Suave, secret and a success: Ottawa proves it’s cool with pop-up picnic Harvest Noir

About 750 people turned out for Ottawa's first 'pop-up picnic' on Saturday

Amy (Twitter) is one of the co-creators of Local Tourist Ottawa who moved to the city more than eight years ago to attend Carleton University. Originally hailing from a small town in southwestern Ontario, she loves everything about Ottawa, from the buzz of Parliament Hill to Dalhousie’s local shopping and the thriving food scene.

For those of you who missed this past weekend’s ‘secret’ Harvest Noir picnic, a picture can tell 1,000 words.

Some of my dining companions at Harvest Noir

Inspired by the trend of the pop-up picnic that’s taken a number of global cities by storm — think Berlin, Paris, New York and Montreal — Ottawa hosted its own version of the foodie phenomenon on Saturday evening, which saw 750 people decked out in their finest black clothing descend about the Museum of Civilization for Harvest Noir. (While the food-focused movement traditionally features a white dress code, it’s nice to see that Ottawa did things a little different.)

My dining companion, Jane

Confused by the conception of a ‘secret’ picnic? Basically, it was a “Destination Unknown” event described as “Ottawa’s secret picnic feast & black tie dance party.” Those wishing to attend Harvest Noir would sign up online for the $42 ticket and were told to:

  • Dress their best in black
  • Stock a picnic basket filled with local food
  • Bring along your own plates, cutlery and white tablecloth
Harvest Noir’s organizers took care of the rest — namely the tables, venue and entertainment (a band, a DJ and Cirque-style performers). While guests knew the festivities would get underway at 4 pm on Saturday, we weren’t given an address until noon that day. We were only promised that the venue would be ‘architecturally stunning’ — which it was.

Still not sure what I’m talking about? Check out this video that the Ottawa Citizen’s Ron Eade put together:

Organizer Greg Serle said Harvest Noir’s attendance exceeded his expectations and he made it no secret that he plans on organizing another event next year — potentially earlier in the year as the weather wasn’t cooperative. Still, when the rain came out, everyone, it seemed, had an umbrella on hand. And very few packed it in as a result — there was just too much fun to be had.

Why should a little rain stop us?

Still, Harvest Noir was a testament to the fact that Ottawa really can be hip and happening, in spite of the stuffy reputation the city often has. The level of commitment by the guests was evident in the effort put into the dress (think top hats and ballgowns), the food (I spotted amazing spreads of roasted lamb, tortiere, cheese plates and pies) and perseverance through the rain. Guests were arranged at long tables sitting 80-100 people each, creating this cool sense of camaraderie amongst neighbours. Everyone was freely sharing and chatting with those next to them — whether they knew them or not.

The dance party took place inside the Museum of Civilization's Grand Hall

While the choice of the Musuem of Civilization was certainly visually stunning, I personally would’ve like to see Harvest Noir take place in a more pedestrian-friendly location so as to have an effect similar to that of a flash mob. When eating, we were tucked away behind the museum in a flat area that few would tread unless specifically seeking out the spot.
Still, I would call Harvest Noir a smash success — I overhead many of us whispering about the impressive picnics packed and outfits donned; we were clearly all planning for how we could top ourselves next year.