In late September we learned that Pressed, the small café-bar and live music venue on Gladstone Avenue, was listed for sale. “I have made the hard decision to sell because I would like to explore other opportunities that life has to offer,” wrote owner Karie Ford in a social media post. “I know that Pressed has a bright and shiny future in the good hands of someone invested in supporting the arts and live music scene in Ottawa.”
One month later, the Ottawa Citizen delivered the sad news that Pressed would close permanently at the end of October. No buyers came forward in time to take over. With all the uncertainty around how long COVID-19 will last, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs are reluctant to test the waters with a restaurant and live music business.
Over the years, live music lovers have spread out at tables, enjoying a drink and a show at Pressed, or may have been turned away when there was standing room only for a performance. The venue’s limited capacity allowed for 50-ish attendees at a time, in addition to the bar staff, artists, and audio technician.
Since 2011, the small Centretown venue has hosted memorable shows by Andy Shauf, Bonnie Doon, Backxwash, FET.NAT, Flying Hórses, Camille Delean, Merganzer, L Con, Keturah, Scary Bear Soundtrack, Scattered Clouds, mal/aimé, Future States, Saxsyndrum, Trails, Claude Munson, Adam Saikaley, Sarah Bradley, Mack & Ben, Whoop-Szo, Partner, Pony Girl, Sparklesaurus, Michael C. Duguay, Motherhood, Gianna Lauren, Bondar, Paper Beat Scissors, Rayannah, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, and countless more.
This list could run on for days when you consider how many nights a week Pressed was hosting concerts. Bluegrass Mondays were a staple, and concert promoters like Debaser, Babely Shades, First Crush, Pop Drone, Ottawa New Music Creators and Megaphono routinely booked shows there. Poetry and storytelling events were sprinkled through the calendar and even Fresh Meat theatre festival got its start at Pressed in 2012.
View this post on Instagram
We are so sad to hear that @pressedottawa is closing its doors 😭 This small cafe/venue was a regular spot for our shows since we started 2013, and always prioritized safety and inclusivity. This is a staggering loss for Ottawa, and for all the touring artists who were welcomed so warmly 👐🏻 remembering some of the good times at Pressed today, and thank heavens for @photogmusic scene archiving for all the memories 📸 💭 1 – @darleneshrugg (mems of @usgirls.and.remy @icecreeeammm) 2015/04/11. 2 – @frigsband (a long time before they were @orvillepeck band) 2014/11/08. 3 – @lungbuttermtl 2019/06/20. 4 – WHOOP-Szo 2020/01/30. 5 – @zoongideewin 2020/01/30. 6 – @backxwash 2020/02/20 (our final show at Pressed) . + for more nostalgia check out our stories for a collection of posters for shows at Pressed over the years
Someone who has been to most—if not all—of these shows is Ottawa music photographer/maverick Ming Wu, whose blog photogmusic.com has published at least 150 concert reviews at Pressed alone. We’ve selected 20 or so highlights from Ming’s photos, but you’ll have a blast searching “Pressed” on his blog. It’s a trip down memory lane. Please feel free to leave a comment with your best memory or photos from your favourite show at Pressed.
Asked if he can name his favourite show at Pressed, Ming says “no,” that would not be possible, if only because of the sheer number of talented artists to perform there. “It was a great place for food and live music,” says Ming. The last artist he shot at Pressed was Backxwash, who performed on February 20 of this year (Ming’s birthday!) and went on to win the 2020 Polaris Music Prize. The earliest act he remembers shooting is Scary Bear Soundtrack circa 2012.
In 2020, we’ve been heartbroken to see small music venues such as Pressed and Cinqhole close for good. Bar Robo’s Chinatown location closed within days of The Bourbon Room shutting down, both a couple of months before the pandemic started affecting Ottawa. Sadly, it’s not hard to imagine that more Ottawa venues, clubs, and bars could close before the end of the year. The performing arts industry is one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, and could be one of the last industries to return to normal.