Maia Mehmeti

Student Bar

The following ethnographic observations were made at a local restaurant and popular hangout spot for University of Ottawa students. It is a restaurant and a bar that has been a staple to the University. I specifically chose to prepare my observation notes on a Wednesday night, otherwise known as karaoke night. Karaoke Wednesdays are a very popular event: the bar tends to be jam-packed with students. Music can be heard blaring from the streets outside. I thought this would be a good place to conduct my observations because there is a lot that can happen in one night of being there. My writing follows a chronological timeline and reflects my entire experience at the bar from start to finish.  In the first ethnography, I take an ethnographic narrative approach focused on ethnographic vignettes. In the second ethnography, I chose to write my observations in the raw field notes format, emphasizing more analytical aspects rather than first-person perspectives.


First Description

             *crunch* I hear the sound of the crisp fall leaves being squished under my boots as I make my way to the bar in which I will be conducting my observations My fingers and ears feeling a burning sensation as a gust of freezing wind whirls around me, prompting me to walk faster. The streetlights line up on the sidewalk, perfectly illuminating the night sky. When I finally arrive at my destination, I see how the bright red bricks contrast notably to the black rooftop and a big sign lit up for all to see. I walk in and was immediately greeted by a server who told me to sit wherever I wanted to. I look around the restaurant, it was moderately busy. I look to my right and there was a table with four guys that had already been drinking, two empty pitchers stood on their table as the waitress walked over and placed two new ice-cold ones down. The condensation dripping down the side as they pour it into their empty glasses.  I look to my left and see the waitresses already getting ready for the rush, they start pushing some of the tables to the side against the wall so that people will be able to walk through. I walk over to the far back tables, passing a table of girls cheering and clicking their shot glasses together before throwing the burning liquid down their throats. I take a seat, place down my notebook and order a drink.

            The Bouncers show up to take their post, shortly after the line began to form at the door. Girls and boys of all different ethnicities jumble together in a human blob eagerly awaiting their entrance. As I placed myself in the back corner, I had a perfect view of the place. The temperature of the room started to increase as more and more people started to enter. Upon entering, everyone made their way to the bar. I myself take a spot by the bar and start to eavesdrop. “Can I get 2 pitchers of white wine sangria please?” I hear one girl shout over the bar to the bartenders. “Can I get a pitcher of Molson?” another person chimes in. The karaoke has begun. I look over at the drinks on the table next to me as they begin to shake and spillover from the intense vibration of the blaring music. The whole place begins to reek of sweat and beer.

            As we progress through the night the mood and the atmosphere inside bar increases with every pitcher poured and every terribly sung song. The music blares loudly through the room drowning out the sea of voices. “Dude! Let’s Go Sing ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’”, I hear a guy say to his group of friends. He wears distressed jeans and a beer-stained burgundy uOttawa t-shirt. The group of guys make their way to the DJ area, they grab the microphones and begin to sing loudly to them. Their singing was infectious and not long after they had the whole place singing along with them.: “She’s got eyes like the bluest skies as if they thought of rain…” Bodies swaying back and forth to the music, the ambiance was so carefree and relaxed everyone seeming to be in a state of bliss- or maybe that was just the alcohol. I carefully made my way through the crowd of people, by this point the place was packed. The bouncers had shut the door and were refusing to let anyone else inside. Clusters of people strategically placed all around the room, everyone seemed to belong to a group. If I had to guess I’d say there were about 100 people in the room, this made it hard to maneuver my way through the bar. At one point, I see everyone's eyes dart towards the bar; a girl in a leather coat, leggings, and black high heeled boots is standing on the bar attempting to dance. Everyone begins cheering her on as she continues, almost immediately after she was greeted by a not-so-amused-bouncer in a big red coat who carries her off the thick wooden surface and escorts her through the red, brightly lit exit sign.

Second Description

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017


 I decided to head to the bar at around 8 o’clock. Based on prior experience, I knew that I should show up early so that I could get myself a seat, before the place filled up and there was no room to breathe, let alone sit down. When I got there, five tables seemed to be in use while the others were pushed against the walls of the building. There were six waitresses and two bartenders for the night. I asked the waitress to sit me down in the back so it would be easier to conduct my observations. I was surprised that there were not more people in the bar, this worried me because I didn't want my observations to be lackluster.


As 9 o’clock rolls around there is an influx of bodies inside the small bar space. There is a group of about 30 people lined up in the cold weather, determined to get in. I am approached by two guys who seem to be interested in the notes I am taking. “Why are you doing homework in a bar and not drinking?” one of the guys says to me, as he pours a drink from his pitcher into a cup and offers it to me. I decline and explain that I am taking observation notes on all the activity happening around me for a class, they nod and leave me alone. By this time, it seems as though everyone in the bar had a drink in their hand. People yelling left and right trying to get the waitresses attention to bring them another drink. There seemed to be a never-ending supply of alcohol.

10:30 pm

Looking around the room it is clear that there is a much higher male to female ratio, I would say around 60% male and 40% female. As I scan the open space, it is also evident that the average age range of the people in the bar is around 19-25. I could have already assumed these numbers before entering, because in a sports bar like this one, the chances of there being a surplus of males was high.  Also, seeing as the location of the bar is next to the university, the average of the age range was predictable. Everyone was a singer tonight: every group took their turn attempting their own renditions of a wide variety of songs. The music was blaring through the room as the songs seemed to unify everybody as they joined in to sing along. I noticed some people were leaving already; upon their exit the bouncer would let in a new group of people.


The energy in the room had reached its peak, the place packed from end to end. I found it hard to walk around and observe so I made my way back to my seat. At this point, I notice an extremely intoxicated girl who decided to stand on the bar and dance. While climbing onto the bar, she knocks over not only her own drink but the drinks of the people next to her. “Shit, are you serious? Watch where you're going!” the guy next to her yells. That stunt earned her exile from the bar. The bouncer leads her out and her friends follow. One group removed and another simultaneously takes their place.



Through this experimental ethnographic exercise, I have learned that there is a wide variety of different approaches to writing an ethnography. Depending on the perspective you are writing in or the stylistic approach you decide to take, the same ethnography has the potential to turn out completely different. This little distinction could change the way that an ethnography is perceived by its reader. By reading contrasting ethnographies in class, this helped to highlight the many different ways that perspective, voice and stylistic choices could impact your writing. Through the completion of this assignment, I was able to choose the best ways of writing ethnographically that would highlight my own style of writing while simultaneously sharing my ethnographic observations. In the first essay, I took more of a narrative approach to highlight my experience. I tried to be more descriptive of the atmosphere and the setting to enhance my experience while also using ethnographic vignettes. In contrast to the first mini-ethnography, for the second one, I utilized the raw field note format, which had more analytical aspects rather than first-person perspectives.