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Top five bars in… Ottawa, Canada

It may be dwarfed in popularity by Montreal and Vancouver, but Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, has plenty to offer visitors who are looking for world-class places to drink, and with a friendly welcome too, writes James Lawrence.

Canada’s capital city is dynamic, gregarious, bilingual and safe, but is rarely on any seasoned traveller’s bucket list. It’s understandable, of course – Ottawa lacks the global reputation of Toronto or the majestic scenery of Vancouver.

Yet take a closer look and it becomes clear that Ottawa warrants detailed investigation. Its beauty lies in its relative anonymity – it has remained undiscovered by mass tourism, meaning the city feels like the real deal. An authentic and charming place packed with cultural attractions, an exciting gastronomic scene and, yes, enticing nightlife, Ottawa will not leave you cold.

However, with average temperatures running well below 0°C from December to March, it pays to wrap up warm if you’re planning a winter visit. Rather than hiding indoors, locals prefer to celebrate the city’s snowy season with outdoor pursuits. Many skate to work or school on a frozen canal, while the Winterlude festival is marked with fantastical ice sculptures. But after the sun goes down, revellers can be found in the ByWard Market district – the centre of Ottawa’s nightlife.

Such is the demand for bar space that the city council has twice issued a moratorium on new liquor licenses. Students flock to the watering holes of William Street and York Street, while those who prefer their nightlife a little more sophisticated or arty tend to congregate in the lower end of Elgin Street.

Delectable cocktails and world­-class bartending can be easily found in Ottawa, although unlike other capital cities the cocktail scene is not solely dominated by five-­star hotels. Instead, barflies who crave a Manhattan should head to Besserer Street, or the numerous options found north of Rideau Street, our favourite being the Moscow Tea Room. This quirky, delightful bar typifies Ottawa’s most charming feature: its wonderful sense of friendliness.

Click through the following pages to see our top bars in Ottawa, Canada.

Moscow Tea Room

527 Sussex Drive

The owners have clearly spent a small fortune on the lavish decor, but don’t worry, Moscow Tea Room isn’t a case of style over substance.

A favourite of Ottawa’s A­list, the cocktail menu is small but expertly curated, offering everything from the obligatory Moscow Mule to Siberian Sling (vodka, triple sec, pineapple juice, lime juice, maraschino, syrup and bitters).

This is a place to settle in for the night.

Avant-Garde Pub

135 Besserer Street

Avant­-Garde isn’t simply a bar; it’s a hub where local poets, artists, designers and political activists gather to discuss and implement their latest projects.

Sounds a tad pretentious, but there’s nothing off­-putting about the selection of creative cocktails, especially the luscious Siberian Tempest.

It’s a heady mix of vodka, chartreuse and melon liqueur, finished off with a splash of soda water. A distinct Russian theme prevails, particularly in the food menu.

The Manx Pub

370 Elgin Street

An underground bar with no pretension, The Manx Pub is a favourite of students and couples looking to avoid the raucous and often tacky scene of York Street.

A multitude of craft beers, spirits and cocktails await, all washed down with seriously good comfort grub. Staff are very friendly too.

Copper Spirits and Sights

325 Dalhousie Street

A perennial tourist hangout, Copper Spirits and Sights is nevertheless well worth a look, especially on weekends.

The bar hums with locals and visitors enjoying first­-class service and expertly mixed drinks, with a good selection of small plates and wines by the glass to tempt any oenophile.

Zoe’s Lounge at Fairmont Château Laurier

1 Rideau Street

International visitors looking for a sophisticated ambience and excellent cocktails head to Zoe’s Lounge, the signature bar of the opulent Fairmont Château Laurier hotel. The best service in Ottawa is complemented by the unparalleled professionalism and skill of the bar’s amiable team, led by maestro bartender Cory Contini.

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