The venue is dark, with lights flashing from the pinball machines that line the walls. Memorabilia from the ’80s surround the place while the smell of fresh, house-made pierogies waft from the back corner. Welcome to House of Targ.

The ’80s was a time of bright colours and classic TV shows like Cheers and Who’s the Boss. It also brought along a lot of music. Synth-pop, Michael Jackson, and mixtapes were all staple music icons from the decade.

Mark McHale, one of the four owners of House of Targ, says it all started six years ago when he and one of the owners, Paul Granger, were working at a rehearsal complex that had pinball machines and live music. The landlord at the time decided to sell, giving them the ambition to get House of Targ started.

“We came up with the concept that we could make something,” says McHale. “Bring back the old sort of vintage-style arcade and add our pierogi restaurant to make a whole new concept.”

The original owners are Kevin Birger, McHale and Granger (who goes by Yogi). A year into business, Blake Jacobs joined the ownership team to focus on marketing, advertising, and promotion.

They opened their doors for the first time on April 17, 2014, featuring two sets by then up-and-coming punk rockers PUP, and one packed venue. They will be celebrating their sixth anniversary this year. McHale says that every year, they put together a t-shirt that, on the back, lists the names of each band they hosted that past year.

Live music happens every Thursday, Friday and Saturday with three or four bands playing each night. They not only book rock bands—but also jazz, country, hip-hop, synth-pop and underground artists as well.

“You can tell somebody who’s really into what they do, that they care about what they do,” says McHale. “Those are the people that we want to play here because they’re dedicated to it.”

Pinball machines are another thing that they’re known for. No number could actually be given to the number of games they have because their machines are always on rotation, meaning there are always new machines to try.

The name House of Targ comes from an ’80s-era arcade game. It was the first video game that the owners had acquired together. It was also one of the first games at their first place.

PUP playing a secret post-Bluesfest show at House of TARG in 2019. Photo by Aidan Thatcher.

“At the old space we did shows and we called them, ‘House of Targ shows,'” says McHale. “It gained a following underground, so when we opened this space, we wanted to keep the name. It’s the first game that collectively got us into it [gaming].”

House of Targ is located on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South near the intersection of Sunnyside, so it’s convenient for Carleton University students to go to after leaving class. That being said, the venue attracts students from all around Ottawa.

“I’ve never been here before,” says Caroline Team, business administration student at Algonquin College. “I’ve always heard of it and finally decided to see what it’s about. The pinballs are cool as well, I just played for half an hour.”

While the venue is popular amongst adults, the crowd varies from hour to hour. A lot of families are seen in the morning and evening, but at night, you find mostly adults of various ages. Because they cater to such a wide audience, Targ offers a multitude of events including their annual Family Day event, free-play arcade and pinball every Sunday night, as well as the popular bimonthly ’80s Dance Party with Remi Royale.

With House of Targ having made its mark on the local community, McHale and his associates are mulling over the possibility of opening a second location, calling it “the million-dollar question.”

“You never know,” says McHale. “We’re six years in. After five years, we’ve had some discussions, there’s been some growth and then we have some plans. I don’t want to jinx it, but I hope you’ll be seeing more Targ.”

For now, their single location will keep doing what has made them a fixture in the local community—offer a unique atmosphere, tasty comfort food and give local artists a stage to perform.