Any renovation involves not just money, but also a leap of faith, and this is particularly true in the restaurant business. If you build it, will they come?
Despite having worked with business partner Matt Carmichael on two previous restaurant renovations and openings (El Camino and Datsun), Jordan Holley admits he was initially skeptical that the former CIBC branch on Sparks Street could be transformed into a gorgeous place to dine. Thankfully, Matt had both vision and the power of persuasion, while Andrew Reeves and his team from Linebox Studio had the talent to execute on their collaborative design plan.
The result is Riviera, the newest darling of the Ottawa restaurant scene. It took just over a year to convert the narrow space with a soaring ceiling into an attractive gem that offers an inviting, come-as-you-are vibe. Diners in fancy dresses and power suits comfortably rub shoulders with those in t-shirts and jeans. The atmosphere is lively and the food superb.
Jordan says that he and Matt enjoy working with Linebox because the award-winning designers are able to take an initial vision and propel it to the next level.
“Andrew listens well and if he’s making adjustments it’s done very respectfully. I was looking at some drawings from two years ago and the end result is pretty close to the original 3D renditions Linebox had prepared. I know the renovation was successful because we have had a lot of people come in and say they don’t feel like they’re in Ottawa. Many have said Riviera seems like it could be in New York City because it’s just such a different vibe from anywhere else in town.”
Riviera’s graceful, grand space has been updated without eliminating the original Art Deco touches that make it so unique, including marble flooring, Doric columns, huge windows and travertine walls. “Andrew told us the hardest thing about this project was striking the right balance to do this place justice,” explains Jordan. “We wanted to be sure we didn’t take too much away and didn’t add too much either.”
The lengthy brass bar provides one stunning focal point, offset by cozy banquettes clad in a colour scheme that pays homage to the traditions of banking. Art selections have been carefully curated by Guy Bérubé, formerly of La Petite Mort Gallery and now LPM Projects. Standouts include several quirky mixed-media works by UK artist Rowan Corkill, which serve as intriguing conversation pieces.
At the front of the restaurant, offering a commanding view of the whole space, the glass-walled former bank manager’s office is now a lovely private dining room for ten to twelve guests. Towards the back, the open-concept stainless steel kitchen affords diners an excellent view of the culinary choreography necessary to turn out a high volume of plates in a relatively small space.
Great lighting is one of Matt’s passions and Riviera is no exception. An array of eye-catching pendants hang over the bar, complemented by bankers’ lights on the bar itself. The tables are adorned with rechargeable, dimmable LED lights from Australia, sourced by Matt.
The former bank vault on the main floor has been subdivided and repurposed as a dish pit, a small lounge and unisex washrooms equipped with vintage-inspired, mint-green sinks. The lower-level vault serves as Riviera’s wine cellar as well housing a prep kitchen. Jordan notes they plan to add a second bar down there this spring, to be accessed via an Art Deco-accented marble staircase.
“We’re thinking about one long communal table and several high tops plus eight to ten seats at the bar. We see this new lounge as a bookable space for private parties as well as a nice little wine and cocktail lounge offering great drinks and fantastic food.”
The food at Riviera is definitely inspired and influenced by the space it inhabits. Matt and Jordan wanted to give the menu a somewhat vintage, retro feel while still keeping in tune with Canadian influences and seasonal elements. Plans to update things include a new pre-theatre table d’hôte dinner menu launching soon.
As for post-renovation regrets, Jordan has none. “Riviera is everything I ever dreamed of,” he says. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”