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Cafe Koi

Downtown Arts Hotspot Evolves In The Hands Of New Owners

by Matt Hanson

Vi An Diep onstage at Koi Cafe with Mehdi Pouragha and Rory Dolinski
Vi An Diep onstage at Koi Cafe with Mehdi Pouragha and Rory Dolinski



Café Koi is a rare, downtown arts and culture hotspot with nightly events dedicated to emerging artists. From spoken word and visual art, to singer-songwriter showcases, top-notch jazz and classical performers, DJ sets and even Francophone improv theatre, Café Koi boasts a diverse range of entertainment. On any given night, artists rub shoulders with businesspeople over a delectable vegetarian-friendly menu.

Koi’s highly respected previous owner, Frederick Tamagi, was often seen at the mixing board and furnished Café Koi with an enduring sense of community. Today, a personable young man named Geoff Zimmel stands behind the mixing board. Having newly acquired Café Koi with business partner Aziz Kapasi, the two are committed to fresh new vibes.

“We like to think of it as an evolution. So, the actual events are not changing. We are bringing our new styles and attitudes to the Koi,” says Zimmel, clarifying the new-vibe mentality. “We are looking to add a hip-hop element to the last Friday night of every month, except for July 5,” he continues, talking over the full bar Koi. “Potentially for Wednesday night, we’d like to do a live downbeat DJ on deck to work with live instrumentation.”

Classical Revolution performers and world musician Vi An Diep were consulted for new stylistic visions. “We were on the same wavelength in terms of having a combination of electronica with live instrumental artists collaborating in one space to generate a really fresh expression,” says Diep, who often frequents the Thursday night jazz open-mic with eclectic ensembles.

“Koi is one example that develops the idea of a cultural legacy for artists to really feel at home and that they have a platform to develop their art form and give back to cultural richness,” Diep tells me prior to her TEDxYYC performance. “I’d like to encourage Calgary entrepreneurs who run a business with the intention to have a music venue status, to really get behind that vision, and really invest in that business venture all the way.”

Francophone Improv cooperative, Théâtre à Pic, has held events there for over three years. “Koi has been a nice fit, a small place, intimate, central, chill, a niche place,” says Inouk Touzin, artistic director of Théâtre à Pic, over the phone from Saskatchewan. “Koi attracts a clientele that is open-minded to different cultural experiences. We’ve had really fun times with people who have come and just decided to stay. Improv is definitely accessible.” The next season will launch there in September.

“People can feel they have a connection to French-language culture. This is what it means to have a full Canadian experience,” Touzin says. “It is cool that an English-language business offers this, that many would not have access to.” Voicing the Francophone experience, they represent 10 per cent of Calgary’s population.

Early this month, “Koi will be an alternative venue for Stampeders who might want a break from the country and western theme that they will have across the city,” says Zimmel. Potentially offering an exclusive band for Stampede’s Wednesday evening, they will remain true to local culture for out-of-towners and regulars alike.

Check out their events schedule at

This article was originally published for BeatRoute on July 4, 2013


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