FOOD AND DRINK
Top Spots of Ottawa's Newest Hot Hood: Centretown
Once upon a time, all the action was to be found in the Byward Market. As the demographics seemed to get younger and younger in the market, though, the more discerning patrons moved in the direction of Centretown, a neighbourhood that went from sketch to cool, in part, through the visionaries that founded these bellwether bars in a slightly down-trodden neighbourhood.
Practically headquarters for Ottawa’s most serious food and drink people, three-year-old Union 613 is known for communal seating, playing nice with other bars and restaurants, its own You Tube channel, and its sincere devotion to bourbon and other brown liquors. In fact, the bar even hosts whiskey classes, designed to help people learn the difference “between peat and Pete.” To go along with the bourbon obsession, food is southern-fried, featuring Frito Pie, cornbread and, of course, fried chicken. As if that weren’t enough to warrant a visit, the speakeasy bar behind a bookshelf in the basement is home to one of the city’s top cocktail programs.
315 Somerset Street West, 613-231-1010
On busy nights, it can be hard to score a seat at this tiny boite, but it’s well worth the wait for a spot at this raucous and rustic raw bar, with some of the city’s best seafood served up in an atmosphere reminiscent of a bona fide Maritime kitchen party. Staff play music from a selection of old albums on an old record player behind the bar, which is pumping out sturdy and fresh cocktails and rounds of shots. Despite the lack of pretension, the wine list is expertly curated and the Clocktower brewers have recently created a Whalesbone stout that’s currently available to wash down beer battered clams and copious oysters.
430 Bank Street, 613-231-8569
Two years in the making, Fauna finally opened its doors in early 2015, making it one of the city’s most anticipated new restaurants. As you might expect, it didn’t take long for the beautiful people to sidle up to the bar and start creating some serious buzz. With novel cocktails made from Canadian products, such as Ungava and Dillon’s gin, local craft beer, and a lovely ever-changing wine list that represents both old world and new, Fauna lives up to the hype. Spot-on décor, dedicated and knowledgeable staff, and exquisite small plates seal the deal and secure this bar’s place as a new institution.
425 Bank Street, 613-563-2862
Under the heading of “Gentrification, Centretown” add the latest, El Camino, an impossibly hip taco bar with cutting-edge cocktails and perfectly paired wine, much of it by Norman Hardie, the Prince Edward County vintner with a cult following, especially in Eastern Ontario. The bar is centre stage at this pared-down and raw space and, as we might expect, much of the raw energy emanates from this central perch. Super-affordable and perfectly tasty tacos will cost you $4 apiece, leaving plenty of cash to start to sample your way through the tequila selection. Watch the space next door for the soon-to-be-opened sister restaurant, Datsun.
380 Elgin Street, 613-422-2800
A legendary industry stronghold, Oz Kafé, on the far east border of Centertown, was one of the leading establishments that helped make the neighbourhood what it is. The drinks may be slightly vodka-centric and the food may not be the trendiest. But everything here is done with integrity and sincere care. Oz Kafé has legions of loyal followers because the people who work here genuinely love their jobs, which translates into a banging atmosphere at the bar, even when it isn’t chef appreciation night or one of the many other industry events that continues to pack them in.
361 Elgin Street, 613-234-0907