Great Space | Grand Slam

The Cameron is a ten­nis-club eatery with a cot­tage-chic vibe

Ottawa Magazine - - GREAT TASTE - BY SARAH BROWN

He’s known as the man be­hind The Bel­mont, a tiny Old Ot­tawa South haunt renowned for its cool snacks and even cooler cock­tails. Now Adrian Vez­ina has taken his creativ­ity to a new venue, part­ner­ing with the Ot­tawa Ten­nis and Lawn Bowl­ing Club to turn the club’s sec­ond floor into The Cameron, a hop­ping neigh­bour­hood han­gout (yes, it’s open to non-mem­bers) with a cot­tage-chic vibe and a ca­sual menu.

Vez­ina got talk­ing to club man­age­ment last fall af­ter a club mem­ber toured him around the up­stairs din­ing hall and kitchen. He im­me­di­ately saw the po­ten­tial for the un­der­used space but jumped into ren­o­va­tions only this past April once the weather warmed up (the circa-1920 build­ing is a three-sea­son space, closed for the win­ter).

The ten­nis club has al­ways pushed the idea that it’s “a cot­tage in the city,” so Vez­ina ran with that theme, get­ting rid of all the ban­quet-style ta­bles and chairs and re­plac­ing them with pic­nic ta­bles. “I had in my mind a big, friendly camp mess hall — but with bet­ter food!”

The time­lines were tight. With open­ing day set for May 5, Vez­ina had just a month to get things ready. “I had a pic­ture in my head of what I wanted to do and what I wanted it to look like, but with the sea­son com­ing up fast, we re­ally were just wing­ing it a lot of the time.”

A dis­play of vin­tage ten­nis rac­quets above the hearth cen­tres the room. They were donated by a col­lec­tor who just hap­pens to be a reg­u­lar at The Bel­mont and of­fered them to Vez­ina as a decor el­e­ment. The rac­quets were beau­ti­fully evoca­tive, but how to get them up on a wall? That’s where artist Danny Hussey came in. The owner of Cen­tral Art Garage and his part­ner, Brid­get Thomp­son, stopped by and saw that Vez­ina had the rac­quets ar­rayed on the floor in a huge Spiro­graph pat­tern. Vez­ina was won­der­ing how best to ar­range them — and how to mount them with­out caus­ing any dam­age. Hussey had a few ideas that in­volved leather straps and screws. “I said to him, ‘You seem to have a clear vi­sion — why don’t you take this over!’”

A re­fresh of the space also in­cluded paint­ing, retil­ing the area around the kitchen, and adding live-edge bars on both sides of the fire­place. Vez­ina then dug through the boxes of mem­o­ra­bilia col­lected over the club’s 137-year his­tory, choos­ing archival pho­tos to hang and tro­phies and pen­nants to dis­play. “I like the de­sign to hap­pen nat­u­rally,” he ex­plains. “It’s al­ways in trans­for­ma­tion.”

Big­ger de­sign changes may be in the off­ing. Vez­ina dreams of re­mov­ing the drop ceil­ing, which cur­rently hides a dra­matic beamed roof. The 200-seat spot has been crowded since day one with ten­nis and vol­ley­ball play­ers, peo­ple from the neigh­bour­hood, Bel­mont reg­u­lars, and Vez­ina’s fel­low food-in­dus­try friends. Now, as sum­mer be­gins to wane, he’s al­ready plan­ning for next sea­son. “On the day the restau­rant opened, some of the long­time club mem­bers cried a lit­tle when they saw it — they were so happy,” he says. “In my mind, we’re not even close to done yet, but see­ing how happy peo­ple are with The Cameron so far, that’s a re­ally nice feel­ing.”

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