Ottawa's Rainbow Bistro to close after 37 years of live music

Ottawa will soon bid farewell to a beloved live music venue in the ByWard Market.

After 37 years, the owner of Rainbow Bistro announced the business is closing its doors as a result of the pandemic.

Ottawa-based blues musician Tony D describes what it was like taking the stage at the storied venue.

“When you had a full room and you had a full crowd in a frenzy you can feel the building shake,” he said. “It’s the venue that I played more than anywhere… the Rainbow has always been home for me.” 

But soon he and many who frequent the venue will have to say farewell.

“Our space that we have we can only get about 40 to 45 people in the room,” said president and CEO Danny Sivyer. “So it’s just not feasible to put on live shows.” 

Sivyer said the space can hold nearly 150 people, but with current health restrictions on indoor capacity and no option for a patio or outdoor space, they had no choice but to shut down.

“After being closed for a year and a half, we’re running out of the government loans,” explained Sivyer. “The money that we’ve been getting so the bank account is dwindling and I can’t see it changing.”

Sivyer said the venue has played host to more than 20,000 shows. Many Canadian artists early in their careers performed there, including Jeff Healey, K.D. Lang, Spirit of the West and the Tragically Hip.

The doors will open for a final day on Sept. 18. A farewell show is being organized, but many are hoping someone will take over the bar and continue its legacy.

Artists like Tony D, who has been going to the Rainbow Bistro since its opening year, say they will always cherish the memories. 

“Being a 22-year-old aspiring blues guitar player it was a venue I could see a lot of my heroes,” said Tony D. “It gave me a living for a very long time. It gave musicians a living for a very long time.”