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Ottawa vs Montreal by Erjy Kolaskin

Getting your NYE tickets here is simpler than shopping for shoes. Guaranteed.

Don't let your friends steal the entire NYE spotlight from you.

This is how the rest of the world views Canada
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No, this is not a piece on hockey. And no, this is not a piece on politics. This is a piece on bars, restaurants and nightlife.

Comparing two cities is always a dangerous game: you're walking on eggs, and you're bound to break a few of them.

Somehow, though some twisted joke of the universe, I have ended up spending a considerable amount of my week-end time outside of Montreal, and inside of Ottawa. This exploratory turn-of-events started in September, and already I feel like I can write about Ottawa with an expert tone.

Where can I grab a bad-ass korma curry? Or my cappuccino kick-starter?

One big part of my life (and my week-end) I my stomach, more precisely, the food I put in it. Montreal, with it's reputedly 4000 restaurants, has something for everyone. Starting from small Indian restaurants on Jean-Talon, crossing though Jewish delis and hamburger joints, and ending in the smaller independent cuisines, in the likes of Le Comme Chez Soi.

When it comes to Ottawa, it seems that the over-population of food in Montreal has created a void of food in Ottawa. Nowhere did I find jaw dropping Indian in Ottawa. As for everything else, it seems you have to circle around until you find a restaurant you want. Actually, the most eating can be found in pubs. But even there, at times the burger patties seem to come straight from Cosco and the prices are eye-gouging (for example, a pound of chicken wings will set you back 20$).

As for coffee places, it seems Ottawa is ruled by the iron fist of large coffee monsters, like Timmies, Second Cup and Starbucks. So coffee lovers might suffer some mild withdrawal syndrome until their tongue gets used to the acidic pain of Starbucks.

Notable exception to this food-desert is the TAN Coffee, serving amazing fair-trade & organic coffee and home-made products, on 317 Wilbrod, in Sandy Hill near U of O. For more coffee, try the retro-decorated Raw Sugar Café (692 Somerset St W. in Chinatown). As for brunch, try Il Primo Ristorante (371 Preston Street in Little Itally).

The Byward Market rocks. But where else can I go?

It seems every young and not so-young party goer in Ottawa is always at the Byward Market. Don't get me wrong, I love the market, and actually I am secretly jealous (well, no so secretly anymore), that Ottawa has managed to have a real farmers market right downtown, and combined this market to restaurants, pubs and nightclubs, turning the market in a central destination for everything so good and so bad, that's it's good. How come we haven't managed to do this in Montreal? The Atwater and the Jean-Talon markets rock, but they are dead at night. I want to eat, and drink and then eat some more, all day and night, at the same market area. It makes me feel safe to know that I am getting wasted in the same area where tons of food awaits me, in case I get sudden raging hunger situation.

But the weird thing is that, at night, there are a lot of line-ups in front of bars and nightclubs in the By Market. It almost seems like there are more line-ups than there are even in Montreal. It's like all the suburbs of Ottawa empty in a night-frenzy at the market.

That's amazing when you want to spend a crazy night packed tightly with strangers in a nightclub. That's not so amazing when you want to spend a quiet night drinking your sorrows away with your girlfriend of friends.

Had this been Montreal, the biker-gangs would have immediately opened a dozen new clubs, just to take advantage of the waiting nightlife patrons.

Ottawa is our nice quiet neighbour (with issues).

A quiet neighbour it is, but one that goes crazy at night. Yes, I still prefer Montreal, our little cafes, and tons of restaurants, and the different neighbourhoods with their different flavours. But Ottawa has some flavours too, they are just well hidden and hard to find. And when you see people out at night in Ottawa, they seem intoxicated enough and in a genuine party mood.

There is no doubt that the sheer size and craziness of Montreal is a solid selling point for our city. But don't rule Ottawa out. And the two cities are so close, if I was in a band in Montreal, I would regularly make the trip down the 417 to play in Ottawa; it's just 200 km, on a beautiful stretch of highway. What's more, you can stop in Casselman along the way, and speak French. I love that about driving on the 417: I am in Ontario, but I can speak French everywhere I stop.

PS: If you have any cool suggestions about Ottawa, please share them in the comments section bellow.

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It's your turn now. So speak-up.

Small correction
Small correction to this article, the coffee house I was talking about is actually called T.A.N Coffee, and it is located inside the Sandy Hill People Food Coop, a great organic food store.
Written by Erjy on 2012-02-05.

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