FOOD AND DRINK
Your Spirit Guide to Ottawa's Cocktail Scene
Ottawa’s bourbon boom has helped boost the city’s cocktail scene of late, with many bartenders tinkering with old recipes and trying to come up with modern classics. But, as enamoured as the city is with bourbon, it spreads the love around to tequila, gin and rum, as well. Thanks to the new breed of heavy-handed bar staff, it’s never been a better time to be a boozehound in Ottawa.
A lot of craft cocktail bars – especially those that try to bring old cocktails back to life – have the same recipe for décor, lighting, and uniforms, namely a speakeasy entrance, taxidermy under the Edison lights, and mustachioed bartenders clad in suspenders and/or vests. The fact that Little Italy’s Moonroom has none of these trappings, and still churns out first-rate craft cocktails, makes it all the more endearing. Whether it’s an old recipe first concocted by Jerry Thomas back in the 19th century or a modern creation dreamed up by a Moon Room bartender, every cocktail comes with an origin story.
442 Preston Street, 613-231-2525
In the market for a tequila cocktail? Look no further than Ace Mercado, a buoy in the Byward Market for those looking for a fresh cocktail made with top-shelf ingredients. Drool-worthy cocktails include the Black Magic Woman, a rich and spicy mezcal-tequila sour and The Tattersall, a boozy bourbon drink for those who want to stay clear of the blue agave. For those who, on the other hand, want to dive right into tequila country, Ace Mercado is also home to one of Ottawa’s best sipping tequila selections, all of which can be enjoyed with sangrita or verdita, traditional tequila chasers, and elevated “humble” Mexican snacks.
121 Clarence Street, 613-627-2353
Guest Room at Fresco Bistro
Upstairs from the Fresco Bistro on Elgin is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, the Guest Room cocktail bar, a hotspot for those who love bold, brown, and bitter cocktails. Strong flavours like coffee, smoke, and tobacco dominate the drinks list but, for those looking for something tall, light, and refreshing, creative bartenders are only too happy to freestyle and make up a bespoke cocktail in line with the patrons’ desires. And, for people who just want to hang out in the rustic and romantic room with a glass of wine or beer, there’s an excellent selection of that, too.
354 Elgin Street, 613-235-7541
Hintonburg Public House
With so much of the action in Ottawa moving west, a visit to the rapidly formerly-working-class-now-hipper-than-thou Hintonburg neighbourhood is a must, starting with a smart aperitif cocktail at this quaint and quirky tavern. It’s an admittedly small list, but each drink represents serious consideration as to the proportions and seasonality (drinks change with the weather and according to which local ingredients become available) and a small, thoughtful selection is infinitely preferable to a large selection of indifferently prepared drinks. Plus, you might be able to talk the bar staff into a simple off-list cocktail if they aren’t too busy dealing with the demands of the thirsty beer geeks and foodies who delight in the farm-to-table fare.
1020 Wellington Street West, 613-421-5087
“Town loves you and wants you to be happy.” Hard not to like a bar that puts itself out there like that in its mission statement. It’s obviously a friendly little place, with a burgeoning cocktail program that is gaining cred and attention as it flexes its muscles in city-wide cocktail competitions, such as a recent one staged by Niagara region’s Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers. Town won. Bartenders might have had an edge given the restaurant’s intense devotion to local liquor, wine and beer, a mandate that is getting easier to adhere to as more craft distillers and brewers set up shop in Ontario and Quebec.
296 Elgin Street, 613-695-8696
This article was originally published on August 2, 2015