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Best Open Mic Nights in Town

By Apartment613 on March 8, 2010

Photo courtesy of PitsLamp Photography on Flickr.

Photo courtesy of PitsLamp Photography on Flickr.

By long-time Ottawan, Samantha Everts, who ended up out west for love but quickly came back to the city she loves.

A while back, my best friend decided to cut his teeth on the open mic scene of Ottawa. Having worked on his own stuff for a while he still wasn’t brave enough to go it alone, so I dutifully padded along. Disclaimer- this research has been conducted over the last few years.

The first place we hit up was the now closed Elephant and Castle in Rideau Centre. It was the most bizarre setting to consider original music was being heard every Thursday night with Ottawa songstress and now Big Money Shot signed Amanda Rheume hosting the thing. People masquerading as cowboys without horses, high school kids in their first band, and this one guy that without fail played the same song set every week. Tourists and alternative rock radio listeners made up the audience. The waitresses would constantly hassle the crowd to buy more drinks or get out. A good first time.

The Royal Oak on Bank Street’s open mic is a bit of a secret. A local musician doing covers of Sweet Home Alabama and Honky Town Blues encourages bar goers to drink more. The few open mic’ers that do go ahead in are for the most part are ignored. There’s a reason why know one knows about this one. Even the placard on the street’s chalk writing has been smeared, ‘open m’’ This Royal Oak is not to be confused with the Royal Oak in the Glebe that has a thriving open mic crowd.

A newcomer on the scene that offers ‘live recording studio quality’ is the Live Lounge, a bar that is partnered with local radio station Live 88.5. I’ve been here a few times supporting the same friend and have been surprised at the professionalism of the players. Generally, each of the performers has confidence that many open mic’ers lack, despite the equally as empty bar. Each Wednesday night people seem to meander in and out of the pub for their friends alone so despite the excellent recording and audio capabilities, few ears are there to be leant. One major bonus for any up and comers, the stage is equipped for full electronic instruments including keyboards and powerful rock guitar power! If you’re lucky too, the DJ will play some Think About Life in between sets.

I haven’t made it to Café Nostalgic yet, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that it’s also an awesome place that showcases talent. Thursdays sign up at 8:30 p.m., music at 9 p.m. 603 Cumberland Street near University of Ottawa.

Also to be noted, Irene’s Pub on Bank Street offers a Saturday afternoon slot from 3 pm – 6 pm for any open mic’ers. Make sure to try their incredible homemade veggie burgers (vegan!)

The most popular destination for any serious open mic’er has got to be Umi Café on Friday nights. Make sure to get there early as the sign up list fills up quickly. The most unique and powerful performances are to be found here. Guaranteed, there will be a mix of hippies, families, intellectuals sketching the artists playing, and poets always up for a slam. The artwork is constantly in rotation to highlight local artists or members of the Umi co-operative. Unlike the others listed, Umi offers fair-trade coffee and tea in lieu of alcohol and during the day is a cozy place to read. Umi is also home to a piano and full drum set for any open mic’ers or coffee shoppe folk in the mood to entertain.

Just up the street from Umi is the still new Raw Sugar Café in the heart of Chinatown. I feel like I’ve heard of open mics happening there but can’t find anything to support this. Check them out regardless, as they support lots of new local artists (mainly acoustic).

For the literary folk, In Words (Carleton University’s literary magazine) holds an open mic monthly at Montgomery Legion. The music is reserved for the ‘inhouse’ band of older folk musicians eager to share classics with young ears. Readings typically start about an hour after music. Literary readings are not limited but include poetry, song, short fiction, and monologues. Alcohol is available but make sure to chuck in a few coins for the zines for sale first.

Honourable mentions go to Avant Garde Bar who occasionally hold an open mic. How could an open mic with constant Aqua and Kraftwerk videos streaming behind the performer be bad? Plus, their vodka list is so extensive you’ll be calling out ‘vstrobe’ before you know it.

Mercury Lounge also acts as venue for Capital Slam events.

It’s funny because in Edmonton you could open up the local arts newspaper and dozens of places would be hosting open mics on any given night. Maybe Ottawa needs to pick up on this, or does Ottawa really need more Jewel covers and John Mayer-wanna-bes distracting from the true talent.

  • Tagged in
  • for literary open mics, there’s also the Dusty Owl Reading Series, the Tree Reading Series, Sasquatch and Voices of Venus. also for spoken word/slam there are a number of open mics as well. you can find more info and links to all these series over at under events.

  • Phil Castro

    Great post!

    I miss Humphrey’s (in the Glebe). They had a great open mic night hosted by Jarrett Lee…Most of those regulars are now at the ‘clean’ Oak in the Glebe though so it lives on in spirit!

  • Miranda Minassian

    My favorite open mike spot is the Laffyette in the Market. It is hosted by John Carroll and always has an interesting mix of musicians.
    A must-see.

  • Dan

    Coming from a town of 15,000 with only one open mic night, I made a point of finding as many as I could here in town:

    -Amanda Rheaume now hosts Sunday nights at Quinn’s. That one’s fun; the place is small, so it gets pretty packed, but it beats playing to an empty bar. People are generally receptive to original songs.

    -Monday nights at the Elmdale are a good time. Mix of younger & older performers. Getting increasingly hard to get on the list, but sometimes if you show up and can’t get on, they’ll let you sign up in advance for the following week. Very, very receptive to originals.

    -Things at Irene’s get underway at 2:00 now on Saturdays. Good when Geoff’s hosting, and they’re somewhat receptive to original songs.

    There are many more (the Lafayette, Daniel O’Connell’s, Bass Line Station, Woody’s, Pub 101), but I’ve been to them either only once or not at all, and can’t say anything intelligent about them. Also, the above are mostly oriented towards music.

  • I go along with you, I do believe! May it possibly be a possibility so that you can have your blog post translated directly into French? English is actually my 2nd language.

  • Hi Sam, just an update: The In/Words Open Mic has moved to the Clocktower’s basement, with the date fluid, but usually the last wednesday of the month.

  • I would definitely recommend the Voices of Venus series at the Umi Cafe, the second Tuesday of every month. The open mic fills up fast, though!

    Capital Slam happens twice a month at the Mercury Lounge. There is also Urban Legends at Carleton University and Bill Brown’s 1-2-3 Slam at the Avant-Garde Bar, if spoken word is your thing. Amanda lists a number of good reading series above, and her website is very useful for keeping up-to-date with local literary events.

    Also, I find the last paragraph of this article really… annoying. Yes, Edmonton does have a great open mic scene, but so does Ottawa; obviously! I mean, you’ve just provided us with a list of almost a dozen venues (many of these venues host several events a week, by the way), and your list isn’t even complete. Why you decided to begin your article with a venue that has just closed is beyond me. Furthermore, at most of the open mics I attend, the poets/musicians/performers present their own work, not those Jewel covers, as you suggest.

  • I agree, Umi has the best Open Mic in town. If it’s authenticity and originality you see then look no further. This is an open mic and community with heart. It’s not just a venue to “perform” but rather it is a place for creative spirits to truly connect and get inspired!

  • Don’t forget Open Mic at the Georgetown Pub! It’s tons of fun. I have two binders of song lyrics and I regularly have people come up and sing while I play guitar for them. It’s a hoot!

  • Steve

    Check out the open mic at the Royal Oak on the Canal. Tuesdays at 9pm. Cozy, nice atmosphere and host does great job with sound. Doesn’t set and walk away. Even tweeks song to song to adjust for fingerpicking style.

  • anne

    for the past three weeks Rick’s Place on Merivale Road has been holding an open mic night with host Andy Mason from the former Four Way Street. Last night was the best one with a mixture of acoustic and electric jams, lots of variety and a welcoming crowd. You can sign up at around 8:30 and the stage is open until 1:30am.

  • Scott Kelly

    For the past 10 years there has been a weekly open mic on Thursdays at the Royal Oak in the Glebe 779 Bank. Over 5000 players have played there, has house guitar, bass, Djembe, montors, duel speakers etc. Please check it out if your available on a Thursday. It starts at 10pm and goes till 1:45am.

  • Frankie

    Word is, BassLine Station is moving their Electric Open jam from tuesdays, back to Thursdays where it was when they originally opened. Greenfields Jam on Wednesday nights is so so. The Jam at Ricks Place on Merivale has been cancelled. Watch for the BassLine Jam to improve

  • Steve

    Acoustic Open Mic @ Bassline Station every wednesday, 2557 baseline road, just east of greenbank

  • Steve

    Electric Open Jam Tonight at Bass Line Station, 2557 baseline raod, just east of greenbank

  • Bev

    Jumpin’ Jimmy Leroux does a great job hosting 3 great open mics , all at the Barley Mow’s , Wednesdays in Kanata , Tuesdays in Almonte and Sunday in Barhaven. All of the Open Mics start at 7 PM . He makes everyone feel welcomed and performers get a chance to play at least 3 songs , usually 4 .

  • Greg

    I’m surprised that the regular Wedneseday and Saturday open mics at Daniel O’Connell’s Irish pub on Wellington in Hintonburg wasn’t included. There is also the irish night on Thursday and a jam on Sunday. It’s a cool scene.

  • Thanks so much for your info on the Ottawa Open Mic Scene, I was looking for this everywhere, and I’m so thankful to you for taking your time to let us know where things are happening. I truly appreciate it!!!


  • Al Dunbar

    I’m from Edmonton, and I agree with Jessica. Any suggestion that Ottawa’s open stage scene is somehow behind that of Edmonton is just wrong. Same goes for the level of talent.
    One thing we do have going in Edmonton is the open stage listings in See Magazine and the Edmonton Journal. Unfortunately, they do not pull the listings for those that no longer exist, and, on the other hand, not all the existing ones are listed.
    Here’s my contribution to this page: Spirit of Rasputins has moved to Whispers bar Mondays 7 to 10. Another great open stage experience for players and audience.

  • I think the show has had it’s time, and should be laid to rest. But if it does come back, i think it NEEDS to be reinvented. New Presenter, change the format, but still keep elements of of the original one.