Sound Seekers

SOUND SEEKERS: Mercury Lounge — “live long + prosper”


Trevor Walker by Alex Vlad
Photo: Alex Vlad

A number of changes are planned for the tri-level building at 56 Byward Market that houses The Collection (retired), Overkill, and The Mercury Lounge.

In August, a soda machine gasket came undone on the mezzanine of the Mercury Lounge. With the pressure of a hose, water came down on all levels leading to damage of the floors, drywall and electrical. Insurance covered most of it, but it meant the bar had to close for eight weeks.

During the down time, owner John Criswick and staff planned for some major upgrades. Here’s what to expect in the coming months.

Crowd Shot Alex Vlad
Photo: Alex Vlad

Mercury Lounge
The mezzanine will be extended, with the majority of the work taking place in January. That will create a VIP bottle service area on the second floor. The first floor will have banquette seating that will curve around the dance floor to create a womb-like, enveloped feeling.

“This will increase the lounge capability to create a living room space on the main level and a vantage point for the stage,” says Sara Ainslie, the lounge’s creative director.  Architect Nickolas Semanyk of Urban Keios will be leading the project. “The Lounge is getting completely lifted over the next few months,” he says. “Colours, lighting, new layouts, bar designs and seating — all with a feel.”

For now, the club has an in-transition feel. There are new floors and new drywall, but not much else in the space. Being enterprising, Ainslie and crew dubbed this stage of renos The Warehouse Phase and brought in Chicago DJ Heather to play a warehouse-style re-opening party. Projectionist Matt Cameron filled the space with visuals that you could see from the street outside. Expect other enhancements in the coming months: the interior brick will be cleaned and sealed so patrons can see the original marks on the wall from 1906, including a Coca-Cola logo. The bar’s proprietors are working with a theatre company to install lighting trusses and a mechanical separation system for the curtains.

“John Criswick and myself, we’ve never given up on Ottawa being cool and having a cool space,” Ainslie says. “We believe it is important to have in our city and it is here. People like to complain, but it’s here.”

The Collection
The Collection will be retired and made over as a bistro called Small Batch. It will use locally sourced ingredients and serve craft beer from Ontario brewers. The beer scene is of interest to Criswick. He’s launching a distillery in Perth in the coming weeks. There is not yet an opening date for Small Batch, but we’ll update this story when we get news.

Satellite Space at City Centre
Criswick took over the roughly 20,000-square-foot former Wallack’s warehouse space at the City Centre Building, just down from jam space and concert venue Gabba Hey! Criswick is turning it into a combined office, facilities and production venue called Maker Space North.

“The relation to Mercury Lounge will be strong,” he says, “in terms of it being a cultural extension to the programming we do at the Mercury Lounge, but with much larger event productions.”

Criswick did not respond when asked how Maker Space North may compete or complement the city’s planned innovation complex at nearby Bayview Yards, but offered that he is working out details of the space and plans will be finalized in the coming weeks. Maker Space North plays host to Timekode, the monthly dance party, on December 5.

An Expansion as Mercury Comes of Age
The Mercury Lounge celebrated its 18th birthday on November 8 at its annual Red Party, which was packed with the club’s loyal regulars and new faces. People come for the living room like atmosphere, which is cozy at 1,800 square feet. Those sentiments were echoed in Sharpie — patrons were invited to sketch their thoughts on the drywall before the paint goes on. “May I Never Remember A Night Here,” reads one scrawl.

“The club is a close intimate environment and that’s part of the magic,” says Trevor Walker. He’s been DJing at the club since 1997 when disco, Brazilian, dance music, soul, funk, and acid-jazz were popular. Walker and DJ Lance Baptiste, who played the club’s opening night in 1996, have been instrumental in shaping the sound of the place.

“We try to keep it underground and avant-garde to some degree,” Walker says. “We’ve touched all the major forms of dance music over the years guaranteed. There have been so many amazing shows — that’s what we keep striving for.”

Some of the more memorable gigs included performances by Afrodizz, the Souljazz Orchestra, United Future Organization, Rainer Truby, Cheb I Sabbah, Green Velvet, Talvin Singh, Badmarsh & Shri, and Bebel Gilberto, to name a few.

Crowd Shot Alex Vlad -2
Photo: Alex Vlad

All Nighter: November 28
Expect an all-night-long party at the Mercury Lounge on November 28 with Grammy winner Little Louie Vega. The club owners secured a special permit that allows the bar to stay open until 9 a.m the next morning (last call remains the same). It will be a celebration of house music with a giant of the genre.

Over the years, the club’s mainstay DJs — Baptiste and Walker — have reverted to a playlist largely comprising house music and the club has flourished in that style. “At points we had a hard time trying to sell that,” Walker says, “but it’s come back around. That’s how cycles go. We stayed the course.”