During its year-and-a-half at 35 Laurel St in Hintonburg, Café Michel-Ange became quite the hub for Ottawa’s lesbian community — hosting coffee meet-ups, film screenings and music events for the Lesbian Information Xchange and becoming ktnown more generally as a queer-friendly hangout.
That version of the café has now closed, but the good news is that Michel-Ange recently reopened as the official eatery of the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre, aka the home of the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) at 1233 Wellington St W.
“GCTC was looking for a new café because the place was empty,” says Louise Rousseau, one of the café’s four owners and a member of Ottawa-Gatineau’s lesbian community. “We weren’t sure if we were willing to open a new café, but then we thought, ‘Why not?’ It’s a really nice location, and we thought it might be worth a try.”
Rousseau’s proposal for the GCTC café was chosen in part because of her engagement with the performing arts. In reopening, she felt it was important to keep alive her original vision of Café Michel-Ange, which included programming lots of live music and performance.
Eric Coates, the artistic director of GCTC, says he’s excited about the possibilities for the new café.
“We knew that Louise had a great reputation in the area and an established clientele, but what was intriguing to us was that she wanted to promote her own musical program inside the building,” Coates says. “The lobby is highly visible from the street, and to fill it with people who are active in the arts is a great thrill. When you run a theatre company, people can’t really see from the streets what’s going on inside. The actual work is behind closed doors. This is the opposite of that. Louise is going to have artists at work, right there in the public eye.”
“It’s an extension of what they’re doing,” Rousseau says. “They’re doing theatre, and we’re bringing in the musical side of [performance].”
Upcoming events include a series of shows by Ottawa singer/songwriter Greg Kelly, who will perform his personal brand of folk-country music in the café on April 13 and 20 from noon to 1pm. These Saturday concerts are free.
Many of the signature elements of the old café hold steady at the new location: great live music and freshly roasted coffee beans that make for incredible coffee. The café now also serves lunch and offers a catering service.
“The challenge is to teach people that there’s something different going on inside a building that they only associate with theatre performance,” Coates says. “It doesn’t occur to people that they would be able to pop into a theatre for a cup of coffee, but hopefully that will start to change.”