I’ve heard all the smack talk: everybody thinks Ottawa’s boring. And to be completely honest, it’s kind of true. This is a small city, and there isn’t much to do here besides stare miserably at your reflection in the murky waters of the Rideau canal and ask yourself, Why the heck didn’t I choose U of T? But that’s only because you’re looking at the city from aboveground. Ottawa’s got a blast of an underground music scene and to prove it, here are five of the best venues the city has to offer:
The 27 Club
Location: 27 York St (Byward Market)
In 2017, Ottawa’s infamous music venue, Zaphod Beeblebox, closed shop. But have no fear! In its place stands the 27 Club, and it’s doing a heck of a job living up to its ancestor. Though its namesake is a group of dead musicians, the 27 Club is anything but dead, showcasing all kinds of live bands. New Wave, metal, Hip Hop, EDM—you name it, they’ll find it. It’s got a great dancefloor and reasonably priced drinks, and, best of all, it’s a fifteen-minute walk from the University of Ottawa.
[Fun fact: The Rolling Stones shot the music video for 2005’s “Streets of Love” in this very building!]
Walking around Byward December 1st? Drop by 27 and see Daniel Romano and Toronto-based rock band FRIGS!
Babylon NightclubLocation: 317 Bank St
Wanna dance? Check out Ottawa’s most diverse nightclub. Located on Ottawa’s Bank Street, Babylon showcases a wide variety of music, hosting DJ dance parties one day and bringing in math rock bands the next. There’s monthly Drake and Beyoncé dance nights, and plenty of places to sit and chill if you need to catch a breather.
Not into dance parties but like psych-rock? Buy tickets to see Ottawa-based Blve Hills and Kingston’s Lost Cousins on November 23rd!
Black Squirrel Books and Espresso Bar
Location: 1073 Bank St
Looking for something a bit more chill? Look no further: half bookstore, half indie venue, Black Squirrel Books and Espresso Bar is Ottawa’s coziest and underappreciated place to see music. Buy a coffee, grab a book, and sit in a corner table at the Ottawa-equivalent of a Tiny Desk Concert. It’s a warm and wonderfully ~inexpensive~ place to see small and up-and-coming artists (the kind of musicians who use Bandcamp like it’s 2010) and support the local music scene.
Buy tickets for Chandra’s show on the 16th to support Ottawa-based electronic musician Klapshmock (self-described as having emerged in 2018 from the “sludge and trash of the Ottawa river”).
The House of TARG
Location: 1077 Bank St
Like pinball? What about perogies? Punk rock? Check out Ottawa’s out-of-this-world venue, the House of TARG, owned and operated by Ottawa musicians (and wannabe aliens) Paul ‘yogi’ Granger, Mark McHale and Kevin Birger. It’s got a big stage and an even bigger calendar filled with punk rock, alt-rock, indie rock, jazz rock, any-kind-of-rock-that-isn’t-Dwayne bands from outside and inside Ottawa. Tickets usually range from $5 to $15, but screw that because you can “kickstart your heartichoke” with a box of artichoke perogies for $12 and play pinball free all-day every Sunday.
Want to eat perogies instead of studying for exams? Come to TARG on December 6th for an 80’s Dance Party feat. The John Hughes Orchestra (tickets $6 at the door).
Location: 3 Rue Kent (Hull)
Es-tu fatigué des anglophones? Grit your teeth and bare it for two more minutes (I can’t speak French to save my life) so I can tell you about the best place in Gatineau to have a drink and support local French-Canadian music. Follow the red brick trail across Alexandra bridge to umbrella-covered Rue Kent in Hull and find the fairy-lighted Minotaure. Not only does it have cheap drinks, free arcade games, and Taco Tuesdays, from Smiths cover bands to Quebec R&B, this Gatineau bar and venue also hosts a wide variety of both English and French musicians. But if you’re really just looking to have a drink with a couple friends, pop in on a weekday and listen to whatever they have playing on their Spotify playlist.
Want to support French Canadian artists? Get tickets to see Montreal-based electro-pop duo Milk & Bone at the Minotaure on November 17th.