House of Targ, Level 3: Reign of the Pinball Wizards
Photos by Andre Gagne
When I was thirteen years old, the big to-do for me and my pals every weekend was to make our way to the Mr.Arcade video game parlor, at that time, located in what was the Alta Vista mall, in Ottawa's south end. We'd dutifully grab our faded and beat up jean jackets, lovingly stenciled* with our favourite bands, (re: Rush, Triumph, Led Zepelin, BOC, you get the picture), fill our pockets with as many loose quarters as we could “find” in our mother's purses, and hop on the number one South Keys city bus.
A few short minutes later, we'd be standing in front of our very own Mecca. Practically flying in the front door to get to our favourite consoles. Going into an arcade back in the day, was a…unique experience. From the smoke clouding the air, of both the “Export A, green pack”, and of the “rhymes-with-shm-ash-shm-ipe” variety. To the somehow ever present sketchy dude with the pencil-thin mustache, and “Mork from Ork” suspenders, who always only ever played Ms.Pacman for some reason. To the sharp and continuous “shuk-shuk!” sound of the attendant's change-belt. To the room filled with screaming, adrenalized, mostly pre-pubescent boys, who were themselves filled with unbounded excitement, acne cream, a dozen or so Pop Shoppe lemon-lime sodas, and a family-size bag of “Bottlecaps”. For me, that's an absolutely perfect memory from when I was a kid. Well, that and when there was no line-up for “Zaxon”. I have no idea if life was truly simpler back then, but I do know that was all my friends and I needed to have a great afternoon.
The reason for my bringing that up, and just to confirm to everyone that I haven't in fact had a mini-stroke, is to point out that the feeling of excitement, belonging, and community that I experienced hanging out with my friends, of hanging out at the arcade pumping quarters into a game of “Joust”, or “Dig Dug”, or hell, even “Dragon's Den”, all those years ago, is the same feeling you immediately get walking into House of Targ. A feeling of community. The feeling of having someplace to be.
Mind you, referring to House of Targ as just an arcade is not only inaccurate, but does nothing to capture all of it's sometimes bizarro, larger-than-life, gloriousness. So how do I describe Targ to those who have never been? Tough call. How about “A-live-venue-showcasing-multiple genres-of-music-from-all-over-the-world-and-stocked-with-the-finest-circa-80's/90's-pinball-and-video-game-consoles-while-also-serving-some-of-the-best-damn-perogies-in-the-city”? It's a mouthful, sure, but at least it's closer to being accurate, and even then, it falls somewhat short. It's closer in a “descriptive” sense, but not nearly close enough in a “feel” sense.
Targ turned three last Monday. An uncommon achievement for a bar in general, but an outstanding one for a location as unique as Targ. So, on a cold, and extremely windy Monday, a day that even Winnie the Pooh would have called “G*d-damn blusterry!”, my OLM colleague Andre Gagne and I, made our way down to Targ to join in the anniversary festivities.
Walking into Targ, or down into, more precisely, has always reminded me of walking into a friend's rec room when I was a kid. I can still remember going to my first “non-Italian” friend's house, and being introduced to the concept of a “rec-room”**.
Now granted, there's no faux-wood paneling or ping-pong table with cigarette burns in it thankfully, but Targ has that same kind of magical, comfortable, welcoming, familiarity.
First off, the club's decor is a mish-mash of items ranging from the bizarre to the hilarious. Skulls and such abound, but if you have a seat and look around the room, it's hard not to smile. And as it turns out, it's an apt analogy, As it's this “mish-mash”, this combination of seemingly disparate elements, that is one of Targ's most unique strengths.
This combination of different things coming together to create something new, something that didn't exist beforehand. Don't get me wrong, at certain points it does look like the club may have been decorated by Ken Kesey coming down off of a 72 hour ether/peyote-buttons binge, but, and maybe it's just me, I absolutely love that. Because that right there? That's some of Targ's magic at work. That's another element of Targ's new alchemy.
And it's one of the things that gives Targ it's individuality and heart.
But what also struck me immediately, but more importantly, was how the staff, lovingly dubbed “Wizards”, knew exactly what to do in preparation for the big celebration. A well oiled-machine of intent, and community. All focused and dilligent of purpose, all focused on making sure that everything went without a hitch. What quickly becomes apparent at Targ, which isn't something I've seen very much in other venues, is that this is a group of people who truly like being around each other, and moreso, who genuinely like each other.
Targ is somehow completely free from the temporary and transitory relationships that are typical in the bar industry. Clearly, what drives and excites these folks is creating a positive, encouraging community of like-minded people, musician and non-musician alike.
A community of acceptance, and more importantly, and in a very real sense, of family. I can tell you from years working in bars and restaurants, that finding that kind of synchronicty, that kind of “hive mind”, one essential to prosper and thrive in the bar business, is of the utmost rarity, and is one that seemingly comes quite naturally to the Wizards at Targ.
And this attitude is reflected by the amazing range of ages I saw at the club when I was there. Literally running the gamut from 8 years old (all ages are welcome before 9 p.m.), to 60 years old. Supporters and patrons from all ages and walks of life, enthusiastic and involved, offering warm wishes and congratulations to owners and staff alike. When was the last time you saw that in a “bar”? In other words, everyone was so damn into everything that was going on. It was an amazing thing to see and be a part of.
Okay, so on to the show itself. Targ prides itself on booking a wide variety of musical, and sometimes non-musical acts. And Monday night showed that in spades..
Starting the night off with the exact right amount of loud was homegrown old-school punk band, Pok Gai. I wasn't familiar with them beforehand, but can certainly attest to their intensity and rawness. A “kick you in the throat” delivery, defined by blistering guitar, attacking vocals, and a rock-solid bottom end, re: drums and bass. And any band with a female drummer kicks ass by definition, as far as I'm concerned.
Next up, all the way from Japan, the absolutely fantastic ZooBombs. Anything I can say to describe them, will not come close to doing them justice, but I'll give it a shot. High energy, manic, mesmerizing music. Winding intricate melodies, delivered with an earnestness and honesty which is remarkable to see. Highly proficient players and performers, twisting the boundaries and limits of the idea of what a “rock band” is. Probably my pick for the night. Just blew me away. Awesome.
Which isn't to say that the night's closer, Mokomokai, weren't incredible, because, yeah, they were. The last time I felt as pumped as I did listening to Mokomokai, I had a 12 inch rat-tail***, and I was furiously pumping my fist into the air while Iron Maiden played “Run to the Hills” as loud as they possibly could in Montreal. That is to say, pretty damn happy. Big crunchy guitar riffs, fat bottom end, and operatic vocals. One of the tightest bands I've seen, and they were in full form that night.
Add DJNew Swears to the mix, and what more could you possibly want?!
Now you might think that booking three bands (and a DJ) that are profoundly different stylistically, would be, to put it diplomatically, strange. But here's something else you need to know about Targ. Because this too, is another of Targ's greatest strengths, another layer of it's magic. It's a venue owned and operated by people who love music, period. And it's a booking approach that mirrors Targ's overall philosophy, namely, be genuine, be honest about what you do, be nice. A deceptively simple mantra, but one we could all do with adopting.
I asked Targ co-owner Paul “Yogi” Granger though , if Targ's unique hybrid of elements ever proved to be a challenge. Granger confides, “It was a bit of a tough sell at first. “We had a lot of difficulty at the beginning kind of nailing that down, of explaining that to people.”, he says, “even just explaining our hours (of operation) which are a little bit different than other bars. And we really had to learn to be flexible to accomodate all these different musical styles, and the different age ranges.” And flexible Targ certainly are, as further evidenced by their booking a full-on kid's band called Cuckoo Kangaroo.
Granger continues, “We're trying to do a lot more all-ages events too. To try to get kids more excited about the idea of coming to a show. And to promote things that encourage kids playing music and being in bands.”, he says “Just giving people the opportunity to play, and a place to show people what they're up to, and for them to get the support as a community.” Clearly, Granger is not only interested in music lovers, but future music lovers as well. Granger's enthusiasm and excitement about music is contagious, as is his goal to spread the word about our city's rich and varied music community.
Targ has put on a staggering amount of shows, 394, to be exact, not including the 240 events they put on as well. Most venues never come close to those kinds of numbers, but Granger, along with his fellow owners Mark Mchale, Kevin Berger and their newest partner, Blake Jacobs, are in every sense, all about the music.
Granger explains, “We're pretty lucky to have a really good team at Targ itself, and a really good group of people that we're working with in order to be able to get that many bands through a year.” He adds, “What I like most about putting on shows and doing live music”, is that the people you run into and deal with are generally really good people.”
Granger, or “Yogi” to his friends, of which, if that night was any indication, he has many, is an unassuming, humble guy, whose mellow demeanor underscores how much experience he's had working in the music business. Granger's own experiences of years of playing, touring, and working as a sound tech in clubs, drove home what he wanted to see in a club of his own. His humility and gratitude become immediately apparent during the course of our conversation. And the words that keep coming up in his speech are words like “community”, “family”, “genuine”, “kindness”, “inclusion”. These are the touchstones of Granger's, and Targ's approach. An idea years in the making, Targ is almost an organic thing, fueled by a like-mindedness and determination, and most of all, love. Love of friends, of family, of music, of musicians, of community, of connection, of message.
“We've always been a very close knit family, but over the last three years, we've really been able to work better as a team, and to have each other's backs”, says Granger.
But, Granger admits, running a live venue certainly has it's own set of specific challenges. “It's a tough game to be in and to be on top of”, he says, “because it takes twenty four hours a day, constantly trying to get shows in, trying to get people involved and excited, and trying to promote all those shows.” But Granger's got a secret. A very simple one. He explains, “But if you're genuine about it, if you really care about it, it seems to resonate with people.” So what started as a potential problem, re: Targ's multi-layered approach, has turned into one of it's defining characteristics. Granger is passionate about delivering and fostering the Targ credo. He explains that Targ has the benefit of attracting different crowds and types of patrons, for example, “The gaming community, which is huge in town, will always come out and check out the games we have, he says, “and we try to sponsor events in town, or be involved with different kinds of events in the city.”
He continues, “We've been very lucky and we're very grateful that people come out, that they bring their friends out, and support what we do. We just want to involve as many people as we can.” Granger adds, “I guess that's the ethic of this place, to get as many people involved as possible, from different backgrounds, genders, whatever, as long as they're good people.” Granger adds, “As long as they're real, and genuine, and that they care about what they do. You can meet the most intersting people who are different than you. We may own Targ financially, but I really feel like the city does to. We can't do it without the power of the people around us.”
But Granger has even bigger ambitions, a higher message to deliver. “I don't want Targ to be just a bar, or a restaurant, or live venue. It's a bit of everything. “, he says. “And the same thing makes sense with the music we put out. Hopefully we can gain and learn something from each other. When we were opening, we really wanted to get that message across. That this is a very musician-friendly place, and is also a very friendly musician-lover place.”
Unlike other live venues, Granger's booking approach for bands is a unique one, and one not beholding to any preconceived judgments or notions. “I book bands a lot of the time who I may not know that well, or their music”, he explains, “or I may not be into their style, but if it's real, if it's genuine…” Granger lets the words trail off, but the message couldn't be clearer. Be genuine. Love and be real about what you do. Do it fiercely and enthusiastically. Ideas and a credo to live by. Granger is proud of what Targ has been able to accomplish, and shows no signs of stopping, “It's a lot of work, but it makes you feel good to go to work and to see people that are interested and invested.” , he says. Targ also puts out a fanzine, which is a total labour of love as well as a way to further spread the word of Targ. The zine covers almost every topic, from game reviews, to toy collections, to perogie menu's (“Kickstart My Heartichoke” is one of my faves), to and write ups and bios, club listings, and hell, even a Slo Tom advice column!
And Granger always has his eyes set on new and different ways to spread that message. And one of those new ways? The anniversary show also heralded the unveiling of the new, and uber-kick-ass, Targ cycle! A fitting addition to the Targ stable.
Aside from Targ's importance insofar as it's role in promoting this city's incredible music scene, in propagating and organically growing our rich musical history, Targ, for a lot of people, and in a very real sense, is also second home. Ideas like humility, gratitude, community, all worthwhile and admirable goals, but also, only fiercely powerful when put into practice. Targ has that most unquantifiable of things, it is a family. And as trite as that may sound, it's no less genuine. And at a time in our history, when you're not sure who or what to trust, where words and concepts have become pliable, where the “truth” gets lost in the cracks, isn't it conforting to know that there's a place, and people, right here in our own city no less, who are about as real as you can get? All are welcome at Targ. Just be cool. And that really kind of sums it up. Have fun, listen to great music, eat some good food. And that right there, to me at least, is the perfect recipe for one more great afternoon.
* For those of you in my age range, “stencilling” should trigger some pretty happy memories. For those of you who are younger, back in my day, we used to stencil our fave band names onto the backs of our jackets. It was a whole thing. Also, stop judging us. And pull up your damn pants.
** As anyone who knows an Italian person can attest, we do not in fact have “rec rooms”. Instead, my people have opted to have a fully functioning, complete second kitchen in the basement. I honestly wish I could tell you why. We also love buying twenty of anything when they're on sale, and hanging giant prosciuttos and cheese wheels from a clothes line in the basement. I know that doesn't clarify things. It just felt like it was important I tell someone that.
***The infamous 80's “rat-tail” was a, I swear to God, honest-to-goodness fad. Basically a “regular haircut” everywhere except for a very thin “strip” of hair running from the nape of your neck. And yes, I had one when I was fourteen. Which my mother promptly chopped off when I was asleep, and, wait for it, pinned it to my bedroom door. My mother, as should be obvious, does not frig around.
Check out the Targ site or zine for listings and lots more awesome!
Big thanks to Scott Doubt for the pics of Yogi on the Targ-Cycle, and Mokomokai
Check out more of his great stuff on the Targ Twitter feed, or right here: