Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's wrong with Ottawa?

Last night Sonya and I ventured out into the strange and unsettling world of nightlife in the Byward market, and I feel it summed up everything I love and hate about this city so perfectly that it requires internet-sharing.

Let's start with hate. I. HATE. The Byward market. It's the Disneyland of urban planning. It feels like the product of a city council meeting where the councillors decided they needed to "jazz up" the downtown core. I can just picture some dweeb in a Calvin Klein tie saying "You know what would really give Ottawa a hip, pedestrian feel? An open air urban market." This statement, in my imagination, was met by rousing pats on the back, the uncorking of champagne, and the drafting of forms for the owners of bars, poutine shacks, and souvenir stalls to fill out so a committee could decide if they were hip and authentic enough to win a place in their new 'hood.

Fast forward to a Saturday night in March 2009, in which Sonya and I are standing in a very long line outside a certain pub in the market. Yes, you non-Ottawans read that correctly: A line. At a pub. This fact alone would be enough for people in any other city to laugh at the suckers and go to any other pub next door. But alas, this is Ottawa, and the same hellish line ups were snaking out of every establishment in a four block radius. Also, we were supposed to meet friends there.

So we stood in said line for about half an hour, when we finally got to the bouncer and compliantly showed our ID. I look to the alley where the entrance is on the left and see... another line. "What is this? Some kind of post line up line?" I ask.

"Yes," the cross-armed bouncer informs me. "If you don't like it, good luck finding a shorter line somewhere else."

He had a point, and we were still waiting to hear from our friends. So we joined the post line line.

"What a scenic alley this is," enthused Sonya. "This exposed brick and stucco is totally worth the wait."

"How lucky are the people who live in those apartments above us?" I agreed. "They can come sit on those fire escapes and hang out in this alley every day."

A waitress interrupted our sarcasm to ask if we wanted to order drinks. This was one of the perks of making it to the post line line, apparently. But we weren't quite VIPs yet: all you could order was beer and shooters. Sonya does not drink beer. So she opted for a Jager bomb.

That's right: We each paid $4.50 for the privilege of chugging beer and Jager bombs in an alley.

We reached the end of the post line line, where we were informed the cover was $6.50.

Two lines. A 45 minute wait. And a $6.50 cover. FOR A PUB.

That was the last straw. I daintily swigged back the last of my beer, threw the plastic cup in the garbage, and stormed out.

We went a few doors down to Zaphod's, where the line was shorter and you get a dance floor in exchange for the cover charge. We texted our friends, who met us there. We drank stupid space ship themed cocktails. Dancing ensued.

In my opinion, this all stems from Ottawa's identity crisis. It's essentially a small town that has had big city features thrust upon it. It feels obligated to at least look like it's trying to be cool and fun, but in reality it would rather drink a cup of tea and go to bed at 10:00. 

I love my Ottawa friends. I love the canal. I love the Parliament buildings. I love the crazy, grungy Chinatown neighbourhood I live in. 

But when it comes to night life, Ottawa, please: Stop being a try hard. 


Sonya said...

I blame the politicians. They need to believe they're living in a highbrow place in order to justify wearing fancy suits out. Nothing says highbrow like being overcharged.

Amy said...

$6.50 is kind of ridiculous. Did they have a live band?

But I'm always shocked that most pubs in Ottawa don't have a cover charge. Probably because I come from a place where pubs outnumber clubs by like 100:1 and if the owners didn't charge cover they wouldn't make any money. Though they make up for it with deals like dollar shots of vodka/rum/rye (that includes the soda/coke/oj) or 3 beers for $5. Yay Halifax.

Claire said...

I think of cover charge as a fee you should get something in return for besides the privilege of spending money on drinks (a DJ, a band, etc.)

Although I can see changing that philosophy if the the trade off was significantly cheaper drink prices.

Amy said...

Yeah, maybe it's all a part of your identity crisis theory. Ottawa wants to be all cool and hip with it's student-marketed pubs, but said pubs charge exorbitant prices thus eliminating what is supposed to be their appeal.

Someone said the other day that the price of domestic draught at Royal Oak went up to $6.50 and imported is now $7.50. At the Royal Oak! If the only beer I can afford from now on is Molson Export I'm going to start carrying around a flask of gin in my purse.