I recently had the opportunity over the holidays to exchange emails with Peter McCallum and Joshua Bishop of Whalesbone Oyster House on Bank Street concerning their acquisition of the Elmdale Tavern in Hintonburg. Their joint ownership became official just after Christmas, though you may remember some hoopla a few months back when this purchase was first made public. There were some skeptics among the crowd who felt that the character of the Elmdale would be lost with the new ownership and decried what they saw as the inevitable loss of grit and “dive bar” atmosphere in their neighbourhood. I thought I’d give the guys at Whalesbone a chance to weigh in now that the transition is complete and changes are underway.
Apartment613: There’s been a lot of buzz lately about your recent acquisition of the Elmdale Tavern. It seems a lot of people are worried about what will happen to the atmosphere, that Ottawa is losing its “rough-around-the-edges” character. What’s your take on this sentiment?
Whalesbone: The worried people may look at the Oyster House on Bank Street as an example that we exist as kind of rough around the edges already. There will be some differences of course, but our efforts will not be to make the space shiny, we like rough around the edges as they are. Unfortunately paying rent on quarts and pickled eggs is not an option, and so changes are required.
Apartment613: How will things change at the Tavern?
Whalesbone: We’re tearing it down, rebuilding with foam-injected Lego blocks with hopes to make it as shiny and plastic fantastic as possible…as well there will be the addition of a kitchen, addition of a food menu, relocation of the stage, reconfiguration of the bar and reintroduction of the original entrance.
(Editor’s note: The guys at Whalesbone have hinted at the fact that they are sarcastic fellows who dislike a lot of change themselves. I’m guessing that means I won’t be sucking back oysters in a Lego plastic fantastic wonderland…damn.)
Apartment613: How will things remain the same?
Whalesbone: Bathrooms, quarts, music, pickled eggs, brined cheese, live music, tavern chairs, tavern table bases (we need change the tops as they’re great for beer, but not so much with the addition of food). Ladies and escorts, you will still identify the space at the Elmdale, we believe, but it will be different.
Apartment613: What kind of experience would you like people to have when they come to the Tavern?
Whalesbone: An exceptional one that they will remember and tell a lot of people about. We hope it is an iconic experience that goes down and is retold with excitement and vigour. “…and then the guys did their shots and the crowd went wild!!!!!” We think it will be a pretty fun place to drop into for a quart and more.
Apartment613: What kind of music are you thinking about having and how often do you think shows will take place?
Whalesbone: A variety of blues, funk, jazz, soul, folk and improv. We see that there are a lot of opportunities, we’ll take notes of what we feel works best and roll with it.
The Elmdale Tavern and Oyster House should be up and running by March 1st, 2013. I personally can’t wait to see how it turns out!