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Book-launch venue hop: The Carleton Tavern, Ottawa

Each month, Q&Q visits dingy watering holes, upscale cafés, and other haunts in search of the country’s most beloved book-launch venues

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The Factory Reading­ Series is the cozy, down-to-earth heart of Ottawa’s vibrant poetry scene. Rob mclennan – poet/author/publisher and organizer of the city’s small press book fair – started the series 23 years ago. In 2008, it found a permanent residence at mclennan’s favourite watering hole and makeshift office, the Carleton Tavern.

With its half-timbered frame and stained-glass windows, the Carleton is a relic from a time when Ottawa’s chic Hintonburg neighbourhood was home to printers, foundries, and factories.

1. Established in 1935 by Harold Starr, an alumnus of both the NHL and CFL, the Carleton is one of the few taverns left in the city, says co-owner Simon Saikaley.

Saikaley says not much has changed in 80 years, aside from doing away with the segregated rooms for male and female patrons. There’s no real bar – just plain old draft taps and beer fridges stocked with quarts of Labatt 50. And whilebig-screen TVs are tucked into most corners, the main floor’s wood panelling, timber beams, tables, and chairs are all original.

The second floor, where the readings happen, used to be rooms for rent. It’s now a shrine to the local dart league: dartboards, trophies, and beer signs line the walls.

Sadiqa de Meijer

Sadiqa de Meijer

2. “It’s like hanging out in someone’s rec room,” says mclennan. Authors read over the whirring of an old fridge tucked behind the unstaffed snack counter, and as the night rolls on they compete with the classic rock band downstairs.

Local poet Brecken Hancock admits the venue has charmed her over time.

“A lot of other poetry series are held in galleries, or bookstores, or bars known for being artsy and hip. It’s pretty kitschy and down-home here,” she says. To hear Hancock describe it, the Factory series at the Carleton perfectly embodies the Ottawa poetry scene: unpretentious, inclusive, and supportive. “There’s a sense of camaraderie and loyalty,” she says.

3. Generally, mclennan doesn’t focus on getting “big names,” preferring to book innovative voices and emerging authors for that “important first feature,” he says. “That first time an author gets to say, ‘I’m on a marquee.’” (The Carleton is notably marquee-free, though a handwritten note taped to the door leading to the secondfloor alerts patrons to “Poetry upstairs.”)