Hidden Halifax

You may think you know this town, but it has more wonders than you can dream up in your philosophy class. Join us as we put together this collection of little-known spots in the HRM that lead you down the garden path and back out again, ice cream in hand.

Almon Billiards and Social Club

6050 Almon Street, 454-7665

Turn down an alley on Almon Street and with any luck you'll run into the right kind of outlaws and scofflaws.

"Either you know where it is or you don't," remarks Dick, an Almon Billards's bartender, with raised-eyebrow sarcasm on how to find the club. Behind him sits a line of pals at the bar attentively watching Corner Gas, while all the pool tables go untouched.

The cat's out of the bag.

For a great pool hall, travel about a couple blocks west from Robie on Almon Street, turn left into parking lot just past an unlit neon sign reading "Rack n' Roll." It's gloomy and nearly windowless, but that certainly does not detract from its charm.

Barring mid-week league nights, their 10 tables don't tend to fill up. A game will set you back $8.75 with the second hour free, which trumps some of the better-known pool halls in town.

On Saturday mornings one of the bartenders, Ken, gives free lessons to novice players. Or you could try your hand at a game of klabberjass or crazy rummy in the card room. Before too long, you just may be able to shark and hustle enough for next year's tuition.

Burke-Gaffney Observatory

Saint Mary's University, Loyola Residence Building, 496-8257

For those who are looking from some weird science on a Saturday night, take a peek through the telescope at Halifax's only observatory. Atop 22 flights of stairs in the Saint Mary's Loyola residence you can take a gander at a star that's 22 light years away. On clear nights, a professor and student lead tour groups into a small, red-lit room. A procession of outer-space lovers will slowly orbit around the telescope for their chance to look up at the stars, nebulas or Jupiter and its many moons.

It's a great way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's invention, marking 2009 the International Year of Astronomy or perhaps just a good spot for a nerdy date.

Tours run every Saturday night in September, weather permitting, and every first and third Saturday into the fall at either 9 or 10pm depending on when it gets dark. Be sure to call the observatory's information line for tour schedules.

Robyn's Dairy Bar

6169 Quinpool Road, 422-5217

Amongst behind-the-counter bargain goods and convenience store fixtures lies the best lemon gelato is six counties, with more citrus than you can shake a stick at. In fact, it quite often comes with a verbal warning (danger: sour) to enquiring tasters. But if tart doesn't float your boat, they have other flavours too. Big hits peach, cherry, chocolate banana and blueberry are made from all-natural ingredients in store.

Lutheran Prayer Garden

2096 Windsor Street

From Robyn's, it's just a hop, skip and a jump over to a shady garden. Adjoining the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection on Windsor Street, the one with the oft-clever signs, is a small garden where you can rest your weary soul, and feet. To find the entrance, go through the parking lot next door and around back. It's an all-out delightful retreat in the depths of the city. Everyone is invited to enjoy the prayer garden in whatever way suits your fancy.

Alleycat's Basement Bike Shop

6142 North Street

Two cool cats decided to get out of the salt mines of the work-a-day world and start their own underground bike shop (quite literally). The shop is no more than a basement packed to the brim with bikes, which spill out onto the sidewalk from a small door.

Alex Trembly and business partner Rian Davidson refurbish mountain, road, hybrid, kids' and BMX bikes and scavenge for old bike parts to build the custom Frankenstein of your dreams. Bikes start at $50 and tune-ups start at $10, making Alleycat's a good deal about town. You can find the shop on North across the street from Lawton's. It's open from 10am to 5pm on weekdays and sporadically on weekends. Get it while the getting's good. The shop will close up in October for the season.

Just as a heads-up to our new students: be sure to have a helmet---it's the law in Nova Scotia. And lock your bikes up to ward off those pesky thieves.

Williams Lake

Across the street from 330 Purcells Cove Road

An afternoon at Williams Lake will make you swoon with Canadian pride. Loons, canoes and beavers, oh my!

Williams is relatively unsung, so it's a great way to avoid the helter-skelter of more popular Chocolate Lake.

If you're going by bike or car, you can spot a few paths to Williams Lake along Purcell's Cove Road, about a five-minute drive past the Armdale rotary. By bus it's also easy peasy: Catch the number 15 Purcells Cove that departs from Mumford Terminal next to the Halifax Shopping Centre. Get off at the third stop after you pass Williams Lake Road. About 50 feet further down the road from bus stop, there's an entrance to a well-trodden path. From there it's about a three-minute walk down to the lake. The water is clean, calm and beautiful thanks to the good stewards with the Williams Lake Conservation Company. In return, they only ask keep the lake campfire- and litter-free, don't feed the ducks and keep away from the loons.

Atlantica Hotel Lounge

Seasons Wine Bar, 1980 Robie, 490-3331

With ever-dwindling venues around town, whether by fire, finances or threatened by noise complaints, it's great to see a new door open to music in Halifax. The Atlantica Hotel Lounge, AKA Seasons, near the Common where Quinpool Road meets Robie Street, is now planning on hosting monthly shows.

Seasons bartender Dereck Thibault took on the project of organizing the new hotel's first show last month. Brent Randall's Las Vegas steamy lounge act aspirations were one step closer to being realized, alongside the dream team of Laura Peek and the Winning Hearts. More shows are in the works.

Earlier show times, a central location, a prim and proper atmosphere and no cover charges could make Atlantica the next cool spot. It also serves as great alternative for a coffee or an afternoon drink in the Quinpool area with a spectacular view fit for surveying the crowd. How film noir.

On Friday nights between 5-7pm, Seasons has a Potini Bar (mashed potatoes with a variety of toppings, served in a cosmo glass, free when you buy a drink). If that's what you're into.

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