Reminiscences of a Winnipeg Musician Part 1: Venues Still Operational

Recently, over a few beers with a high school friend, he mentioned that his younger brothers were going into the studio to record their first album. They would be recording with a man named John Turner at his new studio. Now, more than likely none of you know John Turner, but I’ve known him for years. He was part of a band called Burnbox with whom we shared the stage so many years ago in our younger, more ambitious days as rockstars.

That got me thinking about all those years I spent slumming around in nothing but the classiest places of the Winnipeg music scene. So, one fine gloomy and overcast November day, heading out toward my new favourite hang, the Millennium Library, I decide to take a wander past some old venues. I even took pictures of some of them which I will post shortly.

Wow. I hadn’t realized how many different venues we played at. As a result, I’ve separated this post into two parts: those that are still operational, and those that, well, are retired like an aging, washed-up rockstar. In this part, I’ll cover those venues that are still operational.

West End Cultural Centre. Still operational and recently renovated, this is the last of the small-venues in Winnipeg before you step up to the Burton Cummings Theatre. When my rock band, Ciaira’s tears, played there for a band battle, it had a great sound system and competent sound engineers. I convinced my cousin, then at university, and five of her friends to climb into my Chevette and watch my band. One of the easiest venues to load into, and much cleaner than some of the other venues on this list. This venue often hosts touring acts and helps support both the Winnipeg Jazz Festival and the hippie-joint-fest that is the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

King's Head Pub & Restaurant Full View

Catering to music of all kinds, the King's Head Pub remains a staple in the Winnipeg music scene.

The King’s Head. Though Ciaira’s tears never played here, Zrada did. It was the last venue I played in Winnipeg with Zrada back in 2008. Still operational, the venue is hospitable to bands of all types, encouraging Irish, Ukrainian, and jazz music acts. They also play host to a series of shows during the Winnipeg Jazz Fest. Though they’ve had the same bar staff for ages, they still employ smart and beautiful waitresses. 😀 And not far from the King’s Head is…

Rear View of the Royal Albert Arms Hotel

The rear entrance to the long-standing Royal Albert Arms venue.

Royal Albert: Stickered Wall

One of the stickered walls in the Royal Albert venue.

The Royal Albert. *Tear* Great place. What a fucking dive. I’m not sure how many other bands experienced the same plight our band did, but every time we played a show there the bar owner would tell us that someone or some thing got broke that afternoon. Maybe it was just coincidence. But this bar is iconic and legendary in the Winnipeg music scene. One time it even payed host to a Winnipeg Fringe Festival show, Henry and The Angry Inch. Everything my parents encouraged me not to be was on display at this bar: rock, metal, and punk, the same words used to describe the audience are also applied to the music. Piercings, tattooes, knives, drums, beer, blood (and, during Trousermouth shows, toilet paper) harmoniously meld with the band stickers plastered on the wall and the unsafe pillar on the side of the stage. If you haven’t played the Albert, you haven’t paid your dues. Oh, we were warned about the Albert curse: play the Albert more than once a month and your band is doomed to fail.

The Zoo: Rear View

Rear view of The Zoo rock venue.

The Zoo. The bar, not the lovely sight-seeing animal park for families. No no, it used to be biker bar #1, The Zoo is the Village’s quintessential rock palace. Loud, proud, and fucking dirty, this venue is attached to the Osborne Village Inn and has a beer vendor out back. Attracting both local and touring acts, this venue is part 2 of 3 in the essential Winnipeg scene. It has one of the loudest sound systems on the scene, and a competent sound guy to work it (a rare combination). Pick a famous Canadian rock band, and they probably played at The Zoo at some point during their formative years.

Pyramid Cabaret

The Pyramid Cabaret

The Pyramid Cabaret. Part 3 of 3 for the mandatory Winnipeg small-venue scene. We played there once or twice, most notably when my first band, Ciaira’s tears, released its first (and only) EP, Life After…. Who would’ve figured it could snow so much in March? Well, cheers to you folks who made it out to that show because I think that was the most people we ever played to, somewhere around 90-100. Sold damn near every copy of our CD, too! Thank goodness because my gtar player lost the rest of the CD inserts and stickers. But this venue isn’t just for local acts, touring acts also stop by. From what I can remember of the night, the most notable band to pass through here was GWAR. Insane, blood-spattered, and politically-aware space-jockeys smash about the stage chopping off the heads of presidents and terrorists while spraying the crowd with blood and alien semen. And then I had to explain to my bookstore boss why I had green and blue dye on my face the next day. Wonderful show. Full of excitement.

The Academy

The new location of the Academy Coffee Co.

The Academy Coffee Co. (No website!) Before the ACC moved into Osborne Village, it had a location near yuppied-up River Heights. The River Heights location closed down as the owner devoted all his energy to the new place in the Village. Owned and operated by the same dude who ran the Noiseworks music stores, Brian, this place was phenomenal. I really liked the place when it was both a CD store and a coffee shop. But, when it was a coffee shop, he couldn’t sell alcomahol. So, he changed that. Catering primarily to acoustic, jazz, and blues artists, Brian always went to great lengths to ensure the sound was gorgeous before resuming his duty at the cash register.

Having covered the places that are still opened, in my next post I’ll cover those that have been shut down and mention what those places have now become. Careful, one is even haunted.


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7 Responses to “Reminiscences of a Winnipeg Musician Part 1: Venues Still Operational”

  1. chrish Says:

    Oh man, this takes me back. Ciaira’s Tears!

    Remember that place underneath the stripper joint on Marion? Holy crap, that place was bad…

    The Tea Party rocked an invite-only show at the Pyramid, and Age of Electric was there a couple of times. Saw the Harlots for the first time at the Pyramid, and learned that I hate that band so much….

    • stevensirski Says:

      Oh yea, The Stone! THAT was a dive bar! Another paid-per-ticket venue that shut down within months of its opening. I remember that Tea Party show, even though I didn’t go. Many folks said it was a great show.

      • chrish Says:

        I still enjoy the Tea Party, but my biggest complaint is that their stage presence really fell into three categories:
        1) Everyone should smoke more weed!
        2) We’re not the Doors, dammit!
        3) Religion is poop! Everyone should hate religion!

        I mean, they were great musicians, and more bands should put the time and effort into their lyrics and music that they do; just find some different things to say from on stage…

      • stevensirski Says:

        Lol, they were kinda like hippies weren’t they? Mr Martin was always into that Eastern religion stuff. Pity I came to them late and didn’t see them more often.

  2. lara Says:

    I’ll never forget the Ice Box show at The Pyramid! Holy crap. I don’t think Dave paid the heat bill. Lol

  3. Reminiscences of a Winnipeg Musician Part 3: Ciaira’s tears « S.O. Blog Says:

    […] I was writing up my posts about Winnipeg rock venues, it dawned on me that I’d done quite a bit of recording here in Winnipeg. By no means do I […]

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