Over the last few years, the sleeping giant of the live music scene in Ottawa has been experiencing a slow re-awakening. The surge of new bands forming, as well as ones that have resurfaced after a long lapse, have sparked a fresh interest, and a return of audiences to the live entertainment landscape once again. Many restaurants and bars have been responding to the demand by making modifications to provide space, with some going to lengths of including full sound and lighting.
Before technology dug its hooks into changing our lives, getting out to see a band was a main staple of the social scene. It’s taken some time, but little by little, this once nearly defunct activity has been on the upswing. Another sure sign has been the increase in the number of music festivals, as well as this newest trend of house concerts, encouraging folks out of their homes to experience the buzz and excitement of a musical performance. And now in the heart of Ottawa’s downtown core, a new venue has opened its doors to welcome back a return to live music…The Bourbon Room.
The Bourbon Room covers the south corner of Rideau and Dalhousie streets. Inside, the room is massive, with two levels opened up that give a very airy yet inviting atmosphere, and a capacity of nearly 500. The space has been modified to now include a more than ample-sized corner stage, surrounded by a large dance area on the main floor, where it can be viewed from nearly every angle of both the bottom and top levels. Top of the line lighting and sound have been rewired from what had originally serviced a previous dance club configuration, into a now first-class concert scenario. The sound booth is set back about 25 feet from the front of the stage, and a DJ booth is nested on the top floor, overlooking the stage. The two-storied east wall is studded with an array of coloured lights that provide a classy, Vegas-style background for the performers, but the atmosphere is warmed by the rustic interior of the wooden floors and bar areas.
A wide, spiral staircase leads you to the second level, where there are two large areas in the north and south ends. The north end has a bar, with a very living room-like appeal of comfortable sofas and lounge chairs. The middle section is opened up and railed off to enable viewing of the lower level stage area. An upper platform of benched seating stretches along the length of this wall, with wooden barrels that serve as cocktail tables. Also along this wall, the addition of bright red vintage wallpaper mounted with a gargantuan set of Texas longhorns brings about a retro western ambience. The south end contains another bar, more bench seating, but serves as more of a standing/mingling space, and also overlooks the ground level. In all, a wonderous sight, with so much to take in under one roof. Even the original ornamental ceiling tiles remain from the once Rideau Theatre, to lend a classic vintage appeal.
I had a chance to chat with Ilon Tyan, one of the three owners of The Bourbon Room, along with Skotti Vandetta, whose long expertise in production, promotion, and band booking has been key in the development of the ideas brought to the table. For some time, they shared a common vision of opening a good sized live music venue that would feature top quality local, national, and international acts…it was just a matter of finding the right time, and the right place. They found both. The theme is a realistic and pliable one – to have a bar that has the elements of a saloon, with a touch of nightclub class, featuring choice whiskeys, top rate country and rock bands Thursday/Friday/Saturday nights, a DJ spinning some great tunes during the breaks, and all in a comfortable, unpretentious setting.Riding on the crest of renewed country music popularity, The Bourbon Room decided to kick off their opening weekend with an array of all-country artists. I attended Thursday night’s debut, which featured Ambush, who have been a longtime favourite country-rock fixture in this city for over 20 years. They are notorious for their energy-filled cover selections, their original material, and their dynamic stage presence, which includes plenty of audience member invites to the stage. They wasted no time in christening opening night with a bourbon toast before they delved into a vast repetoire of past and present favourites, which immediately packed the dance floor, and created the celebratory theme of the evening. The amazing skills of sound engineer, Andy White, worked his magic on the board, while DJ Bryan K filled in the time between sets with tunes that kept the good vibes going. Friday followed suit with Stoney Creek’s, Brad James, and Saturday night saw Ottawa performers, Roadhouse.
Not to fear, you rockers out there…John Corabi will be bringing his Motley Crüe ’94 Tour to The Bourbon Room, Fri., Feb. 20th, and Jake E. Lee’s, Red Dragon Cartel will return to Ottawa on Sun., Apr. 26th, supported by Ottawa’s premier classic metal/hard rock band, Adrynaline.
The ideas, vision, planning, and construction efforts of the owners, management, and staff of The Bourbon Room are visually obvious. I watched as finishing touches were still being tended to before the doors opened to let the public in, followed by a smooth transition where everything fell into place right before my eyes. The impressive stage, lighting, sound, multi-level openness, décor, and friendly staff, brought about a welcoming and lively atmosphere. This is simply a well-run establishment that has an endless wealth of potential. The Bourbon Room is most definitely a breath of fresh air to the musician community, and a great addition to downtown Ottawa.
The Bourbon Room is located at 400 Dalhousie St. (at Rideau St.) in Ottawa, Ontario.