Two weeks ago the Citizen ran a story about the plans to turn the site of the Thompson-Perkins Mill — better known as the old Mill Restaurant — into a brew pub. The NCC owns the building and has come to an arrangement with Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery to operate the facility.
It’s hard to see how this food-and-beverage concept could be anything but an improvement to what was on offer in the cavernous dining hall of the old Mill. It was the sort of restaurant that tour buses and office Christmas parties flocked to, but for regular diners its over-cooked and over-priced “roast beef and boiled carrots” menu had long gone out of fashion. You might have taken your great-aunt there for her birthday, but you never took a date.
And because it wasn’t really on our radar as a viable spot for a enjoyable night out, we never paid much attention to another major shortcoming of the Mill — its location. The pink rectangle in the screen capture above shows what *should* be a prime spot – on the bank of the Ottawa just past the end of Wellington street, a few meters away from where tens of thousands of us cross back and forth between Ontario and Quebec everyday.
But if course, like so many of the riverbank amenities in our city, despite its proximity to us, it might as well be miles away for those of us who are on foot. A multi-lane cordon sanitaire protects the facility from contamination by pedestrian traffic from either the south or the east. And when we think of where we like to dine in Ottawa, we think of the Market, Elgin Street, Wellington Street West; places where pedestrians are clearly welcome to explore and mingle.
Can a pub cut off from the life of the city around it survive as a drive-to location? Certainly there are successful road-house style bars in the suburbs, but I suspect that when customers get this close to the core they want something more; they are drawn by the idea that they might pop in somewhere else for dessert and coffee, or just stroll the busy sidewalks with hundreds of others, letting their senses absorb the sights and sounds. It is just this sort of variety that makes the urban experience so attractive.
Of course I wish the operators of the new pub at the Thompson-Perkins site all the best luck. But as long as their landlords insist on routing what is essentially an expressway just a few meters from their front door, I suspect that the Mill will continue to occupy the same place in our mental landscape — well off the beaten track.