The Liquor Store isn’t actually a liquor store per se. You can buy alcohol there, sure, but it’s not a store. It’s a club. A sticky, predictably boring club in the Byward Market. So, why then, is it one of the most popular venues to get shitface wasted in Ottawa? I grabbed my camera, a bottle of Axe, a flask full of cheap vodka and ventured forth to find out why.
First things first. You better pound back a few drinks before you even consider stepping foot into the dirty corridor leading to this hell hole. Leave your contacts and glasses at home. It’s best to spray some hot sauce or lemon juice into your eyes too because the dim lighting isn't enough to hide the horror that you’ll see inside.
Out front there’s a patio with a tiki bar that has conveniently been furnished with chairs and tables that appear to have been found in the trash after a Molson summer bash in 1998. On hot summer nights you’ll be greeted by vivacious beer girls offering up a wide variety of beer from their cow troughs. (That is, if Molson Canadian and Corona is your idea of variety.) They’ll pop off the cap and hand you a clammy beer with a smile. Better grab two. Alcohol only gets more watered down from here.
Now that you’re here it’s best to succumb to the only real option for having fun. Closing your eyes, dancing like a retard and hoping everything else around you fades into obscurity.
And therein lies the challenge.
To get to the dance floor you will have to pass no fewer than three choke points, three sets of awkwardly placed stairs and three bars. You’re not going to enjoy yourself without getting in the pheromones of university frat boys and stumbling sorority girls.
While these choke points make The Liquor Store feels busier than it actually is, they are an absolute nightmare to navigate. Putting multiple bars en route to the dance floor is great in theory but you can’t help but feel like a cow being herded to slaughter every time you want a smoke.
I’m going to break the bad news to you right now. Fighting through the crowd to get to the dance floor isn’t worth all the effort.
You might be surprised to find out that “The Liquor Store” isn’t the only name that has graced a lob sided sign at the end of York Street. It was once an extremely sketchy club called On Tap; a place where strippers use to unwind and have a few drinks after their set at Barefaxxx. I still remember, ten years ago, stepping through the glass front door for the first time and thinking “I am going to get stabbed.” And, in all honesty, it was kind of awesome.
But there is no longer a threat of getting stabbed. No one is sober enough to touch their own nose let alone pull a knife. The sketchy people left long ago and it has since been cleaned up dramatically. Ironically, to its detriment, there is no longer any excitement. And this is why you should never plan a night out to The Liquor Store. It’s just a shitty, generic, top 40 bar that has no aspirations to offer anything more than that.
If you want to play it safe, I suppose The Liquor Store might come in handy as a default choice when your drunken friends can’t make up their minds. But, since when has an exciting night out on the city been about playing it safe? You’ve heard the music, you’ve seen the people and you’ve tasted the same drinks at a million different places before; a million different places that do it better than The Liquor Store.
If you’re reading this, you’re not the type of person who would frequent The Liquor Store anyway. But if you are considering going. Don’t. Just don’t. There are so many other wonderful venues in Ottawa that are struggling to survive and would love to have your patronage.
Ottawa, you can do better.
Written and Photographed by Steffi