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Hello from Ottawa Darcy McGees on Sparks Street An Irish Pub with a Bit of History

When travelling to a new place, you might as well combine history with a unique dining experience and good food. So literally steps away from our temporary home at the Lord Elgin Hotel, we found Darcy McGee's, which refers to itself as "Ottawa's Authentic Irish Pub". Darcy McGee's is located at the intersection of Sparks and Elgin Streets, just a stone's throw away from Parliament Hill and all of Ottawa's major sights.Actually, Thomas Darcy McGee was a prominent Ottawa politician and one of the Fathers of Confederation. What made him famous were his stirring speeches, which helped unite this fractured new country called Canada. On April 7th, 1868, he was assassinated in front of his Sparks Street boarding house, just minutes away from where the pub is now located.

When we entered the pub it was absolutely packed, every seat was filled, and the areas in front of the bar were filled with a stand-up crowd. I found out later that a concert was scheduled for 8 pm with Lyle Lovett in the National Arts Centre, which is literally across the street from the pub.We got a comfortable seat in one of the corners of this cozy pub and relaxed after a busy day of skating on the Rideau Canal. The concert goers started to filter out by 7:45 pm and it got a little easier to breathe in this very popular spot. Naturally, skating makes you very hungry, so I had a peak at the rather reasonably priced menu and one particular dish caught my eye: A "Melted Stilton Cheese Dip", which consists of Stilton, aged cheddar and cream cheeses blended with fresh spinach. It is served in a pumpernickel roll with toasted bagel chips and Granny Smith Apple wedges.

The taste was actually reminiscent of a creamy blue cheese dip and I really enjoyed it.I followed up the appetizer with a Mediterranean Tomato Salad of sliced hothouse tomatoes with goat cheese, red onion, cracked black peppercorns and extra virgin olive oil, with a side of garlic bread. Although Darcy McGee's carries hearty traditional pub fare, I decided to go a little lighter on the calories for the main dish. After dinner I thought I should discover the history and unique features of this place a little more and I looked up one of the people who run the pub. Jennifer Rafuse is one of the managers and she was kind enough to show me around and give me a low-down on this unique place.

She pointed out that the furnishings of the pub were designed and built in Ireland and were shipped over to Canada. The pub indeed has a lot of unique decor consisting of hand-crafted reddish wood with uniquely decorated glass inserts. The ambience is cozy with dimmed down lights and several private sitting areas leading off the main bar area. There is a an area immediately off to the left of the entrance which has a huge picture window facing out onto Elgin Street. The view from this window on the north-east side is fantastic: you can see the Parliament Buildings, the wonderfully lit up Chateau Laurier, the National Conference Centre and the National Arts Centre.

It truly doesn't get much more central than that.Jennifer took me over to a historic wall display that explained the history of Darcy McGee and showed images of his funeral which was attended by 60,000 people. At the time of his death in 1868 it was a Victorian practice to create death masks, an actual cast of the dead person's head. However, because Darcy was horribly disfigured during the shooting, a cast of his hand was made instead. The cast of his hand is actually displayed in a glass showcase just below the historical plaque and I have to admit, seeing this fellow's hand cast was just a bit creepy.

Jennifer went on to explain that Darcy McGees is a favourite hangout of the politicians who come down to refresh themselves after a long day on Parliament Hill. She said that the pub used to be a popular meeting spot for the Liberals, and that they are getting more Conservatives now since Stephen Harper's election as prime minister.She also talked to me about the Barmaster's competition, where bartenders compete in a variety of categories.

They are supposed to create Irish "craic", which means a great fun atmosphere. The ability to pour a perfect Guiness, which must always have a shamrock on top, is part of this Barmasters competition.Naturally I had to see the technique for pouring a perfect Guiness and putting a shamrock on top. Jennifer was happy to demonstrate: first you pour the beer for about 45 seconds, then you let it sit for a while, then you top it up and move the glass around to actually create a perfect swirl in the form of a shamrock. Altogether this process is supposed to take 119. 5 seconds.

(The timing of course is not measured by a stop watch, but by the perfect judgment of an experienced barmaster). The ambience is enhanced by live music, and Jennifer said that the pub features musicians 3 days a week: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The music on tap is a mix of Irish music and rock.Jennifer also mentioned that come April, May, Darcy McGees actually opens a patio on Sparks Street where its guests can enjoy food and drink in the open air. Sparks Street is famous as one of Ottawa's most important heritage streets.

Nicholas Sparks was one of the city fathers of Ottawa and founded the street in the early 1800s.Once Ottawa was selected by Queen Victoria as Canada's Capital, this street became a bustling commercial hub for the entire Ottawa region. Today Sparks Street is a pedestrian zone, so no cars are allowed, which allows visitors to freely enjoy the boutiques, specialty shops, arts and crafts retailers and restaurants that make their business on Sparks Street. This area also hosts a variety of special events such as the Ottawa International Busker Festival, Tulips on Sparks (held in May), and the International Chicken and Rib Cook-Off which pitches chefs from Canada, Australia and United States against one another. So Darcy McGees is nestled right in the heart of historic Ottawa and we got to sample a bit of that true Irish hospitality. In anticipation of another busy day on Sunday, we finished our early dinner and strolled back towards our hotel and noticed that the action in Confederation Park was still going on.

We now saw the completed ice sculptures, all illuminated in different colours. From there we went down to the Rideau Canal, where an open-air concert at the American Express Sno-Bowl in front of the National Conference Centre was in full swing. Hundreds of people were swaying to the music and the historic former railroad station was lit up in shades of pink, orange and purple.This city sure knows how to throw a great party.

.Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (http://www.

travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.

Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.

htm) and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River."Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons". The story with photos is published at Travel Stories and Photos (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/ottawa_darcy_mcgees.

htm).

By: Susanne Pacher



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