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Umi Café: An energizer for the soul and for the stomach

By Saskia Rodenburg on January 6, 2014

Umi (pronounced oo-me) means “mother” in Arabic and “life” in Egyptian, embodying the atmosphere of the Umi Café in downtown Ottawa. Both the warm and open café, though a bit run down, is clearly full of life and laughs on Friday nights, when the café hosts an “Open Mic” night. People from all walks of life can read their own poetry, sing an original song and many other endless possibilities. As a youth in the city, I often struggle to find entertainment besides going to the movies, and for anyone in the self proclaimed “hipster” category, the Umi Café is the perfect hangout for students and adults looking for a place to kick back and listen to some original music by anyone who writes their name down on a notepad.

The charm of the café ultimately comes from its somewhat shabby décor, as what the place lacks in a good chair it makes up for with good food and welcoming staff. While I was attending an Open Mic on a chilly October night, I was immediately taken by the eclectic mix of people and the welcoming nature of the host, a curly haired bespectacled man who prompted us to: “Raise it!” as a performer stepped up to the mic. As my friend and I raised our arms, I couldn’t help but smile as everyone around me got ready to help the musician out. At Umi, every person who attends Open Mic is allowed to bring his or her own instruments and jam along with the performer. Some people may be regulars, but the atmosphere is very welcoming to newcomers as my friend and I felt accepted right away.

The menu at Umi is as eclectic as their staff, ranging in both vegan to vegetarian to dessert options for whatever you are craving. They also serve coffee and tea among other drinks, ready to warm you up against the fall or winter cold. Most nights Umi is open until ten, a hard to find time at many other cafes. Performers are encouraged to come anytime from around eight until closing. Some performers were clearly better seasoned as they encouraged listeners to check out their websites, but the performers who were less experienced only added to the culture and vibe in the café.

Often times, many discuss the decline of arts and culture in large cities, sometimes even illustrating examples in high schools. Umi, however, has given me hope that arts programs will not only continue, but also thrive in the future. A place like Umi could perhaps allow future musicians to plant roots for themselves and their music. Ottawa can greatly benefit from having as many places as possible that allow music to take center stage and with Umi being right downtown, anyone who ventures to the core of the city can benefit from this café. Art allows us to express ourselves in ways that we often take for granted, but with places at our disposal to express ourselves in this way we can all benefit from the ways in which our expression can manifest itself.

Instead of going to the movies on your next outing, embrace the warmth and energy of Umi Café with your friends. Not only is the food filling for the stomach, but the music and energy will fill you with excitement at the arts moving in a direction of newly rejuvenated meaning and importance. Though the interior may leave something to be desired, Umi Café, much like a mother figure, is always ready to embrace both new and old into its arms and to encourage performers to step outside the boundaries of expression on paper and instead speak in speech, in song or in prose. Whatever you’re craving, whether it be a brownie or a late night song, make sure to head to Umi Café to fill both your stomach and your soul.

Umi Café is located at 610 Somerset Street.

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