Did your friends all take off to Cuba for March Break without you? Did you just get back from Cuba, and now it’s snowing again? Do you need some cool drinks and hot music to warm you up?
If that sounds like you, check out the ByWard Vista Social Club at the Andaz Ottawa Hotel, happening every Thursday night in March at their rooftop lounge, Copper Spirits + Sights. The name is a nod to the legendary Buena Vista Social Club album by Afro-Cuban All-Stars, and brings more than a little of that spirit to life right here in Ottawa.
A special cocktail menu features drinks made with Havana Club rum. The Cubano mixes bitters and sparkling wine with rum, lime, and mint, to delicious result. I fell in love with the Hemingway daiquiri: rum, grapefruit and lime juices, and a hint of maraschino liqueur. It’s all I want to drink on snowy winter nights.
The Cuban-inflected food menu offers three ceviches. If you’ve never had ceviche, it’s cubed raw fish or seafood marinated with something acidic (usually citrus juice) to “cook” it slightly, then mixed with other flavourful ingredients. I tried the Cuban, with cod, white rum, lime, mint, tomatoes and chili, and really enjoyed the kick of acidity, bright herbs, and meaty white fish. The Asian-style tuna ceviche has soy, oyster sauce, avocado, cucumber, and cilantro, while the ceviche mixto combines cod, shrimp, and scallops in a spicy marinade with white onion, cilantro, and celery.
The Cubano sandwich, a classic for a reason, includes sweet and spicy pulled pork, grainy mustard, Swiss cheese, and pickles pressed into a panini roll. The sharp green tomato chutney on the side was a great addition. And you have to get a bowl of the tostones for the table. These thinly sliced fried plantain chips are totally addictive with a swipe of mojo dip (like a Cuban tartare sauce/remoulade).
But let’s get serious: the music is what makes this party so great. The terrific four-piece live band included a piano player, bassist, drummer, and singer who blew the roof off the place with tons of upbeat and soulful Cuban and Latin tunes. They inspired a bunch of people in the bar to show off their salsa moves, turning it into a proper dance party. I’ve rarely seen Ottawans have so much fun in public (standing ovations at the NAC don’t count).
I found out from one of the Andaz folks that the drummer in the band is a hotel staff member who’s also married to the singer, and that connection helped initiate the Social Club series. I love that they found talent in their own backyard and made it a part of their entertainment offerings.
The whole night was a mini-vacation. I felt like I was in Rio de Janeiro or Los Angeles instead of snowy downtown Ottawa. It’s not quite Havana, with boots and plaid shirts all around, but it was warm and delicious and friendly. Everyone in the packed bar looked like they were having the best time. I know I was. Don’t hesitate: Grab some friends, put on your dancing boots, and head up to the ByWard Vista Social Club before it disappears with the snow.
ByWard Vista Social Club continues March 15, 22, and 29, from 7pm to close at Copper Spirits + Sights (325 Dalhousie St) in the Andaz Ottawa Hotel rooftop lounge. No cover.