For more than 80 years, the Prescott tavern on Preston Street served as the sudsy finishing line for many people after many activities, be it team drinks after a softball game, a quick pint after work, or just the place you go when you need to tie one more on before calling it a night.
News of the Prescott Hotel’s impending sale last October raised concerns that the institution may finally have been on its last legs.
But even through a sale and a global pandemic, the bar once known as the “Last Chance Hotel” — so-called for being the last stop for a pint before you passed Ottawa’s city limits way back in the day — has found time for another act, as the bar is continuing to operate under new management. And this time, it’s got a unique new downstairs neighbour in the boozy mini-golf business Par-tee Putt.
“An indoor, mini-golf bar, is essentially what I would describe it as,” says manager Nadeem Siddiqui. “It’s cute, and built around nostalgic themes.”
More simply: “Mini putt and alcohol. That’s what it is.”
Rather than replacing the irreplaceable, Par-tee Putt came about as a sort of cousin establishment to the Prescott, which is operating more or less as it was before.
“It’s located in the basement of the Prescott,” Siddiqui explains. “It’s the same owner. They are two separate businesses, but there’s a lot of crossover.”
It’s a cultural and aesthetic crossover within the bar industry, as well: the older Prescott, an establishment with nearly a century of local dive tradition, operating under the same roof as Par-Tee Putt, with their more modern, activity-focused sense of what a bar can be.
The idea of an activity-focused bar is a growing one in Ottawa and in many Canadian cities. Be it Lumberjaxe in Hintonburg, or Playback in Old Ottawa South, they are growing in popularity, Siddiqui says, as customers increasingly want something more active and engaging to do along with their beers.
“It’s light, and it’s a lot more fun,” Siddiqui says. “It gives people the opportunity to not be so guarded. If you suck, that’s cool.”
It is an odd business to start during a pandemic, to be sure.
At first glance, the idea of doing anything active indoors raises red flags (insofar as one could ever call a round of mini-putt “being active”; according to GolfCartReport.com, a round burns about 200 calories).
And sure, there have been challenges. Par-tee Putt having 24 people on the course at one time is now described by Siddiqui as “packed.” There is all sorts of cleaning to be done, and group mingling has to be kept to a minimum, if it’s allowed at all.
“We’re forging ahead,” he says.
None of that has completely deterred the folks at Par-tee Putt, and Siddiqui even sees some silver linings in the timing, as their opening in September (rather than earlier in the spring, as was originally the plan) came at a time when people were bored, restless, and looking for something to do.
“That was a big part of the success” of the launch, Siddiqui says. “It was an opportunity for people to get out. Obviously it was a risk opening right at the tail end of the first wave.”
A big part of that? First dates and double dates, Siddiqui says.
“You can tell from the body language that a lot of them are early dates,” he laughs. He’s only half-joking — to him, the popularity of activity-based bars is in part because they offer a more engaging experience than sitting in a movie, or sitting awkwardly over drinks in a crowded bar, and thus offer, potentially, a better date spot.
“In the world of social media, the world of sitting down and talking is kind of over.” (So far, no need for high-school-dance chaperones to stop public making out, Siddiqui says. But then again, mandatory mask rules might be playing a part there.) Bar-hopping, too, now comes with a certain stigma; as Par-Tee Putt figures, who needs to bar hop when you’ve got beer and mini-golf under the same roof, and the Prescott’s famous square slices just upstairs.
Above all, Siddiqui and the rest of the Par-tee Putt team hope that their goofy concept bar, with mini-putt holes themed after movies like Back to the Future and Beetlejuice, can have a longer life in Ottawa.
Existing, as they do, in the shadow of a veritable institution in the Prescott, has given them high hopes for their own future.
“I think we’d like to turn it into an Ottawa staple,” Siddiqui says. “It’s now where you end your night, it’s where you start your night.”