Queen Street Fare, a food hall which also bills itself as a live music venue, opened in downtown Ottawa this month. It's located on Queen Street near Bank Street, across from CBC and right beside the soon-to-open Parliament LRT station. It has been consistently programming jazz since its opening show December 7 by local jazz groove group Thrust.
Coming up this week is a jazz brunch on Saturday and Sunday with the Jamie Holmes Trio, and a Saturday evening salsa concert with Miguel de Armas' Fiesta Cubana. Almost all the events have no cover charge, but the Fiesta Cubana show will be ticketed ($10 in advance, more at the door).
In the last 18 months, Fiesta Cubana has drawn large crowds to its outdoor shows at Westboro Beach and indoor shows at the Mercury Lounge; the nine-piece ensemble combines Latin hits with their Afro Cuban roots.
The hall replaces the former Hy's Steakhouse, but with a much more open and less formal vibe. The food is more varied as well, from burgers to Vietnamese to Buddha bowls, with all-local vendors offering a higher-end menu than the average food court.
The hall extends most of the width of the block from Queen to Albert, with food vendors interspersed with tables and chairs, and padded booths. At the east end of its space, it has a raised stage with lights and a sound system. An oval-shaped bar surrounded by seats is located at one side of the stage. A large open space in front of the stage would be suitable for dancing, although it seemed to be unnecessarily empty and kept listeners away from the band.
Queen Street Fare has a licensed capacity of 390 people, according to its website, although there were nowhere near that many seats out when OttawaJazzScene.ca visited there last Saturday. More tables and chairs were stacked at the side of the stage.
On Saturdays and Sundays, jazz groups will perform in the early afternoon for brunch. So far, the groups have included musicians well-known in the scene, beginning with the Nebula Organ Trio (Alex Moxon, Michel Delage, Don Cummings) which plays each month at Bar Robo (Bar Robo has opened its second location at Queen Street Fare.)
On Saturday afternoon, we heard the Canadian Sunset Trio (Steve Boudreau, Michel Delage, and John Steele) perform in the hall. The group had previously played together at Le Petit Chicago. They played 50s and 60s jazz classics by musicians which included Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, and Art Blakey, upbeat and approachable with lots of driving energy. The resonant mix of keyboards, drums, and pedal steel was clear and easily audible from the tables partway down the room, if perhaps a bit boomy. Those sitting in the section near the stage were mostly listening and applauding after each tune.
However, when I walked to the western end of the hall near the Bar Robo location, I discovered that the placement of the different food outlets created baffles that diffused the sound. The music was considerably more muffled than near the stage and was partly drowned by diners' conversation back there.
Jordan David, the hall's Event Coordinator and Talent Booker, previously worked at the Ottawa Jazz Festival for three years. The website says that he plans to book a variety of live groups and DJs throughout the week at the space, for after work and on weekends. The bands will reflect the diversity of Ottawa's music scene – “Jordan is open to almost anything” – and will be “showcasing the talent in our city as often as possible”.