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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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