“It’s so empty,” Madi, my best friend from Ottawa, tells me plainly. She’s right – we’re in the heart of Uptown Waterloo, and the streets she’s gesturing towards are mostly bare. Usually, by this hour, they’re teeming with university students bar and club-hopping. Right now though, it’s eerily quiet.
I can’t help but feel disappointed. Out of everywhere in Waterloo, this was the spot I was most excited to show her during her visit. When I first moved from Ottawa to Waterloo in high school, I was stubbornly homesick and hated just about everything about the new city I found myself in — except for uptown. In spite of myself, I couldn’t help but fall a little in love with the technicolour glow of the signs at every restaurant, bar, and storefront at night, and how there was always someone passing by on the street even at the most obscure hour. It always seemed so alive.
But so far the night has been eerily quiet, and even the lights look a little dimmer tonight. I’ve yet to run into anyone who seems remotely near our age, and our only encounter with anyone thus far has been with some drunk guy in his thirties who catcalled us on the sidewalk. “You girls look hot!” he shouted at us, his words slurring. We just turned the corner faster and hoped he wouldn’t follow.
I turn to Madi. “Want to walk a little more?” I’m half-hoping that she says yes: if we walk a little further, maybe we’ll find out where everyone else is, if anyone else is even here.
She agrees, and so we keep moving.
While we walk, my mind wanders to what a typical night here would look like. Back in the summer, I would generally start with a stop at Revive, a little karaoke bar on King and Young. Sometimes, the place is packed with Laurier students, cocktails in hand, singing “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood, and everyone will gather around the stage to drunkenly cheer on even the most tone-deaf singer. The singing continues even while walking out — my friends and I have launched into impromptu duets on the street with total strangers. On other nights, the bar is completely empty except for a lone singer belting something obscure onstage, and that sound coupled with the hazy coloured lights feels like something straight out of a dream.
Like with anything you love, there are things I also hate about uptown. I went to Erb And Culture once and it was everything I loathe about clubs – too sweaty, too loud, just too much at once. The other main club uptown, The Drink, is one I’ve yet to visit since each time I walk past it, there’s always a seemingly endless line of people trailing down the street, hoping to get in. Maybe I’ll check it out to see what all the fuss is about now that students are coming back to campus, but for now, I’d much rather go to The Pub on King since at least that comes with the promise of sweet potato fries.
It’s when Madi and I pass The Pub on King that we finally encounter a group of girls our age. They’re giggling (tipsy I’m sure), and all decked out in dresses and high heels. One of them, against all odds, is another girl we went to high school with.
“Hi!” she shouts to us with a little wave and smile, before heading off to join her friends.
In a glimpse, they’re gone. I peek my head toward the window looking into The Pub. There’s no one there, the same way that there was no one at Revive and no one at The Drink, which, for the first time seemingly ever, has no bouncer in sight. The city is fast asleep.
Still, Madi and I manage to make the best of the night we have. We window-shop at Eastwind, a boutique with sparkly dresses I think she might like. I issue her a mini-tour of the places where I’ve been on dates, from Famoso, a small pizza place, to Princess, the local theatre. Then I take her to Pür & Simple, where I often go for brunch after a bad hangover. Each spot feels special in their own small way.
Maybe it’s a little quiet uptown, and a little empty too. But right now, it feels like ours.