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Goodbye Nostalgica, the life and death of a café

By Laurent Robillard-Cardinal on March 22, 2012

It was during the unreasonably warm spring of 1995 that Café Nostalgica opened its doors and fittingly, it is during the intemperate spring of 2012 that it will close for the last time.

The move comes after a referendum in 2011 which planed to demolish the original Café Nostalgica to make way for a transformed Café Nostalgica accompanied with a new Grad House. The new café, which will emerge from the rubble on January 2013, will try to recreate the welcoming ambience of the original eatery, but “sometimes the walls themselves make the atmosphere,” said Dave Lawson, Café Nostalgica’s old bartender.

For those who went to Carleton University or for those who don’t know what Café Nostalgica is all about, here is Lawson”s description of the popular University of Ottawa hang out. “It’s a great place to relax and to leave your worries at the door and it is a cultural and artistic oasis,” said Lawson. Indeed an oasis for some while for others it was simply a watering hole and the café’s signification was meant to be open to interpretation.

The founder of Café Nostalgica is Mark Spooner. His ultimate objective when he opened the café was “to prove he could create a place where everyone was welcomed and I believe he succeeded very well,” said Lawson. “When you walk in it has a very welcoming atmosphere,” added the old bartender.

According to Lawson, many different crowds gathered at the café, “exchange students and professors would hang out there and so did all sorts of people from different online casino international backgrounds.” With 2,200 international students from over 150 different countries attending Ottawa the University of Ottawa, and with most of them living near campus, it’s not surprising that Café Nostalgica became a multicultural hub. Its proximity to campus wasn’t the only reason it was so popular.

The low prices for food also attracted many clients. “It wasn’t run to make a profit, it was run to break even,” explains Lawson. Lawson, who worked at the Café from August 2008 to September 2010, is sad to see the original café disappear, but he understands the reasoning. “I would have tried harder to get some renovations done to keep the building the way it was, but I know that’s not reasonable,” said Lawson. “In the long run it will be better for arts and culture on campus.”

Destroying the building is logical since it was in dire need of renovations. The structural integrity of the building wasn’t up to par, there was a limitation of space within the café and there were financial issues among other problems. “Things would often fall to pieces unexpectedly and because they were so old the toilets would stop working for whatever reason,” said Lawson. In the end, like many older structures, destruction won over renovation.

With renewal comes change and an opportunity to improve. For Lawson a bigger kitchen would be a major improvement. “As somebody who worked there and served there, a big kitchen would make things much easier and much more efficient,” said Lawson. The old bartender also hopes to see a beautiful spot for live music.

Café Nostalgica will have its last and final call Friday March 23, 2012, 17 years after serving its first drinks. On the last day an open mic will run from 3 pm to 8 pm and starting at 9 pm Orca Triangle will have to honour to play the last tunes from the original Nostalgica stage.


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  • uOttawa Student

    Despite people referring to the school as U Ottawa, the name is “University of Ottawa” not “Ottawa University”. Ottawa University is in the USA. That’s a very amateur mistake, try copy editing next time.

  • François Levesque

    This totally reminds me of what happened in Halifax at the Grad House… It was in this great old house, that the university decided to tear down to build a big new building. In the end, they decided to move the bar to another old building, probably to be demolished in a few years. Any plans as to what the new Nostalgica will look like or where it will be?

  • Miali

    Aw, this place is so hip and welcoming and proud to say I have throat sang there with a friend. The room was jam packed and I never felt so nervous for an impromptu. I’ll have to remind Stacey and forward her this news. Thanks Mr. Spooner.

  • David S

    Great article! Sounds like I need to make a trip to Ottawa sometime in the near future.

  • Jason Carey

    Having spent a few years in GSAED and working a lot at Nostalgica with Spoonman (and ML, Tania, Sasha)I am left with many wonderful memories. The place will be missed – although the death trap that were the stairs to go to the office above will not. The renovations we did in 2003 and the new bar really made a difference. Let’s hope that this won’t be the decision that does NOstalgica in (does anyone remember the Nox renovation decision?)

    … i need to get myself a piece of the bar if they are demolishing it.

  • another uOttawa Student

    @ uOttawa Student….
    if you are going to ring out an excellent writer (I happen to like what this guy writes), you may want to do some editing of your own.
    I’m pretty sure you meant “Despite people referring to the school as «OTTAWA U»”… (….and not U Ottawa) which would lead to the mistake (not sure why you qualified it as amateur) of calling it Ottawa University.

  • Celeste

    So much love for that place; the art, the music, the atmosphere, the community! I played my first open mic there in 2006, because the place was just so welcoming and comfortable, it felt like playing to a bunch of friends in your living room–only with better drinks. Dave used to make a killer sangria, equally as well-suited to a night out as to an afternoon on the patio. I hope the new one stays true to the spirit of the original, salt lamps, custom chalk board and all.