Location can make or break a restaurant, but even a great location, like a spot in Calgary’s bustling Beltline neighbourhood, isn’t enough to guarantee success. You also need curb appeal.

“The previous restaurant didn’t get a lot of traffic,” says interior designer Courtney Molyneaux of the vegan spot that occupied this space prior to its newest resident, Bar Chouette. “The room wasn’t open or inviting, and the lack of lighting made it look like a vacant space from the street.”

Neon sign with the words 'Je T'aime' against a patterned background of black and red lips.
Molyneaux chose Andy Warhol-inspired wallpaper patterns (right and below) for both bathrooms to give the restaurant an underground and edgy vibe.

Neon sign with the words 'C'est La Vie' against a patterned background of black and white portraits.

Determined to protect Bar Chouette from the same fate, Molyneaux and the team at Amanda Hamilton Interior Design brainstormed ways that the contemporary French bistro could grab the attention of patrons passing by.

First and foremost, Molyneaux brightened up the restaurant with Globo pendants from Lightform; hung at varying heights, they create a cozy, intimate atmosphere that beckons people to come in for dinner and late-night drinks. She also refreshed the walls with plaster to give the room a more warm and lived-in look. “We wanted to put a cool edge on a vintage interior without it feeling too old-school,” she explains.

Neon sign with the words 'C'est Chouette' on a textured wall in a cozy seating area with mustard-yellow chairs and round tables.
“That is the most Instagrammed part of the restaurant,” says Molyneaux of this seating area. Visible from the curb at night, it also contributes to Bar Chouette’s street presence.

With items such as gochujang-glazed squid and a carrot “hot dog‚ on the menu˛plus a playlist that’s heavy on hip hop and ’90s jams, Bar Chouette is far from a traditional French restaurant. And owner and chef Duncan Ly thought the design should reflect that. “He wanted it to be eclectic and playful,” recalls Molyneaux. “He was like, ‘Make it French, like the food belongs here, but let’s have fun with the interior.’”

Setting the restaurant apart from everything else in the area was also important, so Molyneaux incorporated custom neon signs from Neonific, funky wallpaper from Flavor Paper, vintage mirrors and quirky art prints. It all comes together to create a look that’s very cool˛or, should we say, chouette.

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Two framed abstract artworks on a wall, featuring a person with planets and clouds for a head and a couple dancing.
“The space would feel so different without the plaster walls,” says Molyneaux of her favourite design feature. “They have so much life and elevate the look.”

Modern restaurant interior with long tables, wooden chairs, round pendant lights and framed artwork on the walls.

This story was originally published in the May/June 2024 print issue of Western Living magazine.