House of Targ Levels Up

House of Targ Levels Up

All photos by Andre Gagne.


It’s Sunday night and I’m gazing at the lights of the pinball machine in front of me wondering if perogie grease on the flipper buttons is the secret to high score immortality. I’m also thinking that in the event of a nuclear war, or zombie apocalypse, or should that fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, dogs and cats living together kind of mass hysteria start to occur, while most are fleeing for the sanctuary of the Diefenbunker, you can find me in the House of Targ.  If the ship is sinking, I’m going down playing Donkey Kong with a mouthful of perogies and a pocket full of quarters.

Paul Granger, Targ owner and Yogi.

Celebrating its two-year anniversary this week, House of Targ is Ottawa’s home for classic arcade gaming, live music and addictive perogies. Walking down the steps and into the game glow is like traveling back to a time where Kong was king, the highway always led to the danger zone and, with a hand clutching a joystick and a finger on the button, you could get lost in a world of pixels and bleeps for a couple of blissful hours. Inside Targ your ears are immediately flooded by the strange symphony of the arcade. The sound of a couple of dozen pinball machines collides with Bonnie Tyler who bounces off the familiar sounding demise of Pac-Man interspersed with the intermittent metallic monster voice from above reminding you that “your perogies are rrrrrrrrready”.

Targ owner, Paul “Yogi” Granger, grew up in Ottawa arcades like the Games Room and the Imperial, pumping whatever dough he could scrounge up into the machines and dreaming he could afford just a few plays of After Burner. He started playing in bands at a young age, working clubs like Barrymore's and Zaphods for spare cash, eventually making enough money to open his own recording studio he called the Meatlocker. He also started collecting old game machines.

Perogie goodness.

The first cab he scored would later inspire the arcade’s name. It was the vehicular combat classic Targ. Released in 1980, the game places you in the future world of Crystal City where you drive the Wummel and blast your enemies, or Targs, into oblivion while avoiding their deadly ramming force. Simple, a touch trickier than it looks and addictive like any good arcade game should be.

“Targ was given to me by a friend who didn't have any space for it,” recalls Granger. “From there I acquired my first pinball table, Diner, and the obsession grew.”

Granger saw the social effect of having a classic arcade paired with live music early on during some of the rehearsals and shows at the Meatlocker. The rise of home consoles in the late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s had long killed off the bulk of the arcades that he loved but Granger thought he could make it work. He just needed something interesting to serve up, something different.

“Being half Ukrainian I suggested perogies,” says Granger, firmly satisfied in his choice of the boiled wrapped dough dumpling dish. With names like Leek & Destroy and Kale ‘Em All and stuffed with potato, cheese, kale and other various fillings, gamers can be seen inhaling these things by the dozen. Granger doesn’t plan to change up the menu any time soon. “If ain't broke, don't fix it!”

Year 2 #s
House of Targ year two by the numbers.

Looking for a location that fit the budget of three musicians, Granger and partners Mark McHale and Kevin Bïrger nestled in beside the M&G’s Chip Wagon and across from the Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street. The arcade would be built by friends and volunteers with a lot of the design thought up as they went along. Granger says something new is added every day like the coffin, the fallout zombie mannequins in gas masks, the monkey head on the edge of the bar or the fake blood on the ceiling over the stage from the last wild Halloween party. Or is that real? Those ceilings are pretty low. Taller musicians, be forewarned.

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The Peptides perform at Targ.

Targ played host to more bands than days in that second year it was open; a tilt-educing 394 shows and 240 events! Party bands like the Peptides, metal heads like Venator and Ritual, punkers MxPx, rockabillys, indie groups, country blues singers, electronica ravers, DJ’s, adult puppet shows, circus punk and air guitar competitions have all found their way in front of the very Twin Peaks’esq curtain that serves as the Targ stage backdrop. The monthly Targ zine, filled with album reviews, cartoons and other humorous musings, will keep you up to date on what’s playing.

“I am a big supporter of our local Ottawa music scene and try to source out touring acts that excite and inspire musicians who are just starting out,” explains Granger.  “I am always open to experimental and new ideas and the creative minds behind those ideas. All of these things come together to make it happen along with an amazing promo team led by Blake Jacobs. Finding the bands is one thing, communicating these shows is probably one the hardest aspects of running a music venue. I count myself lucky to be surrounded by good people.”

Do you have what it takes to be a Targ pinball wizard?

Those good people that make up the Targ staff are called Wizards but, to Granger, they are also family.

“We all have fun working together. We play games together. We eat together. Things get nuts when it's busy and everyone has a job to do but we try to help and support each other wherever possible. We fight and we hug. Best job I've ever had.”

Targ knows how to throw a party, as those who have attended a New Year’s Eve there will tell you, and they didn’t pull any punches when it came to their own. Sunday, which is always a free-play party ($5 gets you unlimited game play), saw the rolling out of a still to be named perogie (I'm leaning towards Smells Like Teen Spinach), prizes, popcorn and a Mario Cart tournament which is pretty satisfying to simply watch while Paul Engemann’s “Push it to the Limit” blares.

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So, happy birthday, Targ! Should the end be neigh, I’ll be there reliving my youth with that dude in the faded Iron Maiden shirt, or the guy who can’t figure out where the start button is on WrestleFest, or the girl with the pink hair humming something by the Bangles, or that dude who probably sleeps in his leather jacket dreaming of a bygone age of high bangs, acid-washed jeans and when that mullet was still pretty rad. Sure, these days I may be graying and my wrist reflexes may not be as speedy as they once were, but somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain I still remember all the lyrics to Funkytown, can recite lines from the Goonies backwards and I know that elbow bashing is the key to beating Double Dragon. When they dig us all out from the rubble I’m pretty sure we’ll be smiling. Because, you see, money may not buy happiness but, at least in the House of Targ, you can come pretty damn close for only a couple quarters.