House of TARG: punk, perogies and pinball

By Erin Bender Kerbel

18 Kerbel image-2 When an old arcade machine was dropped off in Ottawa musician Paul Granger’s rehearsal studio four years ago, he never imagined it would lead to the creation of a popular music venue and pinball bar.

The Targ arcade game, given to 40-year-old Granger by a friend, ended up being a hit at the studio, where over 25 local punk bands rehearse. “All the bands started playing Targ when they came to rehearse,” said Granger. “Then one of my friends stopped by and saw the machine, and he owed me a couple months of rehearsal time so he gave me a pinball machine instead of paying me.”

From there a collection of old pinball and arcade games started, and House of TARG was born. “I went on Kijiji and started looking for old pinball machines. I drove all around Ottawa picking them up for the studio,” Granger said. “My studio was the first House of TARG before we moved into this venue, and people could just come in and play pinball while we had bands playing.”

The new House of TARG, which opened in April, is located at Bank Street and Sunnyside Avenue. It is co-owned by Granger and two other musicians, Mark McHale and Kevin Birger. It continues to house punk shows and now boasts a collection of about 40 pinball and arcade machines.

Left to right, co-owners of the House of TARG Mark McHale and Paul Granger, Mayor Jim Watson and co-owner Kevin Birger. Photo: House of Targ
Left to right, co-owners of the House of TARG Mark McHale and Paul Granger, Mayor Jim Watson and co-owner Kevin Birger. Photo: House of Targ

TARG also serves a unique menu of handmade perogies. “I’m half Ukrainian, and every year at Christmas I would make a big batch of perogies and hand them out to my friends,” Granger said. “That’s where the idea to serve perogies came from. We wanted to try something different.”

With six types of perogies available, including mushroom, vegan and gluten free, and dessert versions, they proved to be a hit. “The perogy idea really caught on,” said Granger. “It’s funny, before we opened we thought people would be most excited about the live music, but people really seem to be excited about the perogies and pinball.”
TARG regular Harlan MacLeod, who works across the street at Taylor’s Genuine Food and Wine Bar, agrees. “I think it’s the novelty of pinball that attracts people. Plus the perogies are amazing,” said MacLeod.

MacLeod’s friend and co-worker, Graham Taylor, thinks the unique idea attracts an interesting crowd. “The mix of punk music, pinball and perogies is genius. It attracts a wide range of people. The old punkers in there along with the young hipsters makes for a really unique vibe,” said Taylor.

Walking into the dimly lit bar it is impossible to miss the huge range of people of all ages drinking beer and playing pinball together. It can get loud, with music booming and voices calling out perogy orders over a PA system, but the noise doesn’t seem to scare anyone away. “There is no specific demographic we’re targeting, we just want nice people to come. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you look like, you will always be accepted here. It’s awesome to see the 80-year-old dudes playing next to the young 19-and-20-year-olds who are just discovering the bar scene,” said Granger.

There have even been a few big-name musicians who came to check out the venue, including Barenaked Ladies front man Ed Robertson and the Sam Roberts Band. The TARG staff also focus on keeping the venue safe, cheap, and family friendly. “We want to stay away from the “scary bar” atmosphere and always try to be respectful. It’s free entry from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. before the shows start so a lot of families come for dinner,” said Granger. “It’s great because kids can keep themselves busy at the pinball machines and parents really appreciate that. “We try to keep the cover cheap too, usually five or 10 dollars, so the music is accessible to everyone.”

Mandie Norton, whose band, Criticull, played the venue in July, thinks TARG is a great place for local bands to get noticed. “When my band played here, there was a mix of people here for the pinball, and here for the show. People would just come to play pinball and then they’d discover our band so that was great,” said Norton. In terms of future goals, Granger has a few on his mind, both big and small. “We’re trying to get the band Rush to come play,” said Granger. “We also want to start farming out our perogies to local stores. But the ultimate goal is to raise enough money to buy a submarine. We want to take our perogies, games and music on the submarine and cruise the world. That’s our silly dream.”

House of TARG is open Thursday to Sunday between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Erin Bender Kerbel is a Ryerson University journalism student who enjoys the arts and culture vibe in her hometown, Ottawa.

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