Requiem for a Tavern

Went to work and then to Hull. Then the B.C. Met Dan M. there. Talked about airplanes. Home at lunch, then to Capital and then the Prescott. Met John B. and Jack M. Went to Alex and had green beer. Then to Ritz and met Jim G and Eric C. and learned that Denny G. had a heart attack and died at the Ritz. Jim G. lost his driver’s license after neg. breathalyzer test.

Partially redacted diary entry: Tuesday, March 17, 1970 – Ottawa

My father kept a daily diary from the year 1965 until his death. His diary was more of a journal of the day’s events as opposed to any personal and private confessions. It sure wasn’t close to anything like a blog. Of the over thirty years of entries, I have yet to find anything getting close to wanky self-indulgence in them. His self-indulgence rested in the activities he logged about. And Ottawa’s taverns ranked fairly high in those activities.

In his diary of 1970, the Ritz Hotel, on the corner of Bank and Somerset, figured prominently, though it ranked second place to my dad’s favourite watering hole – the Belle Claire Hotel on Queen Street. The B.C. was a popular haunt for many Ottawans, and was noted for its decent food. It was regularly patronized by politicians, sports figures, police, and crooks. Paddy Mitchell and his cohorts were regulars there. The Ottawa Rough Riders also made it a second home. Yeah, the good ole days when sports pros were just regular Joes who drank as hard as they played.

On Bank St., there were a few choices. The Alexander Hotel (the “Alex”) was a popular spot near the corner of Bank and Gilmour. The Ritz, on the other hand, never had the class of the Belle Claire or the Alex. It might have in its hey-day but by the early seventies no one of note was a regular there. Up until the mid-1970’s it maintained its segregated entrances: Men’s Tavern on one side, Ladies and Escorts on the other side. I can still sense the smell of stale beer, smoke and sometimes-urine that would waft out the doors as I walked past on my way to or from Big Buds or Hartman’s IGA with my mother. A big part of why the corner of Bank and Somerset Street is still considered the dodgiest part of Ottawa rests with the legacy of the Ritz Hotel. Some of that carried over to the Lockmaster, though the Lock carried a special nostalgia by the time it came on the scene, what with taverns being very much in decline. University kids and karaoke changed things for the better, I suppose, but not by much.

Now the wrecking ball looms. The Grads. The Alex. The Windsor. They are all gone. The heritage neophytes are up in arms about losing this grand old building first occupied by the Crosby Carruthers Company in the late 19th century. A few of us reminisce about the good old days of the Lock or the Duke of Somerset, or hanging out on a Sunday night to see Ottawa’s version of The Pogues: a band called Jimmy George.

I read, not long ago, prior to the renovation failure, that the owner was intending to open up some new retail services on the site. They were even thinking of putting in a Tim Horton’s.

Maybe it’s good that we let it fall.

For my mother, I know she won’t regret seeing it come down. She carries no such nostalgia.


zoom said...

I love this post. And I love your dad's journal entry too: so succinct yet it captures the essence of that whole tavern subculture. (I was a regular at the Alex. It really wasn't any classier than the Ritz.)

Aggie said...

Nice one, Chair.

coyote said...

Oh, and that Tim Horton's? Now going in a block north, at the erstwhile Gap of Dunloe. The dark overlords of lousy coffee will not be denied. But at least another one of last year's plethora of
Irish pubs is getting gutted in the process...