Ottawa's ByWard Goes Upmarket
Excitement grows in the centre of the Canadian capital with the arrival of new boutiques, restaurants and at least one swish hotel
We’ll admit that ByWard Market, the central core of old Ottawa, didn’t seem all that exciting to us as a travel destination, despite its longtime popularity.
It’s time to put aside those misgivings: The area bounded by Sussex, Rideau and York streets has changed and grown up a little – it's even become edgy. Today’s ByWard is all high-end clothing boutiques, refined dining, a massive shopping centre and urban, minimalist hotels. The vibe of the area is relaxed during the day, and the streets are mostly dotted with stress-free locals window-shopping or on their way to lunch. In the evening, Ottawa’s student population stakes its claim, cluttering every pub, restaurant and club, and filling the streets with a buoyant energy.
There’s more evolution in store. A new light rail transit station, set to open next year, will finally create an entrance to the heart of the market without having to drive. A trendy new shopping strip on north Dalhousie Street feels both creative and avant-garde in a way that defies the old boring-Ottawa stereotype. There, you’ll find everything from high fashion, local artwork and artisan chocolate.
Meanwhile, ByWard Market will serve as a focal point for Ottawa’s 150th anniversary year. From May to September, for example, an interactive art installation made from transparent sea containers will amuse passersby on York Street, just east of Sussex.
If you’re visiting Ottawa in the near future, here are Billy’s recommendations on where to stay, eat, drink and shop in ByWard Market.
The Andaz ByWard Market is a minimalist hotel with a barely-there front desk and lots of open workspace. Andaz is Hyatt’s boutique hotel brand; opened in 2016, the Ottawa property is the first in Canada for the chain. Thanks to the availability of power sources and plush seating, it feels like a co-working space, but with glamorous touches of copper and rose gold throughout. Sprawl out with the laptop wherever you want. Catering to the hip business traveller, especially those both adventure-seeking and young, the Andaz is also discreet: Staff are almost as invisible as their check-in desk. They’re there when you need them, but they’re not pestering you when you don’t. Try to request a room overlooking Ottawa’s Parliament buildings and the Gatineau Hills, just because they’re pretty to look at from the dinette in your room.
Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market
Just a five-minute walk from the Andaz on George Street, take a seat at the bar and watch as the locals pile in for weekday lunch and a midday glass of wine at La Bottega Nicastro. It’s an Italian grocery store and café, with a sit-down pizza-pasta-sandwich joint towards the rear. The Nicastro family have run their Ottawa store for five generations, and still cluster in the kitchen and chitchat with you while you wait. Keep an eye out for their daily pasta specials and killer porchetta sandwich – and then take home a choice Italian import, such as creamy burrata, biscotti or pungent olive oil.
On Sussex Avenue, clothing boutiques Roadtrip and Schad make you feel like you’re walking into a friend’s showroom. In Ottawa, it seems, there’s no pressure to shop in a hurry. Both boutiques carry a carefully curated collection of designer clothing for men and women that you probably won’t find at the big stores like Nordstrom. Roadrip was made for the lover of casual wear, and carries Ben Sherman, Fred Perry and Penguin for men, and Soia & Kyo, Yumi and Fidelity for women. Schad suits somewhat more upscale tastes and price points, carrying lines from John Varvatos and Smythe.
On north Dalhousie Street, the new high fashion boutique Lgebra Concepts transports you outside of Ottawa entirely. Step inside, and it’s almost as if you’re in a menswear showroom in New York’s Meatpacking District. The space is sparkling clean, an unspoiled white that showcases every angular cut and seam in the men’s jackets, which hug and fall from the male body effortlessly. The owners are just as fashionable as the clothes: Lgebra Concepts is run by husband-and-wife team Mulhat Mzee and Isah Alsahi. Mzee is an Ottawa native while Alsahi used to be based in Vegas. When he moved to Ottawa in 2016 to be with his wife, he saw the need for more high fashion, and Lgebra Concepts was born.
Meanwhile, Isabelle Boutique (only a few steps down the road from Lgebra Concepts) is as cluttered as a old-time Parisian fashion boutique. Pieces of clothing hang from every cranny, but all of it is elegant, timeless, and expensive. Here, you’ll find collections from Sarah Pacini, Luisa Cerano and Nadya Toto.
GIFTS and Souvenirs
North Dalhousie Street conceals a ton of treasures to bring home to loved ones. For the chocolate lovers, there’s Cylie Chocolats, where every ingredient is made from scratch, from hand-painted matcha green tea chocolate bites to salted caramel. And if you’re looking for presents to bring home for the home, Goods Shop has them. It’s a cozy square space manned by millennials in thick-rimmed glasses, but this knick-knack shop is more modern than kitsch. Their selection includes one-of-a-kind ceramic mugs, scented soy-wax candles, posters drawn by local Ottawa artists.
The adorable Wunder Kammer (think Anthropologie, but authentic) offers dainty, handmade necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings, some by local jewellery designers. For something more intimate, Amanda May Lingerie carries the most delicate – and beautiful – pieces from coveted lingerie brands like Agent Provocateur and Fleur of England.
Once all shopping’s got the best of you, ByWard Market’s best places to get pampered include hipster barbershop House of Barons, where you can get most services, from a shave, beard trim and cleanup for $30 and under. The cool, anti-beauty bar aesthetic of Smudge Beauty Bar (open-concept space, clusters of free-flowing potted plants and birch floors) is a refreshing change from pretentious and stuffy beauty salons. Here, services include manicures, lash extension and facials.
House of Barons
DINNER & DRINKS
A staple in ByWard Market for shared snacks paired with wine is Play Food and Wine. It’s the brainchild of Stephen Beckta and chef Michael Moffatt, the gentlemen behind another longstanding Ottawa food institution, Beckta Dining and Wine. Play’s ambience – polished in its decor but down-to-earth in its service – as well as its tapas menu and crisp service are suitable for group dining, including business meetings.
Play Food & Wine
At last, you haven’t really done ByWard Market without a nightcap at Chateau Lafayette. The only remaining relic of ByWard Market from the 1850s is the area’s famous pub, “The Laff,” as Ottawa natives affectionately call it. You’ll find the dark, no-frills bar packed to the brim with locals every day of the week. Pick a bar stool, sit and drink. That’s the motto at The Laff, which carries a few wines on tap and impressive array of local beers.