A 90-year-old building in Ottawa’s Centretown has had an unexpectedly big impact on the Canadian craft beer scene.
Flora Hall Brewing, named for the historic building it calls home, took home gold and silver awards for two of its beers at the Canadian Brewing Awards on May 27. The brewery won gold in English Bitters for its English Ordinary Bitters and silver in North American Style Pale Ale for its American Oat Pale Ale.
The brewery is only celebrating its seventh month of pulling pints, but owner of the business Dave Longbottom, said he’s not surprised by the talent of his brewers and quality of the beer.
“The future is extremely bright because [the brewers] have got so much talent and so much creativity and they’re feeling so much love and energy from the customers.”
Longbottom said the story behind the brewery starts with Flora Hall itself.
“It wasn’t like I set about to open a brewery,” Longbottom said. “I set about to create a place, and the brewery is a natural fit here because of the bones of the building.”
He said he’s known about Flora Hall since going to see shows at Barrymore’s in the 1980s, but when he was looking for a place to set-up a business he found the building had been left empty for over a decade. Despite this, the location at 37 Flora St., just west of Bank Street and north of the Queensway, was a perfect place to set up a brewery and restaurant.
“Outside it looked aesthetically attractive, but decrepit,” Longbottom said. The windows and doors were “tired and old” but the façade of the building was still pleasing.
Flora Hall was built in 1927 by Welch and Johnston, an engineering firm, to be used as offices and storage. It eventually became a motorcycle repair garage, which Longbottom said gave it a rough reputation.
“No disrespect to the guys that run it, but I understand it was a pretty notorious place.”
After he bought the building, Longbottom said it was a blank slate. Before construction there were only cinder block walls and a big open space. Most of the insides were ripped out before starting again, except for the glass window still visible above the garage door in the middle of the building. Longbottom said the renovations he did to Flora Hall were meant to keep the original character of the building intact, but also recognize that the neighbourhood is changing and gentrifying.
“I love Centretown. I think it’s going through a transition that I think a neighbourhood should go through,” he said. “Some neighbourhoods, not just in Ottawa but in all cities, get almost overwhelmed by new people. I don’t find Centretown to be like that.”
He said on a typical Friday night a real cross-section of the community comes to the bar. This was the goal from the beginning of starting Flora Hall Brewing, he said, to create a neighbourhood gathering place.
“We’ve got babies sitting at the table, we’ve got old people, we’ve got people my age, we’ve got [young] people all over the place,” he said. “That’s reflective of the people in this neighborhood.”
Longbottom said the brewery wouldn’t have succeeded without the support of the surrounding community and the people who live there. He said he was careful to create something that wouldn’t negatively affect his Centretown neighbours.
“It’s not a nightclub, people don’t spill out into the streets at 2 o’clock rowdy and drunk, it’s a proper neighbourhood gathering spot.”
For now, Flora Hall beer can only be bought at the brewery itself, but Longbottom said he wouldn’t rule out selling it through other friends in the restaurant business down the line.
He added that, in the meantime, the brewery and experience will stay focused on the historic Centretown building.