Compared to many capitals of the world, Canada's isn't exactly grandiose — but drop the comparison for a second and you'll see there's more to this city that meets the eye.
The eight floors of ARC The Hotel are dressed in glass and yellow brick, fronted by large plant tubs and the flags of our continent. I'm well informed that this is the premier choice for boutique hotels in Downtown Ottawa, but while its reputation may be a little intimidating, the staff that occupy its interior are far from it. The front desk rush over to help me with my (admittedly chock-full) bags, before completing an efficient check-in and directing me to my room on the top floor.
Clean, comfortable and modern, the Majestic King Room — which is more of a suite — is fully stocked with everything you'd need for an enjoyable stay. From the blissful comfort of my king sized bed piled high with fluffy pillows, to the array of beautifully scented Aromatherapy Associates toiletries, it's a welcome escape from the blustery weather outside.
While Ottawa's temperatures can reach north of 30 °C (86 °F) in the summer months, I've decided to make the trip in March when the weather is more in the region of -2°C. Relax, west coasters — apparently this is the warmest winter they've had in a while. So, really, I can't complain.
As I gaze out onto the city streets below, I'm distracted by a knock on the door. What better way to make me feel at home and to satisfy my sweet tooth than with a tray of welcome cookies? Shortly after, Imad, the Director of Guest Experience, calls up to check everything with my stay is satisfactory. It's evident that ARC will go above and beyond to ensure their guests feel comfortable, and for that they get my seal of approval.
Time For Tea
At their acclaimed restaurant, the ARC Lounge, I go with my server's recommendation of the Buffalo Cauliflower dressed with Buttermilk Ranch, Pickles and Dill to start (and a side of wine, of course). I pause to chat with Mitch, the restaurant's head chef, who comes over to introduce himself and to offer me a taste of a specialty dish topped with liver pate. Compliments to the chef, every plate looks like edible artwork, packed with flavor and bursting with color. But of all the dishes, my favorite has to be the Salmon. Another recommendation of my server, it's beautifully accompanied by a side of Farro Risotto, Squash and Pea Puree.
Sadly I don't have room for either of the dessert choices (White Chocolate Lava Cake with Crème Anglaise, French Vanilla Ice Cream and Strawberries, or the Frozen Strawberry Cheesecake with Pistachio Crumble but Frangelico Caramel) but I'll happily accept Mitch's recommendations for dining spots tomorrow. Among those worth visiting: Union, a nearby speakeasy with a small dinner menu but extensive cocktail list, Whalesbone, a cozy, upscale seafood restaurant (of which there are three in the city) and Riviera, a fine dining establishment where Mitch himself previously worked as chef.
Rise and Shine
This morning, I'm joined for breakfast at the ARC Lounge by Hotel General Manager, Derek. After tucking into a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes and a generous helping of fresh fruit, we get to talking about his previous life on The Rock (that's Newfoundland, to me and you). He and his wife, who both work in hospitality, recently traded in life on the coast for a new start in Ottawa.
Derek saw ARC's potential and jumped at the chance to share his knowledge and expertise with the rest of the team. As well as giving me some of its history — including the fact it was the city’s first boutique hotel — he and Mitch continue to share their recommendations for things to do not only in Ottawa, but for the rest of my trip across Canada. Derek told me he'd gladly put me in contact with his contacts further east if I ever wanted to explore the fjords, which I eagerly accepted.
While I do enjoy fine dining, I decide to opt for the more casual of Mitch's recommendations and make my way through the snow covered streets to Somerset Street, where I find Union Local 613. Upstairs, a spacious hangout with communal seating, old-time wall decor and milk bottles posing as lampshades. Downstairs, an imitation bookcase leads to a charming hideaway covered head to toe in wood panelling, where tealights sit atop tables for two and the bar is fully stocked with every liquor imaginable.
I'm directed to my solo seat at the bar where I enjoy a shrimp dish served with Trinity, union tasso, cherry tomatoes, stock and franks. If I'm being honest, I'm not entirely sure of my dish's contents and it seems I may have misjudged my tolerance for spice (to give credit to my server, he did ask my preference beforehand). But it's tasty, nonetheless.
Connor, the bartender was an old colleague of Mitch, who although laid-back in his demeanor, constructs cocktails with the utmost concentration, careful not to underpour or over-garnish. The cocktail menu downstairs is not only more extensive than upstairs, it's also just a starting point. Connor is a master when it comes to knowing flavor pairing and will happily mix you a cocktail unique to your tastes. Just make sure you ask nicely.
ARC is conveniently located in the heart of the city, close to Parliament and the the historical ByWard Market — both of which are must-visits and great to check out any time of year. ARC's front desk also point me in the direction of the helpful Visitor's Information Center (located opposite Parliament) where you can book free tours. Other points of attraction in walking distance include the National Gallery of Canada (easily visible by the 30 foot spider statue outside its doors), and the Notre Dame Basilica, and further out, the Rideau Canal, and the Prince of Wales Falls.