Last week, one of my close friends made the observation that Hintonburg may be approaching its/her threshold for precious hipsterness. The subject line of her email was “Hintonburg Twee”.
The tipping point for her was the impending arrival of Merry Dairy—a new homemade ice cream joint offering frozen custard—a Coney Island original. It’s not that the girl doesn’t like ice cream—she’s just feeling slightly suffocated by the plethora of seemingly over-thought, affected indie restos. Never mind the potential for a growing obesity epidemic in Hintonburg — it’s the idea of these places that’s giving her pause:
i’m an anti-popular girl. all this hipsterism in ottawa is making me dangerously close to adopting my teenage punk again.
Right away, I knew where she was coming from but I just moved here from Burlington—the antithesis of overly hip—so I’m still a bit of a kid in a candy shop here in Ottawa. Bridgehead alone makes me go gaga. So when you throw a warm maple bacon donut into the mix, I’m basically a helpless enabler of the Hintonburg twee-ness.
And I can easily say I’ve never been one to scoff at small, independent business either. I get excited when I see craft paper covering the window of a former gas station or corner store. I admire the people who have the vision and take the risk when it comes to small storefront-type businesses. Almost always, it’s a labour of love with only a slight few making a killing at the end of the day.
We’ve been living in a furnished rental in the heart of Hintonburg for the past month. This week we get the keys to our new house on the western edge of Westboro. I’ve grown fond of Hintonburg in a short period of time. The view from our kitchen window at Parkdale and Bullman has been a masterpiece of humanity in motion. Good-hearted hosers with two-fours wedged on their shoulder. Civil servants with their trusty knapsacks enroute to Tunney’s Pasture. An elderly blind woman. Tarted-up 20-somethings. A teenager walking her little sister to school. And yes, a healthy amount of hipsters decked out in irony. It has all made for an incredibly entertaining introduction to Ottawa for my husband and boys.
Even for myself, who always played it safe living on or just off Elgin in the 90s, Hintonburg has been a really thought-provoking treat. With its industrial, working-class edge, parts of it remind me of Toronto’s Leslieville, while other bits bring to mind St. John’s, Newfoundland. Leslieville too has approached its tipping point in many ways. While the restaurants and shops are a pleasing mix to locals and tourists alike and there’s a stronghold of locals who abhor and have successfully managed to avoid the influx of the soul-less big box, very few authentic remnants of the past remain. A few examples include Hastings Snack Bar and Jim’s Restaurant. How they survive, I’m not sure, but their presence is important. They remind us of what was once there by virtue of still being there themselves. To put it simply, places like Jim’s Restaurant “keep it real.”
I certainly haven’t been in Hintonburg long enough to know everything about its evolution and cultural make-up but I know I like it a lot and I hope it continues on a positive path that manages to balance the new and cool with the time-honoured and true.