The official bartender of the NDP, who also teaches MPs ‘iron yoga’

Mitchel Raphael on the bartender who teaches MPs ‘iron yoga’
Photograph by Mitchel Raphael

‘She’s an NDP spy!’

Ottawa’s Brixton’s Pub has been the official NDP bar for years. Every Wednesday, staff and MPs gather at this Sparks Street watering hole, making it Brixton’s biggest night of the week. All the tables are reserved for them. At the centre of it all is 31-year-old bartender Julie McCarthy, who has worked at Brixton’s for nearly 10 years and has been manager half that time.

Most NDPers stick to the same drink. The draft of choice is Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale. For bottles, it’s Labatt 50. Both are now Wednesday specials. “After all these loyal years, they deserved something special,” says McCarthy. Even the newest crop of NDPers, from last election’s “Orange Crush,” favour Keith’s, which makes it a challenge, McCarthy says, because she can only pour one draft at a time. That she knows everyone’s drink of choice means service is fast. Her vacation to France last year led to 40 messages from politicians and staff asking where she was and why it was so hard to get a drink at the packed bar.

The only New Democrat she has ever had to always ask for his order was Jack Layton, who would alternate between red wine, Stella Artois and tonic water. Current NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is also a challenge for the bartender. After Mulcair was elected as an MP in 2007, he asked for New Zealand white wine, but they didn’t have any. McCarthy said if he became a regular she would stock it. He did, and so she did. Then came a year when Mulcair didn’t go to the bar. When he came back, he asked for his wine and she quipped, “Are you kidding?” He is now back at Brixton’s on occasion, and New Zealand white wine is in stock.

Once the drink specials were established, the NDP asked if there could be a food special. McCarthy offered what the majority of them love to eat: poutine. McCarthy became a member of the NDP this year. She wanted to vote in the party’s recent leadership race. She even signed up 10 family members. She won’t say who got her vote, but many leadership hopefuls wanted her to publicly endorse them. McCarthy has been going to the NDP’s Christmas party for the past eight years.

Before the bar became the NDP hangout, she admits, “I knew nothing about politics.” Now she knows more than most.

Making MPs sweat

In addition to bartending, McCarthy also teaches yoga at various Ottawa studios and runs into a lot of politicians in that line of work, too. She teaches yoga abs, baby and mom classes and power yoga, and has even offered yoga classes for MPs from different parties. NDP MP Dennis Bevington takes her yoga classes. She gives an “iron yoga” class that uses weights. NDP MPs Nathan Cullen and Fin Donnelly told McCarthy they could not walk the day after they took that class. Tory MP James Bezan had McCarthy as his personal trainer.

How to be famous at Brixton’s

McCarthy has created a small wall of fame at Brixton’s, with pictures of NDP MP Peter Stoffer and journalists Don Martin and Richard Madden. CBC host Evan Solomon has bugged McCarthy about why his picture has not been posted. McCarthy says her wall of fame policy is simple: bring a picture and she’ll put it up.

When the House is sitting, there are usually at least 20 MPs at Brixton’s on Wednesdays. MPs from other parties, such as Liberal Rodger Cuzner and Tory Ted Menzies, are also Brixton’s patrons, but they often avoid Wednesday nights. Stephen Harper’s director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, is also a good customer and friend. Last summer, a journalist took McCarthy to the media garden party at 24 Sussex. The PM asked McCarthy what she did for a living. Before she could answer, MacDougall jokingly shouted, “She’s an NDP spy.”