FEATURE: An Interview with Deek Labelle from The Laff

The Laff - The Chateau Lafayette

Craft beer has exploded in Ottawa and so has the number of amazing places that serve it. We’ve done our best to list what we think are the best places in the Ottawa-area (and surrounding) to visit for a good beer experience, but there are a handful of special locales that are a step above the others. It might be because of the location, board games, and atmosphere; or maybe they just have an extensive tap list and an awesome bottle list to back it up.

Wherever you go you’re going to find some amazing local brews and people who are as passionate (if not more) about beer as you. To help you get to know these spots and what makes them so special, we’ll be featuring one per week.

To kick off the series we’re starting with Ottawa’s oldest haunt, The Chateau Lafayette, commonly known as "The Laff". We caught up with Assistant General Manager,  Deek Labelle to tell us about this  Saturday's 164th Anniversary Celebration as well as what keeps people coming back to The Laff.

Ottawa Beer Events: Can you tell us a little about yourself and the Chateau Lafayette?

Deek Labelle (The Laff): My name is Dominique Labelle, but I go by Deek. I'm the Assistant General Manager of the Laff. My grandfather bought into the business in 1966 as a fun investment. He got more and more involved as the years went on, and eventually my mom and dad got into it. My dad was the Manager from about 1985 to 1998. My mom began the year I was born, and is now the general Manager; my dad just comes by to keep us in line from time to time. I was the rugrat running amok in the bar at a young age, annoying the daytime regulars with "Barbie Girl" and Abba on the jukebox. But I officially began my career here when I was about 14. I started in the kitchen, and worked the Market. I would sell breakfast, and lunch to all the outdoor fruit and veggie vendors. When I turned 18, I started in the bar. Over the last seven years, I've been here full time and have overtaken all marketing, bookkeeping, accounting, and management – I wear a lot of hats! (But that's the case for most family businesses.) This place is my second home!

How has the The Laff changed since it first opened? 

164 years leaves room for many changes. When it first opened as the Grant's Hotel, it catered to the blue-collar workers building the canal. In that respect, not much has changed. We are still a people's bar – where locals come, relax, and we greet them by name as they come in the door. We've always been a tavern, and today we are Ottawa's only TRUE tavern – meaning we don't serve food, just drinks! The changes that are most apparent, and necessary, happened in the nineties. We used to be THAT bar, where you'd come, drink your face off, and fight each other. We transitioned into a more relaxed pub atmosphere after a rough couple years, and an infraction or two. The smoking bylaw nearly shut us down. It was closer than we'd ever like to admit (or remember). That was the reason for us buying the Quiznos and taking over half of our real estate in 2003 – they supported the bar during it's darkest days. From about 2007, we saw the change begin to happen. People got over the non-smoking and we reinvented our reputation. This past year, we've made a lot of changes to the appearance – cleaning things up, streamlining our systems and improving the efficiency of the bar. Today, we're the busiest we've ever been and we are loving every minute of it!

Why makes it different from other pubs – how has it stayed in business for so long?
The Laff stands on it's own. It's a tavern, we don't serve food, we NEVER charge a cover, and we welcome everyone in. We have no room for bullshit; our policy is NO STUPID DRINKS. Our menu is simple, and our prices are fair and consistent. We offer a variety of music for everyone's taste; our dedication to live, local, original music sets us apart from the cover bands and DJs. We expect respect for everyone in the bar, and we enforce it. I think we've outlasted all others because we are constantly adapting to change and trends; we reinvest in the business at every opportunity to maintain that friendly, home-grown feeling. We also have a very dedicated, very loyal group of regulars (I can name about 100 of them) who have been frequenting the bar for decades now. It's them – they are the main reason we are still here. Everyone knows of Yvette – our resident oldest regular. She's been coming here over 40 years and even though she might tell you to F-off, she's happy and content drinking her quarts of Canadian, periodically salting it, and singing out loud. My mom is a hero for this business. Her dedication to her father's investment is unwavering and he would be so proud of what we've accomplished in the last couple years. I think the strong family bond that we have here has made the difference in the long run. I hope to continue that for my family for years to come.
We aren't sure of the exact date the bar opened so every year, we celebrate on the last weekend in November. We know that our customers are the reason for our success, so we chose to give back to them on our anniversary. We will be handing out samples of Ottawa's favorite local craft brewery, Beau's All Natural, all evening. We get about 30 prizes, ranging from gift cards, to fridges, and we give them away, all night long, to the people who are there to party. Our good friends at Cakes on St. Phillipe in Alfred, ON. make about 150 cupcakes for us, and Quiznos will be giving out sandwiches and munchies for everyone to snack on. It's our way of saying thank you to our biggest fans! How should one celebrate the Laff – just come on by and give us a chance to say thanks! It's people like you – ambassadors for the bar, that help those weary of the old days, to rekindle their love affair with the ole Chateau!

How should we celebrate The Laff’s 164th year of business?

Signature Shot – The ByWash Bulleit! We came up with this shot as a nod to the old days, where York Street was an open sewer system. People used to toss dead animals, old food, the contents of their chamber pots, and more into it. We use Bulleit premium Frontier Whiskey, and our own ingredients, to mimic the murky waters of the ByWash! If you can stomach it, we'll ring the bell in celebration!

The Laff may be creeping up there in age, but that doesn't mean it isn't keeping up with the times. Follow The Laff on Twitter (@TheLaffOttawa) or like them on Facebook (Chateau Lafayette) or head down on November 23rd for a ByWash Bulleit to help them celebrate another year of business!

We'll be featuring a bar/resto/pub every Friday for the next couple of weeks – check back to see where you should be drinking (and eating!).

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