There is a stretch of Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa that a friend once referred to as “Jungleland.” At first I assumed he was referring to the patio goers drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain.
The reference only started to make sense when I moved to Centretown last summer. Of course, I was vaguely familiar with a few pubs on Elgin St., but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer magnitude of bar taps available. Also, it’s a scientific fact that: Loads of beer = rowdy millennials. So, how does one navigate the dozens of restaurants/pubs/diners in nine blocks? Well, I’ll guide you to a couple. From there, you’re on your own to navigate the jungle.
Anyone who has a soft spot for How I Met Your Mother (or for you baby-boomers, Cheers) probably has a certain affinity for pubs that are situated below street level. They’re warm private nooks for warm private nights with your drinking buddies. The Manx is no exception.
Taking in some traditional Irish pub cues, such as no background music and a hang-it-on-the-wall-if-it-looks-old policy, The Manx prides itself as a social hub for artists who appreciate better pub fare and good conversation. The vibe is as welcoming as visiting an old friend. An old friend who happens to also own a stockpile of classic board games to help break the ice. Oh, and the food and beer selection is phenomenal.
Speaking of phenomenal food, El Camino has quickly become the go-to spot for the more hip-leaning crowds. However, instead of going into great detail about the restaurant itself, I’d like to recount one of my favourite Elgin St. memories.
It was Valentine’s Day, 2016. The weather wasn’t kind on our holiest of holidays. In fact, it was so bad outside the gas lines froze at El Camino. As a result, the kitchen was incapable of preparing 75 per cent of the menu and there was no heat in the restaurant. For anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry, this is the equivalent of Value Village catching fire a week before Halloween.
Miraculously, this unfortunate turn of events didn’t deter the faithful El Camino crowd from crowding into the bar. Strangers became heat blankets, bartenders became doctors, waitresses became caring nurses, and the cooks, well, they were still the cooks. My girlfriend and I shared a table with three other couples who became our surrogate family.
There wasn’t a single cheek in the room that wasn’t rosy with cheer. Nor was there a song played through the house speakers that wasn’t collectively sung like our warmth depended on it. This was a community. This was our way of surviving “Jungleland.”
Joe Fitzgerald is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, a waiter, an annoying music know-it-all, and a friend. He currently resides in Ottawa's restaurant-heavy Centretown district, where he plunders half his paycheques and wonders almost every morning where the heck he left his sunglasses the night before. His favourite Backstreet Boy is Brian.