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Go out and have fun in Ottawa this summer

 Illustration by Tina Wallace

Every time I tell someone I live in Ottawa, I brace myself for their reaction. It’s always the same. I get a look of slight confusion, mixed with pity and then a somewhat patronizing, “Well, I hear it’s nice.”

I assure them that Ottawa has really developed over the past few years, and that there’s a ton of great stuff to do, you just need to know where to look. They give me a pitying nod, not buying a word I say, and then ask me if I’ve ever skated on the canal.

Last month, Amen Jafri and her friend Nathan Haunch released the documentary The City That Fun Forgot? about their experiences as young professionals having a hard time finding any fun in Ottawa. They borrowed the phrase “the city that fun forgot” from former Maclean’s columnist Alex Fotheringham, who first coined it 40 years ago.

I hear people say that you have to work to find fun in the city, but I think there is something kind of wonderful about living in a place where you have to search a little for it; there is a certain sense of satisfaction when you find something really awesome.

There are a lot of cool things going on in Ottawa right now. The city has a lot of magazines covering local events, including Ottawa Magazine. Ottawa has its own breweries, which provide local beer to many bars in the city. Two years ago, the Arboretum festival started to show off local musicians while serving local beer and food from a number of new and local restaurants.

The culinary scene in Ottawa is also very exciting right now. Last summer El Camino opened up on the corner of Elgin Street and Gladstone Avenue, serving the best tacos in the city for $4 from their take-out window. Burgers n’ Fries Forever opened up this fall on Bank at Gilmour Street, serving local, grass-fed beef with other local ingredients. There are many more affordable places opening up in Westboro, Hintonburg, Centretown, and the ByWard Market.

When people say the nightlife is boring in Ottawa, they are probably just going to the wrong places. If you’ve been to every bar in the Market, maybe take a step back and head to Centretown. Babylon and Barrymore’s have themed nights all weekend, and if you’ve never tried Mod Club night on Sundays at Babylon, you’ve missed out. If you’re looking for something new this summer, head out to Mugshots and dance under the stars in their courtyard — the site of the last public execution in Canada.

Ottawa has a thriving indie and punk scene, amazing green space, active arts and culture, great food, and plenty of places to get drunk and dance. If you don’t believe me, stop complaining and go look.