From punk rock to indie, Ottawa isn’t the sleepy government town you though it was

To all incoming students, welcome to Ottawa. You made a good choice. Yes, people will tell you that it’s a boring government city. Fair. But hidden in the corners of Ottawa are talented musicians and passionate crowds, and it doesn’t take much digging to find good music (and a great night) for $10. Most great venues are also within walking distance from campus. Here is your no-fail guide to Ottawa’s best venues to eat, drink, and listen—written by an Ottawa native.

Photo: Eric Davidson.

Babylon 317 (Bank St.)

Babylon is a great option if you want to check out a show and party at the same time. This club is in the heart of Centretown and just minutes from the Byward Market. It’s a safe bet to see rock, punk and indie shows for reasonable cover. The club hosts local DJs and events such as Drake Night, A Tribe Called Red’s Electric Pow Wow’s monthly, and Shameless (featuring the songs you’re too embarrassed to admit to like). Best of all, since it’s on Bank St., there are plenty of food options around for late-night eats. Plan ahead with their calendar here.

Photo: Eric Davidson.

Barrymore’s (323 Bank St.)

Similar to Babylon, Barrymore’s is a classic in the Ottawa music scene. Just down the street from Babylon, this old, rustic building houses an always-busy club venue. They have regular shows of all genres, as well as themed music nights. Check out their Facebook for a list of events.

Bar Robo (692 Somerset St. West)

Bar Robo is a fairly new spot in Chinatown, having taken over Raw Sugar’s old location. They’re part of the new breed of Ottawa venue—cafe, bar, and music hub. Their homemade cocktails are especially great, but they also serve a variety of beer and unique bar snacks. Their shows are inexpensive, too, and bring in a variety of genres and local talent. One of the best parts about Bar Robo is that they seem to always be open—you can grab your morning coffee and croissant there and return 12 hours later for beer and a show. Check out their next events here.

Pressed (750 Gladstone Ave.)

Pressed is a popular cafe and restaurant that doubles as a bar and venue. They have a waffle-based brunch menu (yes, waffle-based), pub favourites, a selection of beer, and expert cocktails. Pressed hosts indie shows most nights of the week, including “Bluegrass Mondays”, trivia nights, and open mics. Admission ranges from free/pay-what-you-can to $15. Bonus: drink as much as you want on Friday night, because you can return for hangover brunch in the morning. See their packed calendar here.

Irene’s Pub- (885 Bank Street.)

Irene’s is a hub for Ottawa-based area artists, so it’ is a great place to meet people in the local industry. While it’s largely a casual restaurant and bar, it has a strong commitment to the arts. Irene’s offers live music shows throughout most nights of the week, and shows are often free. The pub also hosts art shows, open mic nights, and special events like “Girls to the Front”—an all-women songwriting group. The location is great, too—It’s located on Bank St., near the Glebe, and a short walk to Elgin. Check out their monthly calendar here and free weekly events here.

Photo: Eric Davidson.

LIVE! On Elgin (220 Elgin St.)

LIVE! is fairly new and is located on the second floor of Dunn’s Diner on Elgin, just a short walk from campus. While their small stage usually hosts local artists of all genres, they also bring in touring indie and rock musicians. LIVE! also loves events, ranging from comedy shows and open mics to trivia nights, for affordable prices. As for wider Canadian cred, how’s this: the Arkells performed a secret show there during Juno Week 2017. Owned by local musicians, the venue and its bar are a welcoming spot to catch a great show in a cozy space. See their monthly calendar here.  

House of Targ (1077 Bank St.)

House of Targ is completely unique to Ottawa, and functions as the epicentre of all things counter-culture in the city. By day, it’s an old-fashioned pinball arcade and pierogi restaurant (vegan option included), but by night, they boast live shows that bring in energetic crowds. Targ usually hosts indie and punk musicians, and the venue has seen some popular names in recent months (think PUP and Surfer Blood). They also attract some of the best local artists such as New Swears, Elementals, and Mushy Gushy, so definitely check it out if you’re interested in the Ottawa music scene. If you’re there eating or playing, keep in mind that they start charging cover once shows begin. They also host free-play arcade nights on Sundays and love seasonal events, such as Season’s Beatings, their heavy metal Christmas party. Targ is a little far down Bank St. in a cozy area called Old Ottawa South, but can easily be reached by taking the 6 or 7 OC Transpo bus. See their calendar here.

Mavericks (221 Rideau St.)

Mavericks is a moderate-sized venue on Rideau St., a stone’s throw from campus, that plays rock and punk music three to four nights a week. Their shows run a bit more expensive, ranging from $10–30. The second floor of the building is Deckuf, which hosts occasional music events from a variety of genres for cheaper fare. Its interior is a bit rougher than some of the newer spots, but if you like loud music and authentic venues, Mavericks is for you. See their calendar here.

For monthly itineraries of shows in Ottawa, check out Ottawa Beat (available at many local retailers), or Ottawa Showbox for weekend round-ups.