From the outside, Bulldog Pizza might not look like much more than your average pie place. Head inside, however, and the space reveals not one but two areas ready to host live music.
The north Main Street location, located between Bannerman and Cathedral avenues, was previously a Mr. Bones pizza location but went independent and became Bulldog Pizza around two years ago.
The restaurant immediately started welcoming musicians to play on a small, lighted stage area inside, now dubbed the "Dog Pound," which has a capacity of 120 people.
Ten months ago, owner Marc Vercruysse explains, Bulldog acquired an event space at the back of the building, which had been used a banquet hall for the previous tenants, Indian restaurant Bollywood Junction.
Despite its massive size — the capacity is 300 — the Bulldog Event Centre feels like a bit of a secret, tucked away behind Bulldog’s kitchen area, but it’s a fully functional event space that can be used for socials, birthdays and, yes, shows.
Vercruysse and his team put in a large stage, added lights and a top-notch sound system, and have been booking shows — sometimes up to four a weekend — in both the Dog Pound and Bulldog Event Centre. The bands are of a variety of genres, though harder music, such as metal and punk, seems to be on the bill most often.
"We can play the larger shows and do the smaller shows; we can go at it from any direction so it’s good," says Vercruysse.
With the closure of so many local mid-sized music venues, especially ones that typically host harder shows such as the Zoo, Ozzy’s and, more recently, the Cavern, the Toad in the Hole and the Windsor, the rise of Bulldog couldn’t come at a better time. But running a venue is a struggle, as Vercruysse can attest, especially in an area of town that is perceived as unsafe by many Winnipeggers.
"For us, we’ve got the restaurant and that, so it offsets and it helps. If it was just a venue it would be tough," says Vercruysse, adding that he feels it’s important to have a live-music venue in the North End.
“We do get a lot of complaints that we’re too far out (down Main Street) from certain groups, but for the most part we do get a lot of good feedback from people. And we’re all ages, so we do a lot of underage shows. We’ve got a ton of kids playing here, which is phenomenal." — Marc Vercruysse
"We do get a lot of complaints that we’re too far out (down Main Street) from certain groups, but for the most part we do get a lot of good feedback from people. And we’re all ages, so we do a lot of underage shows. We’ve got a ton of kids playing here, which is phenomenal. Like, we have 14-year-olds in bands that just blow your mind," he says, adding that lots of kids from the School of Rock music instruction program bring their bands to the venue.
Accessibility in terms of age is one thing, but Bulldog also tries to remain an accessible space to rent in terms of cost; the event centre, including lights, sound, a tech person and security, will run you less than $200. The Dog Pound, with all the same accoutrements, is just $125.
Vercruysse hopes music lovers won’t write off the space solely because of its location, and urges those who notice a band they love on an upcoming bill to come check out Bulldog first-hand.
"There’s so many people that are so nervous, like, ‘Oh it’s scary, I can’t go there — I’ll never set foot in there,’" Vercruysse says. "We have bands that would refuse to play here for a year, year-and-a-half. Then they get put on a bill here and they play — and then it’s like they play here five times in the next two months because they absolutely love it.
"But the hardest part is, I mean we have security and it is… I won’t say a struggle, but we really do have to make sure we keep it very safe and we’ve had no problems," he says. "Two years and we haven’t even had a fight."
To see all the upcoming events at Bulldog Pizza’s two venues, visit @Bulldogeventcentre or @Bulldogpizza on Facebook.
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.