1980. The disco craze was going strong, with Call Me and Funky Town echoing through Sasha’s, Disco Viva, and other Ottawa-Hull dance venues. Or you could venture to the suburbs and trade your “boogie oogie oogie oogie dancin’ shoes” for roller skates at the Skateway Roller Disco.
Fun was in the air. Even the restaurants were offering a loose, goofy alternative to Al’s Steakhouse, The Golden Dragon, and other longstanding culinary institutions. The Marble Works, one of the city’s first concept restaurants, invited patrons to eat medieval style, as a wandering minstrel (Ottawa musical fixture Jim McIntyre) serenaded you while you ate with your hands. The Hayloft, meanwhile, let you drop peanut shells onto their floor while you enjoyed your beer. Then, an incongruous-looking building at the corner of the Queensway and St. Laurent Boulevard offered locals the most unconventional dining experience yet.
I.P. Looney’s, founded by restaurateurs Don Kennell and John McCarthy, was rooted in an Irish legend: a man with so many children, he forced them to dress up as mythical characters to tell them apart. The two-floor eatery and dance space named after him purported to be his family home, and the waiters and waitresses his offspring. You’d be greeted by The White Rabbit, seated by Superman, and served by the Wicked Witch of the West. The menu was equally outrageous: Brontosaurus Ribs, Veal Parma-Looney, and an outrageously overpriced peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There was also a well-stocked salad bar in a clawfoot bathtub.
Staff etiquette was unconventional too. Male patrons had their ties cut off and hung on the wall like hunting trophies. Even then PM Pierre Trudeau suffered that indignity, though his tie went mysteriously missing after the restaurant changed hands. And sure, the staff sang you “Happy Birthday” but then, they shoved your face in the cake.
The party lasted till 1987 when the building was taken over by the then-popular Hurley’s franchise. Come the 90s, it changed identities again, cashing in on the “Achy Breaky” line dancing trend as Denims and Diamonds. The Western theme remains alive and well today: the building is currently the flagship home of the Tex-Mex Lone Star empire. I.P.’s lives on, though, if only in digital form: ex-staff and one-time patrons share memories on a dedicated Facebook page, posting photos, menus, and trading trinkets (no fess-ups yet about Pierre Trudeau’s tie, though…)