Posts tagged ‘zak’s diner’

September 11, 2011

Ottawa travel tips to help you plan your visit to the nation’s capital

Zak's Diner in Byward Market

Lots of good times and some great shakes can be enjoyed in Zak's Diner.

OTTAWA — Sure, Ottawa doesn’t have the natural beauty of Vancouver, the big-city energy of Toronto or the artistic vibe of Montreal. It may not even have the charm of Halifax. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included among the best travel experiences in Canada. In fact, it’s one of the most underrated travel destinations in North America. As one American recently told me, “Ottawa is a gem.”

She was won over by the Gothic architecture of the Parliament buildings, the cleanliness of the city, the Rideau Canal’s attractiveness and the lively atmosphere of the Byward Market. I spent a couple of weekends in the city this summer and found that its winning qualities continue to endure. Ottawa is an easy city to get around, has a tremendous amount of cultural attractions to enjoy, a growing number of quality restaurants, and citizens who are pleasant and laid-back (including some of those who are politicians).

Next time, you’re in the nation’s capital, consider planning your visit around these activities, restaurants and lodgings.


Ottawa has been criticized, and rightly so, for not offering enough outstanding hotels. Aside from the Fairmont Chateau Laurier and the Lord Elgin, there aren’t enough five-star accommodations, and the chains in town, while reliable, don’t offer much in the way of personality. Hotel Indigo, I was happy to find, is a mid-priced boutique hotel affiliated with Holiday Inn that offers what a good hotel should: a marvellously comfortable bed and pleasant customer service. It’s also reasonably priced. You can reserve a room for a weekend night in October for $140 or less on the hotel’s booking engine.

Hotel Indigo room in Ottawa

Plush beds make a stay at Hotel Indigo a treat.

At this price range, the room was the second-best I’ve ever stayed in (the best being the abundantly delightful Le Petit Hotel in Montreal). At Indigo, the hardwood floors add warmth, the bathrooms are spacious and the plush beds easy to sink into. Room-darkening curtains, flat-screen TVs and complimentary WiFi access are other plusses that made this an enjoyable stay. The hotel, at 123 Metcalfe Street, is also a five-minute walk straight north to Parliament Hill.

On the minus side was the breakfast in the hotel’s Phi bar. The food is mediocre and the service tedious. The biggest drawback, though, is parking. The lot, beneath the adjacent Marriott, is typical of Ottawa underground garages: dark, frighteningly tight and desperately in need of renovation. If you’ve got a big car, you’re going to be in for a potentially stressful experience trying to get in and out of a spot.


Smoque Shack – Recently opened in August, the Smoque Shack is a barbecue joint that hooks you the minute you walk into the dining room and smell the flavour of the food wafting in from the kitchen. It’s a casual place with fair prices and some seriously tasty stuff, including a wonderfully spiced Jerk Chicken for about $12. Numerous side dishes range from $3-$5. 129 York Street.

read more »

July 16, 2011

Ottawa Bluesfest 2011: Blue Rodeo plays, we sing, the universe is all right

Jim Cuddy - Blue Rodeo - Ottawa Bluesfest 2011

Jim Cuddy belts out "5 Days in May" during Blue Rodeo's show at the Ottawa Bluesfest on Friday night. (Julia Pelish photo)

OTTAWA — About 11 years ago, around 80 people crammed into the Mercury Lounge, one of New York’s smallest and most beloved clubs, to listen to this country-blues band from Canada with a psychedelic side and Wilco-esque jam panache. They rocked, we sang and it all made the little spot in the East Village a little happier that night. The show went unnoticed in the rest of Manhattan, and elsewhere too, making the words at the merchandise kiosk resonate with those of us who did attend. On mugs and bumper stickers was the slogan: “In a just world, Blue Rodeo would be as popular as toast.”

On Friday night, beneath a nearly full moon, the world and universe as those in Ottawa knew it seemed to be in perfect order. A hockey arena-sized crowd gathered on the grounds of the 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest at LeBreton Flats, behind the Canadian War Museum, for what had to be the largest and most enthusiastic audience Blue Rodeo has played in front of in recent memory. The band was more than up for the occasion, delivering an energetic show on a steamy night that also featured East Coast rapper Classified. Many of his younger fans not only stuck around for the old-timers from Blue Rodeo, they sang along to the band’s classics — including the too-sensitive-for-the-frat-house “After the Rain” — from start to finish.

It is one of the two best shows I’ve seen from Blue Rodeo (and you’re talking double digits; I have enough ticket stubs for each finger and toe, from everywhere from the deceased Bottom Line in Greenwich Village to the Orpheum in Vancouver); the other top show from them was that night at the Mercury Lounge, when then-keyboardist James Gray tore it up with some heavy-duty hammering of the keys.

At the 17th annual Bluesfest, Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and crew opened with “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.” They followed with “Five Days in May” as the setlist featured most of their greatest hits — although “Diamond Mine” and “Rose-Coloured Glasses” still don’t make it into the show often enough. Wayne Petti from Cuff the Duke, who’s practically a member of Blue Rodeo, he’s been on stage so often with them, helped out on vocals and guitars, and talented Colin Cripps, Kathleen Edwards’ husband, joined on guitar for the full show. (Edwards didn’t show up, though.)

read more »