Sunday, 24 February 2013

A Guide to Centretown Pubs

a.m.k. likes drinking and eating and likes Centretown and  doesn't like many other things.

Why you shouldn't drink in the Market

When you want to go to a club, most barely legal (and fake ID) people go to the Market. The Market is kind of like the strip in Hull or Ouellette Ave in Windsor.

I think most people, after age 21 or so, when they want to go out, they want to be able to talk to their friends. We lead busy lives and it's hard to connect with everyone we'd like to in our lives. That's why pubs get my vote instead of clubs, not to mention clubs seem to really just be a place to try to pick up strangers to have casual sex. That is why older men encircle pretty drunk girls on the dance floor at virtually any club, and why I would advise anyone going to a club to keep that in mind. It's honestly a given that a large percentage of the men you see at your favourite dance club are there to meet and sleep with women. It's strange, a little scary and very creepy.

Of course, clubs have their place -- for birthdays, or just that night out when you feel like being a bit crazy or whatever. But I think for most nights, a nice night out getting drunk with old friends is going to create the best memories and going to give maximum enjoyment.

The Market has bars, clubs, and, of course, restaurants that serve liquor, but really the best place to drink and eat and be merry in all of Ottawa is Centretown -- which also makes Centretown the best place to be in Ottawa, period. I have wandered thru many a pub in Centretown, and I will even talk about the few clubs the area boasts. I won't get into places that I consider to be restaurant-first, though of course, most restaurants serve booze.

If I'm missing any good ones, please mention them in the Comments section. You'll notice that many of these places also appear on my list of Brunch places in Centretown, which shows you that Centretown knows what is truly important in life: drinking, and what comes the morning/afternoon after drinking (i.e. brunch).

Elgin Street

Lieutenant's Pump. By far one of the best pub ambiances I've encountered, the dim lighting in this basement bar, mixed with the compartmentalized layout of a basement, mix to create what a bar should feel like. A bit on the pricey side, they have some unique veggie options for food, like the eggplant steak, which is decent. It's a pretty big place, and whenever I go to another bar that is full, the Pump is usually my next choice to have a drink and some nachos. I love nachos.

MacLaren's. Another pub with a cool environment but for totally different reasons, MacLaren's is an upscale billiards bar. They have excellent scotch and pretty decently sized flatscreens for a bar of this type. Renting a table costs something like two thousand dollars an hour (actually only like $11.50/h), which is a bit much in my opinion, but it's a nice place so that's to be expected. The crowd, like most places on Elgin, tends to lean 30+.

Fox and Feather. Right across the street from MacLaren's is Fox and Feather, home to one of the best patios I've ever seen, spread out on its second-story overlooking Elgin. The food isn't bad, but most other pubs in the area have quite good food, so for that reason alone Fox and Feather is one of my last choices on the strip. The layout on the main floor feels more like a diner than a pub...great patio, though.

Sir John A's. Right across Elgin from MacLaren's, Sir John A's has a front wall that folds up for nice summer days, creating a patio that sort of stretches from outside all the way inside to the bar. Has a similar old-timey feel to the Pump, but it loses points for not being in a basement. The inside is one big room whose only divider is the bar in the middle, but the general decor of the place is cool. Average priced -- not my favourite bar, but never one that I am opposed to going.

Mayflower back room, via tmvissers.
Mayflower. Oh, Mayflower. The inside pretty much is a diner, and in general the place is pretty pricey for the look of it -- it is maybe the least attractive of the Elgin bars. However, the Mayflower pub, which is in the back, is gorgeous. There isn't much seating back there, but if you have the choice, I would definitely recommend going back there instead. It has a very good veggie burger.

Hooley's. Probably my least favourite bar I've been to more than once, Hooley's has one of the most bizarre layouts for a bar I've ever seen. It's like one of those mazes that was on the back of cereal boxes when I was a kid. It's one of the only pubs on Elgin with a younger crowd -- maybe the only one -- and perhaps that's why it always feels obnoxious to me. There isn't anything particularly wrong with the place aside from the mood and layout, but it feels like a bar that would fit better in the Market than in Centretown.

The Manx, via Facebook.
The Manx. The Manx is probably the only true hipster bar on Elgin, and of course it is also the best. Also in a basement like the Pump, the Manx doesn't have quite as thick of an atmosphere, but it's pretty close. The tofu tacos are one of the best meals I have ever had. They have Harp and Beau's on tap. If you get a seat in the far corner, there is actually a window to the bar right next to it, so the bartender can serve you easily and quickly thru the window. Near that seat there is also a bookshelf with lots of quality reads, especially poetry, no doubt thanks to being tended by Dave O'Meara. It's also the only bar on Elgin that has a literary reading series (Plan 99), and there are also low-key concerts on some nights. There are some board games available too near the bathrooms whose signs continue to confuse me so I must remember that the men's is the second one.

Woody's. This place looks very dirty and apparently the service is terrible, so I've never actually stayed for a drink. It calls itself an urban bar, which is always kind of a weird self-definition, like the Urban Well in Sandy Hill but without martini night.

Maxwell's. Maxwell's is pretty fancy food-wise, and upstairs apparently is clubby on weekends. It feels more fine dining than pub, but I thought I'd include it anyway. It's not a bad spot at all, just not my thing.

Union Station. More of a club than anything, Union Station had a cool DJ the one time I actually stayed for drinks. Actually, it feels more like a lounge, which is pretty cool. I generally don't go to lounges because the music tends to be loud, and I always found it strange to sit out with friends when you have to shout to hear each other, but if you like that type of place I'd give it a try.

Era. Well, it's in a basement, but I'm not sure what else Era has going for it. Probably the only true club on Elgin, but the whole place feels kind of cheap to me. It's still pretty new and I think they are doing more to improve it now, so I guess if you feel like a club and want to stick around Elgin it's worth a shot. Definitely doesn't flow well with the rest of the places on this list, though.

Bank Street

Royal Oak on Gloucester,
via TripAdvisor.
Royal Oak (on Gloucester). I am a sucker for pubs that have their bars in the middle, and that's the case for this one of the many Royal Oaks in the area. People are there to drink (mostly), so it makes sense to have the seating areas built around the central bar. It's one of the better Oaks, but there isn't much going on here either, aside from being the only bar of note on Bank near Laurier.

Royal Oak (on MacLaren). The "dirty Oak" is one of the many bars between MacLaren and Gilmour on Bank, what I like to refer to as the hipster strip. It's essentially three rooms on one floor with an open concept with the bar on one side. In the main room though, when the door opens, you get quite the draft. I'm not sure why it's called the dirty Oak since it doesn't seem any dirtier than any other Oak, but again, there are other bars in the area -- actually, just across the street -- with more going for them.

Atomic Rooster, via TripAdvisor.
Atomic Rooster. One of my favourite bars in the city, the Rooster has a myriad of activities going on different nights of the week and different parts of the day and attracts a very diverse crowd. From the Plenty of Fish nights (very interesting people congregate smoking outside on these nights), to karaoke, to afternoon shows, etc., the Rooster also has very cool artwork on the walls, often rooster-themed. It has a decent bar and good food as well, and in the back there are dart boards and a few tv screens, though none especially large. It's not a basement bar, but the mood here is quite thick because the lights are barely on, and if you like people-watching it's probably a good bet for a good time. Some people -- many older -- also tend to get extremely drunk and pick up other older, seemingly strange people, which is also fun. The music can be kind of loud, but it's part of the charm. Whenever I'm there, the majority of people seem to be having fun. Beer is a little pricey.

Connor's. Described by some as an old man bar, Connor's has some nice bourbon options and cheap beer compared to the rest of the neighbourhood -- $12 pitcher specials, which is normally Bud, or occasionally something much worse than Bud. They also tend to have the small tv above the bar showing the military channel because, as one of the bartenders told me, a lot of vets go to the bar and they support the troops. It's a Gaelic (Scottish?) bar, and it has crests thruout. It also has a modest book exchange, which I have taken advantage of. It's very relaxed in there, primarily men, and it's an interesting contrast on Sunday nights with the people in there and the people lined up down the sidewalk for Babylon's MOD night. People love to smoke in front of Connor's. The servers tend to have attitude as well, which can be charming. A preferred spot.

James Street Pub. Like Hooley's, the James Street Pub is mostly booths, and it also has large screens. James Street is probably the best place to watch sports in the area. It has a large patio in the back, which is quite popular in the summer, though it's not my favourite patio around. It's not a bar I normally go to, but I don't have many qualms with it either.

Berryman Pub. A self-identified sports bar, Berryman's is pretty small and only has a couple of screens for a sports bar, and it looks and feels quite different from most of the places in the area. Whenever I've gone it's been pretty quiet, so it has that going for it.

Cue and Cushion (billiards bar). The other billiards bar in the area, Cue and Cushion is more billiards than bar, proven by the very tiny bar (I think it's cash only) and the very many pool tables. If you are part of the pool league, I believe you you can pay a member's fee and use a variety of the tables there for no extra charge, but if you are just stopping in, there are several tables available for use that only cost $1.50, a much more reasonable price than MacLaren's. It's located right on top of Bablyon and right between Connors and Barrymore's, so you can often hear lots of noise from those places. On weekends it's open to something crazy like 4am, and I wonder why I don't go there more often. They have a couple tvs there too, and they accommodated my request to put on the Oilers game once when it was on Hockey Night in Canada.

Babylon. My favourite hipster club, Babylon is home to MOD night on Sundays, which is the hipsterest of all hipster events, and most the music is pretty good and fun to dance to (except that it might be more or less the same songs each week). I have no idea what happens other nights except that there are occasionally shows there. There are a couple of couches and arcade games at the back too, but I'm not sure if they work. Once a bartender offered me a free shot of JD because I paid for a drink with a $10 bill and he gave me back a $10 bill and some loonies in change, and I told him his mistake. I didn't take the free shot though, for some reason. A pretty fun environment where people are more or less chill. Several bottles of Moosehead break, so be careful for green glass on the floor.

Barrymore's. When I heard a bar in Ottawa had a 90s night, I was of course excited. I was even more excited to learn that it was an old theatre converted into a bar. Then I went to Barrymore's, twice, and my god it was awful. It was jammed-packed with balding men creeping on one of the about 10 girls there, and it's cool that it's 90s-themed, but the only evidence of that was Saved by the Bell on the big screen and about a dozen men who were adults in the 90s encircling drunk girls who were born in that decade. Maybe I was there on bad nights, but it was hugely disappointing, and those stairs seem quite dangerous. Of course the bathroom is in the very top corner.

Kent Street

The Legion. Never been, but apparently you can dress up there and they have some shows. Right off Somerset, sometimes when walking by I have seen kids dressed up as punks or goths coming out of there. Kind of a cool feeling, especially since I rarely see stuff like that in Ottawa, but I've never had the nerve to wander in.

Lyon Street

Tapas bar. Also never been there -- it's on Lyon and Nepean -- but apparently it's pretty good.

Site of the Centretown Nonsense
Superbowl party.
Bay Street

The Black Bear. Next door to the Albert at Bay, The Black Bear is past the technical boundaries of Centretown, but it's pretty close, and I thought I might mention it because it is pretty cool in there. It has a gigantic mirror across from the bar that is so clean for the first ten minutes I was in there, I swear to god I thought it was two bars that were directly across from each other. Good scotch menu, pretty quiet, and they have a large projector screen down for sports.

Somerset Street West

The Union. A bourbon bar on Somerset and O'Connor, I still have never been, but I very much would like to go, since I love bourbon.

Centretown Pub. More or less across the street from the Union, CP is a gay-friendly pub with a pretty cool patio out in front. It seems to be predominately men 30+ who are there, but they seem to be having a good time whenever I walk. I've still never gone but hope to soon.

VJ's, via valleyboi63.
Honourable mention: Laurier Street West

VJ's. Twice I have gone to VJ's for a snack and a beer, and twice I have been turned away, not because they didn't want my business, but because they didn't have food. It's probably illegal, but it's okay -- the guy both times was very nice and said they don't have kitchen staff those hours because no one ever orders food. Fair enough. The second time I went, the guy assumed I was a tourist and tried sending me to Dunn's for apparently good food, but as any Centretown resident knows, good food and Dunn's do not belong in the same sentence, so I thanked him and went elsewhere. It's a loungey place, seemingly with lawyer types, which creates an atmosphere that surprisingly isn't replicated much at any of the other bars on this list, even though you'd think these bars would be crawling with political and law people, being towered over by government buildings and all.

When a.m.k. finally moves out of Centretown, he may have to quit drinking.

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