Unlike other Ottawa boroughs, the Byward Market is mostly frequented by two disparate demographics: tourists and first-year university students. This is likely due to its familiarity, the central location, and/or the countless shops, clubs, and restaurants offered therein. Though, above all else, they flock to the Market simply because, well, they don’t know any better.
Like all Christopher Nolan movies, the restaurants in the market are expensive, too big, and too confusing. Is it a pub or club (you can only pick one)? Why are there 99 different TVs playing the exact same hockey game? Why do I get lost every time I go to the washroom? Where did all my money go?
Fortunately, there are a couple bars located just outside the perimeter that offer a truer Ottawa dining experience. Let’s pray the out-of-towners and university kids don’t find out.
Chez Lucien is anything but pretentious, as the name might suggest. With a free jukebox, a den seating area housed with a woodstove, and the best burgers in town, this British-style pub will never make you regret ordering that fifth pint. Also, for the old man in all of us, the cooks prepare the best liver and onions in town.
Located almost on the corner of Dalhousie Street and Murray Street, Chez upholds its outsider status by refusing to display any significant storefront signage. Instead, a hilarious neon-lit sign that simply reads “BAR” protrudes off the brick wall above the entrance, revealing a humble quality largely out of step with the rest of the Market.
This is an unusual recommendation for two reasons. I’ll get to the second reason later, but first, do you enjoy ripping apart a blackened pig’s head with your closest carnivorous friends? If not, you can stop reading this now because it’s going to get graphic.
For you brave diners unafraid of the “meat sweats,” it’s true. You can pre-order (must be a week in advance) an entire pig’s head at Murray Street: ears, snout, teeth (!) and all, for a party of at least eight people. The table is given one carving knife and from there diners are responsible for hacking away at the sow’s head in a barbarian free-for-all. This vegetarian nightmare is wonderfully offset by a beautiful grotto-like back patio, complete with a faux babbling brook.
Now for the second reason I recommend this farm-friendly gem. Due to a rough economic climate, the owners of Murray Street have decided to sell the building and the restaurant with it. New Year’s Eve will be the last day of operation so please go experience the pig’s head while it’s hot and obnoxiously meaty.
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.