As hip and cosmopolitan as modern day Calgary is, there’s no doubt at all that it is still very much a cowboy town. Men walk through the shopping streets in ten-gallon hats, and there are western outfitters next to the swanky designer stores. If you want to experience Calgary’s cowboy culture at it’s finest, then you have to head over to Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall, the ultimate cowboy bar. I’d booked to have a line-dancing lesson there, and in the long cab ride out to the suburbs where Ranchman’s is located, I stressed about making a complete fool of myself in front of the locals. 

Ranchman’s is just fantastic and completely authentic (which is why the bar scenes in the movie Broke Back Mountain were filmed there). It has been in operation since 1972, and there are photographs of rodeo champions and queens lining the walls and western memorabilia hung everywhere, including champion’s saddles around the dance-floor. We nursed bourbons while working up the courage to approach the dance instructor, Steve D’Arnot, easily identifiable by his red satin and rhinestone-embellished shirt, and the fact that he was the best dancer amongst the ten couples on the floor. 

We introduced ourselves and chatted for a minute. D’Arnot said nobody actually line-dances there but he’d clear the busy dance floor for us to have our lesson and I was mortified – the last thing I wanted was people thinking, “Look at the tourist.” He offered instead to take me around with a two-step and a cha-cha, which is what everyone else was doing. We did that, and had a great time, because I could just about keep up and didn’t feel like too much of a fool. 

We stayed a while after our dance instruction, and had a few more drinks while listening to a fantastic country band that started up. Ranchman’s has such a great atmosphere, and is really an essential spot to visit if you are even remotely interested in country music and traditional cowboy culture. Oh yeah, and there’s a mechanical bull, should you feel the need to make a fool of yourself properly.