When it comes to dates, I’m Team “Cocktails”. Dim lighting, liquid courage and sassy service can cover all manner of sins. Coffee is for business meetings, waking up and kickstarting your digestive system – all things best avoided on a first date.
When I was single, I conducted a comprehensive survey of the best cocktail spots in Ottawa and have been pleased to discover some new gems in the intervening three years of coupledom.
After an extended digital courtship, Ryan and I had our first date at the Moon Room on Preston Street. Unbeknownst to one another, this was the go-to date spot for both of us. It should come as no surprise that we quickly bonded over a shared love a bourbon.
I’m always shocked to hear how many people have yet to discover The Moon Room and I want to do my part to share my tips for finding love or, at least, finding a damn good drink. I’ve pulled together a list of my favourites, and some newcomers that I’m hoping to explore in the coming weeks.
This list is not ranked. Instead, consider this a list of suggested pairings – the date venue matched to how you met. Let’s begin.
This hole-in-the-wall bar has everything you could ever want in a date spot. It’s a small space with plenty of cozy corners for hushed conversation. The ceiling is draped with gauzy fabric that lends intimacy that might help to alleviate some of those first date jitters. The dim lighting might help make them look like their profile picture. The playlist doesn’t discriminate when it comes to genre but is guaranteed to have you Shazaming at least once. The service is always infallible and the drinks list is flawless. My recommendations: a) for a classic cocktail you might not have tried: The Sidecar, b) for a fantastic take on the Tiki trend, order: The Rel Bess.
This stylish sister restaurant to Ottawa dining mainstay, Town, doesn’t disappoint. The cocktail list offers creative interpretations of classics and completely new combinations. I am down for pretty much any cocktail that successfully incorporates red wine – and they usually have at least one on the list. The minimalist decor feels contemporary and allows the food, drinks and company speak for itself. The small plates selection is also fantastic. I would highly recommend the Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich – its delicious and will prevent you from making a fool of yourself after drinking on an empty stomach.
If you fell in love with their insta feed and their follower count, you’ll want a photo-ready backdrop for your first date (with or without them in it). Copper, situated on the 16th floor of the very lovely Andaz hotel offers some of the best views of the city. The rooftop bar features outdoor booths with firepits and elevated sightlines of the Byward Market an Parliament. Inside, you’ll find a DJ and dark corners for close encounters (please get a room if you’re planning on escalating your PDA). My recommendations a) The Last Man Standing – bourbon, ancho reyes, spiced simple syrup, flamed orange served in a smoked glass, b) secure an outdoor booth with a fire pit to get the most likes.
Maybe you’re a bit nervous but you have a good feeling about this and you’re hoping it will lead somewhere. This bar has something special – just like your budding romance. Bar Laurel oozes cool with it’s dark interior, statement lighting and refined playlist. It has filled the void in our fair city when it comes to Spanish tapas. The croquetas are not to be missed and the Ensalada de Zanahoria brings carrots to previously unimagined heights of delectability. The cocktail list ain’t no slouch either. In fact, it’s one of the most imaginative cocktail programs in the city and there’s nothing I don’t like about it. My recommendations: a) for a delicious drink with a bit of kick (see: pink peppercorn) in a beautiful cup: the Mule 2.0, b) for when you need more rum in your life: the West Indies Cricket Club.
This cozy Little Italy establishment is perfect for a blind date. It’s a small restaurant so there’s little chance of your approaching the wrong person and if you get stood up (Heaven forbid), you can migrate to a seat at the bar. If you go on a Friday, the date is going well and you want to see if they have any rhythm, head upstairs for Flossy Fridays. My recommendations: a) for when your summer drink is Hendrick’s with cucumber but need a winter bar cocktail: The Devil’s in the Details – ungava, cynar, cointreau, lillet blanc, fernet, lemon, myrtle syrup, summer savory, b) the chicken confit poutine – it needs no introduction.
Make your own Tinderella story: mix up one of these drinks and start planning your engagement photo session.
This one-of-a-kind bar will give you plenty to talk about. Everything is for sale, I mean everything. You can walk home with a slight buzz and the chair you were sitting on, or maybe a taxidermied bear – good luck sneaking that past your Uber driver though. By nature of being a bar/consignment store, this place will give you plenty to talk about, even if you realize you have absolutely nothing in common aside from a shared appreciation for binge-drinking. And if you’re not in the market for antique lamps, you can rely on one of their many board games to avoid any crushingly awkward silences. My recommendations: a) the High-Kick Mindtrick, b) a game of Mad Gab – works for two players and you can recruit help from the bartender if you get stumped.
You’re a working professional and you are looking for a mate who shares your appreciation for a well-tailored suit, LinkedIn and a blended portfolio. Fortunately, you met a prime candidate at a networking event and you’re ready to start interviewing. The Wine Bar at Beckta will set the tone for any future mergers and acquisitions. The wine bar is refined without being stuffy, you’ll feel polished but at ease. The menu has a great selection ranging from mussels to banh mi. Paul Shevsky’s cocktail list is perfection. My recommendations: a) sit at the bar and watch Paul work his magic, b) for when you love dystopian novels as much as you love drinking: the Fahrenheit 451 – rye, aged dark rum, chamomile-infused white vermouth, cedar smoke, bitters.
You want to keep things fresh. Take a pass on Netflix and chill for once and make a reservation at Riviera. This restaurant is so determined to make Sparks Street great again, they even named a cocktail after their intent. This converted Art Deco bank is what dining should be. The brass bar spans nearly the full length of the restaurant and is studded with banker’s lights that pay tribute to the building’s original tenant. The cocktail list has all the classics by the shaker and the mixing glass – and they are all exemplary. That being said, I would encourage you to explore the right-most third of the cocktail list, “The Great Flood.” The cocktails found there, by head bartender Stephen Flood, are brilliant. My recommendations: a) for when you like tequila but have aged out of shots: The Grapefruits of Wrath – tequila blanco, campari, IPA, lemon, simple syrup, hopped grapefruit bitters, b) sit at the bar, ask Mr. Flood to make you a custom creation, you won’t be disappointed.
I know there are plenty of great spots I’ve missed, where is your favourite place to grab a well-crafted cocktail in the city?
I’m looking forward to trying Charlotte this weekend and will report back!