Where shall we go for dinner and drinks tonight? It’s a question that can give even the most certain student an indecisive pause. That is, unless, you and your friends are already settled comfortably into your “usual” table next to the bar, with the house special and a pint on the way, listening to the live band that only knows three songs – all crowd favourites – in a place you call your own. Finding that niche, often hole-in-the-wall, restaurant or bar is a rite of passage for students who long to escape the hold of the chain. Finding that independently-run gem can take some work though. So what is it that makes these places special and how do you uncover them?
Sometimes it can be as simple as location. That’s how Algonquin radio broadcasting student Zach Periard knew about Chips and Dairy. Living down the street from the unassuming fast food hut that serves the classic fare, as well as Chinese food, ice-cream, and more, Periard fell in love with the little restaurant at 2920 Bank St. and its diverse menu options.
“Their food is amazing. You get a lot for your money, and they make everything fresh when you order,” said Periard. If you didnt know the side-of-the-road restaurant was there, you would most certainly miss it.
“The only way to find out about Chips and Dairy is by word of mouth. You know it’s good if everyone that goes tells you to go there, and recommends it,” said Periard.
Keeping an ear to the ground seems to be the best way to stumble onto your own favourite spot.
“I had heard only good things about the Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill, which in turn made me go, and then I ended up recommending it to my friends,” said Jackie Forsen, a recent University of Ottawa graduate. The first impression was key for Forsen at the 321 Somerset St. E establishment, a residence transformed to cozy pub, where it’s impossible not to make a new friend over a pint on Sunday steak night.
“It feels like drinking at home, the music isn’t super loud, it’s relaxed and you’re not hustled out the door. The select food they do have they do very well, it’s cheaper – makes me distrust other bars, actually – and the staff is interesting, genuine and intelligent,” said Forsen.
“It’s getting to the point with the economy where it is, that people are going to vote with their dollars, you’ve got to give them good food, good portions, and good prices,” said co-owner Chris Marquis. “It’s a casual pub conducive to talking and laughing, and we know most of our customers, and have lots of regulars. It’s that connection that brings people back.”
Becoming a customer’s regular spot relies heavily on the atmosphere generated by the restaurant or bar. A perfect example is the welcoming charm a customer instantly feels from the staff, patrons and even the worn but inviting leather booths at the Manx, an underground British pub at 370 Elgin St.
University of Ottawa women’s studies student Kristen Lemaire visits every chance she gets because of the unique clientele, and the overall experience.
“I love the Manx, I love that it’s always busy and full of the same people you see every time you go in,” said Lemaire. “It’s the perfect place for a drink with a friend.”
There’s no way to tell how or when a restaurant or bar becomes “your place” but most often it’s after hearing about it and getting that great first impression when you check it out that keeps you coming back to take part in the special atmosphere and partake in the delicious food and drink.