It has been a lounge, a coffee house, a bar and a cybercafé—no matter the guise, Rooster’s has been meet-up central for students wanting to decompress, study or start a movement. Charting the history of Carleton’s sometimes notorious, sometimes neglected undergraduate oasis
Journalism student Arthur McGregor co-founds a club, called the Aardvark, on the mezzanine of the new Unicentre. Its vibe is fuelled by acoustic folk, marijuana and resold cafeteria drinks. No alcohol is served. The name Rooster’s is lifted from the pattern on some tablecloths. It sticks.
The party moves upstairs to its current roost. It replaces a student lounge dubbed The Purple Passion Pit because of a long, snake-like purple couch. The Charlatan of the day describes Rooster’s as “a great place to have coffee during the day and in the evenings there is often entertainment provided by either name artists such as Cedric Smith or local student talent.”
McGregor clashes with the student association. “I was under pressure to bring in draft beer,” he says today. “What I wanted was a listening room. I kicked people out if they talked during a performance.”
McGregor is fired. “Literally the day I left, they brought in the draft taps,” he says. McGregor goes on to found the Ottawa Folklore Centre.
Management invests in 220 hard wooden chairs that patrons curse deep into the 1990s. Meanwhile, a federal health minister, Monique Bégin, causes a political uproar after criticizing her own government during a lecture at Rooster’s.
Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella, BJ/84; Conservative MP Gord Brown, BAHons/83; and Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, BA/83, forge lifelong political friendships over pints at Rooster’s and the pub that will become Oliver’s.
On campus, students rally for East Timor and against apartheid in South Africa. The student association rails against a policy that forces Rooster’s to hire a doorman to curb underage drinking.
The student association faces pressure from the administration to stop serving alcohol in advance of the double cohort. Rooster’s wins back the right to sell food. The deep-fat fryer is retired, and an era of high prices, and limited selection ends.
Rooster’s trades booze for beans and returns to its roots as a coffee house. Students aren’t thrilled. “Rooster’s has a really nice pub atmosphere that’s no longer going to be there,” Laura Foss, BAHons/02, tells The Charlatan at the time. The idea is that drinkers will migrate from Rooster’s, a money-maker, to Oliver’s Pub, a money-loser.
Rooster’s reopens as a cybercafé following delayed renovations. Blue couches and computer terminals replace ratty leather couches and pool tables. The dingy, cigarette-pocked carpet is removed. “It’s a little too chic,” criminology student Lindsay Porter tells The Charlatan at the time. “I think the first- and second-year students will appreciate it because they didn’t grow up with the old, dank Rooster’s.” The campus Wi-Fi network will soon render the cybercafé obsolete.
Controversy over closing the taps at Rooster’s resurfaces amid plans to reduce the size of Oliver’s during Unicentre renovations. Drinkers never migrated from Rooster’s to Ollie’s, and the pub is still losing money.
Rooster’s gets a plug in The Vancouver Sun when columnist Kate Zimmerman, BA/80, makes reference to a spiced apple juice served at the pub in the late ‘70s.
A frosh guide in The Charlatan taps Rooster’s as “the best place to grab lunch on campus” thanks to its pitas and bagel sandwiches. “Once you have one you’ll be craving them all year,” they warn.
Starbucks sets up shop just steps from Rooster’s, and the student association worries that their money-making coffee house may take a financial hit.
Today the blue couches are a little sun-bleached, and the paint could use a touch-up, but it isn’t the “dank” pub of the 1980s and 1990s. Sandwiches—not coffee or spiced apple juice—are the big money-makers.