The Uniter’s ultimate downtown venue guide
Whether you're a new post-secondary student wondering where the cool music can be found downtown or a music lover that can't keep track of which venues are open or closed (the last year has seen the Lo Pub, Negative Space, Pop Soda's, Republic and more shut down) the Uniter hopes this grid of its favourite downtown live music venues will fill your sound-hungry belly.
Union Sound Hall
110 Market Ave
The newest venue to open in Winnipeg definitely aims to give music fans what they’re after, with a team of A-list investors/operators/music fans that may or may not have been assembled like the A-Team.
“Gee, which one of us is Murdoch, I wonder?” Co-owner Tyler “Hunnicutt” Sneesby jokes. “Kevin Trosky is definitely the Hannibal. He was the one that brought the opportunity to all of us. He’s had success with Greenroom and wanted to open another room. So when the space became available, he rounded us all up to help with the vision of the room. Luckily, we’ve all worked together lots over the years so there’s no odd man out.”
Drawing inspiration from such venues as Vancouver’s Fortune, Calgary’s Commonwealth and the legendary First Avenue/7th St. Entry in Minneapolis, the group also wanted to make Union Sound Hall its own animal.
“First Ave./7th St. Entry was definitely a venue that came up a lot amongst the group in early meetings,” Sneesby says. “We like their big room/small room format, and we also admire how rigid they are in terms of scheduling their set times – if an opener is scheduled at 9 PM, they’re strumming their first chord at 9 PM. That’s something we’d like to push Winnipeggers towards because we are notoriously late-arriving audiences.”
Hosting recent gigs by hometown heroes Royal Canoe and Grand Analog, as well as this week’s James Murphy DJ set, has brought the audiences out in droves. So far, the reaction to the space has been positive.
“It’s been a little overwhelming,” the DJ says. “I’m just waiting for the backlash to begin – I’m predicting it will happen after people see our goofy mugs on the cover of this issue.”
112 Osborne Street
One of the most intimate and drunken spaces in the city is often host to classic pub-style acts (soul & classic rock covers) but it's the nightly local shows that keep Osborne loud. The odd Monday night Three for Free!!! series always works and the jam nights and Trivaoke (yup, it's what you think it is) are fan favourites.
Exchange Community Church
75 Albert Street
This space seemed to become a venue out of necessity for a lack of them on Albert Street this past spring. With its high ceiling, well-worn entranceway and giant neon cross, it's eclectic yet welcoming stage hosted many a charity event and straight-up rock show this year.
“A peaceful space that can get pretty darn noisy,” says Andy Cole of local trio Eagle Lake Owls. “You'll hear every nuance of a folk show, bang your head to a rock show and swear you heard a marching band coming out the windows as you walk by on Albert Street.”
Frame Arts Warehouse
318 Ross Ave
This five-story former sewing factory has been a hub for the arts in Winnipeg - from its art gallery to studio spaces and the fact that it plays host to a slew of rock shows, art installations, comedy nights and plays, it's also been home to the Purple Room, a 50 seat venue, since March of this year.
“A visitor from New York said it had the feel of her favourite underground concert spots in Brooklyn, and that's what we're going for - a rough-around-the-edges place where art, creativity, and weirdness can flourish,” Purple Room founder Paul Little says. “Since opening, it's been home to touring singer/songwriters, improv comedy, zumba classes, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, all-ages afternoon punk & hardcore, slam poetry, swing dancing, international fringe theatre, experimental rock, and even laser tag.”
287 Garry Street
With a strong Facebook presence and a whack of local shows, the 107-year-old Garrick Hotel is looking to re-establish itself as an important live venue - and it is. Featuring local and touring bands Thursday-Saturday night (most recently Toronto neo-vintage rockers Mushy Callahan and local guitar guy Vince Andrushko) and drink specials throughout the week, it's on its way to being your new favourite just-off-Portage watering hole.
108 Osborne Street
Greenroom operates Thursday-Saturday nights and features some of the most talked about DJ sets you'll find in Winnipeg - from local favourites Hunnicutt and Co-op to Canadian legend Scratch Bastid. Occasionally you'll find an original band playing to an intimate crowd (or a cover band getting people moving) but for the most part the line up is down Osborne to get into this place. The spirit of the Collective/Die Machine (and maybe even Goth Night) is alive and well here, it's just wearing different makeup.
King's Head Pub
120 King Street
The King's Head's website advertises itself as "your favourite post-shopping, pre-game, dinner date, post-concert downtown destination" and it very well could be (we always thought it was just where CreComm kids got hammered in the late afternoons). The pub food is arguably some of the best in the Exchange and the patio is the place to be seen (while there's a little summer left). One of the few bi-level venues in the city, the first floor doesn't host acts (just darts and pool) but the second is home to All the Kings Men, comedy nights and your drunken cousin who grabbed the mic from the band to propose to his new girlfriend.
Osborne Village Inn
160 Osborne Street
The Zoo and Ozzy’s are always homes to something loud, with the latter (located in the basement of the Osborne Village Inn) having gone through a bit of a renaissance in the last few years hosting New Music Wednesdays. It's the most bang for your buck when it comes to local - three bucks gets you three bands and a chance to dance the night away with local man about town Robbie Rousseau.
176 Fort Street
The Pyramid is one of those rooms that's a little bigger than a bar and a little smaller than a sit-down venue, the sound quality depends on who is operating the board and if you can only get 50 people to your gig, it's gonna look like there's only 10. But during a packed Jazzfest show or a sweaty dance party (combined with the ability to grab a drink at either side of the room) there's probably nowhere else a Winnipeg music fan wants to be. Hey - there's not a bad spot to sit or stand in there. The sight lines are great.
Times Change(d) High & Lonesome
234 Main Street
Some people would argue that you're not a musician until you've played the Times, you haven't drank until you've bought a round of Standards there or you haven't tossed a chicken into a bucket until … well, you get it.
West End Cultural Centre
586 Ellice Avenue
This beautiful old church in the Exchange got a bit of a reno a few years ago and has always been one of the most diverse venues in the city. From metal to pop punk to local Christmas celebrations and album release shows, the WECC makes everything sound good.
“It was always the place that I could count on seeing really good music of any genre as well as emerging and local artists,” Artistic Director Jason Hooper told the Uniter earlier this year. “Really top-calibre people that were really strong musicians and songwriters, and even if they were just starting out, there was a chance you were going to see something really good.”
187 Garry Street
"There will always be a home for the blues at the Windsor," booker Sam Smith told the Winnipeg Free Press late last year of the bar’s musical shift towards more rock shows. "It would be foolish to deny the history that makes this place special to so many people. That said, it's an extremely rare breed of live music venue in this day and age that can rely on a single genre seven days a week. In the interest of keeping the room viable for the future, we have to diversify and open the doors to a wider variety of artists and patrons. There's room for everyone here."