The trend towards accessible, all-ages venues that mesh food and fun is really beginning to take off. Ottawa At Home looks at three hip spots that are sure to offer a memorable and entertaining day or night out, and they might just be the perfect place for your next private party.
THE HOUSE OF TARG
It's only been open for 10 months, but the House of TARG on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South is drawing rave reviews for its trifecta of arcade games, live entertainment and a short, but sweet, Ukrainian-influenced menu. Owners Paul "Yogi" Granger, Mark McHale and Kevin Birger are enticing a wide range of guests to their 180-person venue, where they also played host to more than 150 live performances last year.
"We have been pleased to welcome great local acts as well as providing a space for touring artists that might otherwise overlook Ottawa," says Paul. We're open to lots of different genres and intentionally keep our cover charge low to encourage people to come out."
While the live entertainment and pinball games are definitely drawing cards, the food and drink are equally impressive. They are centred around the venue's delicious house-made perogies and inspired by the traditional recipes Paul grew up with. "Our best sellers are the roasted kale and smoked Gouda, with the mushroom shallot a close second. On the weekends, we also serve up a delicious, hearty Rustic Brunch, where we offer classic breakfast items along with perogies and kielbasa." House of TARG's well-stocked bar showcases local craft breweries along with wine, cocktails and Angry Orchard Har Cider.
Named for one of the first video games Paul acquired, the House of TARG is popular with everyone from young kids to older folks. "It's all ages till 9 p.m.," explains Paul. "We have over 30 pinball, arcade and video games - it's nice to see people enjoying the games. We're especially busy on nights where we charge a $5 cover and all the machines are on free play."
There's something intrinsically appealing about rustic, small spaces that serve unassuming yet impressive food. Pressed on Gladstone in the Centretown West neighbourhood offers just that, along with fantastic side helpings of eclectic entertainment. Throw in some vintage furniture and fairly traded coffee from local darling Equator Coffee Roasters and you've got all the ingredients for a great outing at a spot that bills itself as an urban gourmet sandwich bar.
Pressed's menu includes a variety of sandwiches with something for everyone, from carnivores to vegans. There are gluten-free options and a kids' menu, as well as salads, impossibly delicious sweet potato chips and a variety of desserts. Not to be missed is the eatery's weekend Waffle Brunches. Pressed is also licensed, with a short list of beer, wine and cider options as well as specialty coffees. "Most items are made in-house, including our smoked trout, wild boar, and chicken and vegetables," says owner Jeff Stewart. "We happily bring in desserts from Eden Cheesecake, Auntie Loo's and Bread and Roses."
When Jeff found the space that Pressed now occupies, he immediately added music to the mix. "I decided to build the stage when we were fitting the place up and discovered there are a lot of niche bands out there very appropriate to our space, so it's fun to offer music a couple nights a week." As for each Monday's serving of bluegrass, Jeff adds that he's always been a fan of that feel-good genre and it's definitely grown in popularity over the past year.
THE LOFT BOARD GAME LOUNGE
A fun newcomer to the ByWard Market's vibrant scene, The Loft Board Game Lounge offers a great environment in which to enjoy good food and drink along with a library of more than 800 board games. A nominal $5 "stay and play" charge ($2.50 for kids) makes for a very affordable outing and helps ensure the games inventory can be replaced or refreshed as needed, according to owners Mike Hopkins and Alessandro Argentina.
Mike admits that he was a fan of video games rather than board games when he was younger but, like many of his customers, has come to appreciate the value of gathering over a game. "It's very social. We offer a screen-free environment that encourages people to connect and interact with each other," he says. "It can get pretty lively in here and it's fun for our staff to engage with guests. They are game experts and can help you choose a game and explain how to play it, which many guests prefer over having to read a rules booklet."
The Loft's attractive décor is complemented by a large mural and cozy fireplace; games not suitable for young children are tucked behind a striking red curtain. The food is definitely not an afterthought; from tasty pizzas to substantial sandwiches, soups and decadent dessert waffles, there's something for everyone. Not to be overlooked is The Loft's creative cocktails, along with wine, beer, coffee and more.
A visit to The Loft is like a having a games night at home, only better, notes Mike. "We have all your favourites, plus games people have never heard of. It's a great way to discover something new and give it try before you buy it - and you're sure to have a fun time."