Queen St. Fare at ‘near capacity’ over opening weekend of Ottawa’s first food hall

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Bar Robo owner Scott May. Photo by Rosa Saba.

The managers of the Sun Life Financial Centre think they’ve found the perfect recipe to add a bit of spice to a block of office towers that has traditionally turned into a ghost town on weekends and evenings.

Modelled after the “food hall” concept that’s rapidly gaining popularity in New York and other large U.S. cities, Queen St. Fare opened with a VIP reception last Thursday night featuring popular Ottawa band the PepTides. The 9,000-square-foot area blends six locally based food vendors, a cocktail bar and a sound stage into what the building’s landlord calls a first for the Ottawa scene.

Whatever you do, just don’t call the new venture a food court.

“This is a totally different animal,” says Sean O’Sullivan, the vice-president and general manager of Ottawa operations for Bentall Kennedy, which manages the downtown office complex at the corner of Bank and Queen streets.

“It is so far from a food court that it’s not even worth the discussion. It is a very, very lively facility full of people with great music and great food and great drink. It’s hard to believe nobody’s perhaps thought of this before, but it feels pretty good to know that we’ve merged the three of them together.”

Queen St. Fare
Inside the Queen St. Fare over opening weekend. Photo by Rosa Saba.

The new food hall is located where one of the city’s most venerable local restaurants, Hy’s steakhouse, used to be until it shut down in 2015. Situated just steps from the soon-to-open Parliament LRT station, the facility has room for nearly 400 people and will be open seven days a week.

Among the half-dozen local establishments calling Queen St. Fare home is Bar Robo. The cafe and bar’s original location on Somerset Street in Chinatown usually offers live music every night, a tradition owner Scott May hopes to carry on at the new Queen Street venue.

“We’re not going to have any trouble selling it, I think, with musicians,” he says, explaining the new space fills a “gaping void” in the local music scene that lacks many similarly sized performance areas.

“This is the perfect size for local bands to fill but also for touring acts that typically skip over Ottawa.”

May loves the atmosphere of the new food/music hall and believes it will have enough cachet to draw crowds even on work nights. He says he’s planning to book acts at 7 p.m. early in the week to entice some of the 24,000 employees who work within a one-block radius of the Sun Life building to stick around downtown for a drink and a show.

“The vibe is much, much more like an upscale restaurant where you want to hang out, enjoy your friends,” he explains. “The layout and the furnishings and the vibe of it is incredibly comfortable.”

O’Sullivan agrees. He says the venue was at “near capacity” over the weekend as people flocked to check out the city’s newest live music venue.

“It’s what we think is really going to separate us, not only from other food operators in the city, but across Canada even,” he says, adding that as far as he knows it’s the only food hall in the country with a stage for live performances.

The other tenants include pizza joint Fiazza Fresh Fired, Vietnamese restaurant Sen Kitchen and well-known Ottawa chain Green Rebel, along with newcomers Capitol Burger, Mexican eatery Mercadito and the Q Bar cocktail lounge.   

During the work week, Bar Robo kicks things off with coffee starting at 6 a.m., with the rest of the eateries opening at 10:30 a.m. and closing at 10 p.m. Queen St. Fare opens for brunch at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and features live music until 2 p.m. It’s open until late on Saturdays and closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays.