From Past to FuturePublished on April 19, 2021

Photo by: Ashley Foad

Diners are the big winners with the ByWard Market revitalization plan. When it’s complete expect a more vibrant, people-focused environment.

Long-time area restaurateur John Borsten is enthusiastic about the planned overhaul for the almost 200-year-old ByWard Market. He’s been doing business in downtown Ottawa for over 35 years; his first venture was the perennially popular Zak’s Diner. His restaurant group also includes the Metropolitain Brasserie, The Grand Pizzeria and Zak’s Cantina. Recently, John and his business partners demonstrated their continuing faith in the lure of the ByWard Market by purchasing the 145-year-old Fish Market building at the corner of York and William Streets. Work is underway to refurbish and refresh the property, which will become home to a collection of new establishments.

The first space to open will be a subterranean bar called Apothecary which will be set to welcome guests this spring. “The room has so much character,” says the restaurant group’s designer and director of marketing, Sofia Santiso Borsten. “The crew has been exposing and cleaning the old stone and brick walls and those rugged textures form the foundation of the design plan; they’ll be balanced with soft, sexy touches of velvet and chic lighting.”

“A hundred years or more ago, you’d go to an apothecary to seek out alcohol-based tinctures as cures for your ailments. These are the roots of modern mixology, so we’re having fun including old pharmacy-style items in Apothecary’s décor,” she explains. The second and third floors will similarly pay tribute to the building’s roots; the overall capacity will be about 500 guests, served from a kitchen and bar on each floor.

Apothecary’s menu will emphasize intriguing cocktails and to that end, a talented mixologist has spent months developing signature drinks. The fare will include bar snacks, such as cheese and charcuterie boards, tartare, ceviche, and finger foods, with a good selection of vegan options.

John is optimistic that by summertime of this year, Ottawa should be experiencing a bit of a renaissance in the hospitality industry. “There will be less competition and great demand as people will be eager to go out, especially to enjoy patios and all the ByWard Market has to offer. We’ll have a large street level patio at the new building and are exploring the possibility of adding a rooftop terrace also.”

He adds that it is invigorating to be working on a new venture as the area prepares for redevelopment. “It is going to have very positive impacts on the restaurant industry, making it more attractive for people to come down here. If you go to Paris, you’re not going to the suburbs. You go to the oldest, densest part of town, and you’ll spend the day. Start at a café, go to a museum, enjoy lunch, stroll by the canal, do a little shopping, then go out for dinner—that is the future for the Market.”

How will John feel when the whole building is open and filled with happy patrons? “I will be very proud that our group has hung in there and helped the vision succeed.” From Sofia’s perspective, “nothing decorates better than a room full of people and we can’t wait to see everyone enjoying these new spaces.”

Paula Roy

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