Hy's remembered for off-the-record chats, loosened ties, heavy drinking

Hy's Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar, a magnet for the political class of Ottawa, is shutting its doors on Saturday.

Popular Ottawa restaurant closing after more than 30 years of serving politicians, journalists

Hy's Steakhouse in Ottawa will shut its doors in on Saturday. (

If the walls at Hy's Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar in Ottawa could talk, they could tell you some juicy stories. But it's all off the record.

Greg Weston, a former CBC reporter, said politicians liked Hy's because they could talk openly with journalists. (CBC)

"What happened at Hy's stayed at Hy's," said L. Ian MacDonald, editor of Policy Magazine and a former speechwriter for prime minister Brian Mulroney.

"Hy's has been the place for 30 years where people check their guns at the door."

The Queen Street restaurant, a magnet for the political class of Ottawa, is shutting its doors on Saturday.

Shrinking clientele, lease dispute

It fed some of the most powerful people in Canada, but in the end it's being brought down by shrinking crowds and a lease dispute.

Just a couple blocks away from Parliament Hill, the restaurant attracted both politicians and the journalists who covered them.

Greg Weston, a Nanos strategist and former CBC journalist, said that besides its prime location, regulars were drawn to it for its discretion.  

"It's a little bit old-fashioned. It has carpets. That might seem like a weird thing, but actually on a normal day it's quiet. And a lot of the conversations here people didn't really want to share," he said.

Discretion appreciated 

As a journalist frequenting Hy's, Weston made a rule: "I write and I drink with the same hand. So if I've got a drink in it, I'm not reporting."

"Nobody ever wrote about what went on here. They thought about it, but they didn't write about it," said MacDonald. "It was kind of off the record. Not formally, but those were sort of the rules of the game."

Hy's first opened in 1985. (CBC)

That didn't mean people weren't taking mental notes.

Macdonald said on the nights after the federal budget was dropped Hy's would be packed, especially when the late Jim Flaherty was minister.

That was the case when he presented the budget in February 2014. But that year he brought his wife and sons with him to Hy's.

"There was a sense that he was leaving," said MacDonald.

Flaherty died two months later.

End of an era

Reporter Mark Bourrie said alcohol was a journalist's friend back in Hy's heydays.

'The days of people rolling out of the office and getting totally snorked are over."- Mark Bourrie, reporter

"There's no better buddy than the drinking buddy. If a friend of yours has puked in the back seat of your car, basically you have a bond that lasts forever. This is a place where secrets get traded and also sometimes where secrets get made," he told CBC's Day 6 after the bar first announced it would close in September.

Its demise, Bourrie argued, marks an end of the drinking culture on the Hill.

"People don't shut up about the things they see anymore. They don't shut up about the affairs that they know about," he said.

"The days of people rolling out of the office and getting totally snorked are over."

So where will the political watchers gather next? Weston said that's still being discussed.

"These are Ottawa crises that happen every once and awhile," he said. "It's going to be where people feel comfortable."