift. Par­tic­i­pants get to break bread with their favourite peo­ple, and all funds go to­ward help­ing Cana­di­ans who are strug­gling with food in­se­cu­rity. To reg­is­ter and learn more, visit big­so­

Lo­cal farm-to-ta­ble de­liv­ery ser­vice Cul­ti­vatR is part­ner­ing with three lo­cal brew­eries to launch a din­ing se­ries dubbed The Fu­ture of Food. Each din­ner will see the brew­ery’s chef cre­at­ing a meal with Cul­ti­vatR’s farm part­ners’ prod­ucts, then pair­ing them with their drinks. The first one is Wed­nes­day, Oct. 23 at the Dandy Brew­ing Com­pany with sub­se­quent din­ners on Nov. 14 at Cit­i­zen Brew­ing and Nov. 28 at Sun­nyCider. For tick­ets and more in­for­ma­tion visit cul­ti­ eliz­a­ twit­­a­boothy In­sta­­a­booth

It was the most … ro­man­tic thing I’ve ever seen. I knew that one day I wanted to open a cham­pagne bar and call it Moon­light and Eli.

O’Don­nell’s grand­mother’s hand­writ­ing makes up the logo of the Cham­pagne and fon­due bar in Bridge­land.

Own­ers Rus­sell Broom and Mhairi O’Don­nell of Moon­light and Eli, which was in­spired by old pho­to­graphs of O’Don­nell’s late grand­mother. PHOTOS: JIM WELLS

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