Avant-Garde Bar & Gift Shop is easy to miss if you’re not searching for it. Squished in between the booming beats of Ritual Nightclub and the orange glow of iTan Advanced Tanning Studios, the restaurant defines hole-in-the-wall.
Dim lighting and flickering candles contribute to the feeling that you’ve stumbled upon an Ottawa secret, while the walls decorated with Soviet-era propaganda posters evoke a bygone era. All the posters, art, and other merchandise — European sports teams’ baseball hats, polo shirts, hoodies — are for sale.
When asked about the décor, owner Alex Yugin says, “The Soviet era is very striking artistically and culturally. Every element of décor and every Soviet propaganda poster is surely unlike any traditional pub-related environment. Also, with our family hailing directly from St. Petersburg, Russia, we felt we had a very refreshing and authentic cultural Soviet perspective to offer in comparison to more of a “vintage” North American view.”
The Soviet theme carries over to the menu. For example, classic Russian dishes such as Siberian pelemeni (ground beef dumplings) and borscht are found under the witty heading, “Five-Year Plan Entrees,” referring to Stalin’s five –year plan for stimulating the Soviet Union’s economy. The traditional fare appears alongside more Western-style dishes such as nachos, fittingly named “food stamps nachos,” and a mixed greens salad.
The real gem, however, is the drink menu, which consists of three jam-packed pages of cocktails, martinis, shooters, wine, beer, port, sherry, spirits, and liquors. Cocktails such as “Proletarian Omelet,” “Orange Revolution,” and “From Russia with Love” mix the political with the whimsical. A couple of the most popular cocktails include the “Soviet Sunrise,” a mix of lemon-flavoured vodka and special syrup, and “Red October,” which contains vodka, soda, and a mix of syrups.
The abundance of alcohol is perhaps why the restaurant tends to get busier after 8pm. While it seems like the perfect hipster haunt, the crowd is eclectic, ranging from Russian patrons to university students to older couples. On most nights, different bands with a range of musical styles (everything from blues and jazz to rock and Latin soul) play on the stage at the front of the restaurant.
“Everything about the restaurant is a union of our individual concept of how a business should be run, combined with the all-inspiring fierce and vibrant Russian avant-garde movement set in motion by constructivism and futurism,” says Yugin.
With its rockin’ drink menu, artsy décor, live music, and undisputed status as the only Russian restaurant and bar in Ottawa, Avant-Garde spices up a conventional night on the town in all the right ways.
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 5:30pm to 2am. 135½ Besserer St., 613- 321-8908. www.avantgardebar.ca