Written by Elly Grant

Photo courtesy of project volunteers

What do 5-cent cans of paint, a bunch of people in their mid-twenties, and cheap labour have in common? If you thought Student Painting services, not quite!

Think instead—transforming an underground bar, a.k.a. The Tabu Underground Revamp Project.  

From June 4 – 9, a group of volunteers in Guelph’s art and music scene took on a special project—a revamp of Tabu/The Underground music venue. If you’ve ever been to Trapper’s Alley, or heard locals reminisce about their days there, Tabu/The Underground is the bar just below.

Tabu/The Underground has been active since the 90s and was once host to EDM, techno, and metal nights. It sat empty during the pandemic and reopened in Fall of 2022 for music gigs. Partytown, which owns the venue and operates a variety of businesses in Guelph, gave project organizers Elly Grant and Maddy Tesolin permission to revamp the space.

During a show at Tabu in April, Grant noticed that the interior could use some love by way of a refresh, so she and Tesolin put their heads together to organize friends, artists, and anyone handy with a paint brush, tools, and some cleaning supplies to turn the space into a community-friendly zone. Over 60 people and some businesses helped with the project by donating their time, energy, and materials in an effort to transform the space. 

Many improvements came about during the 6-day, ‘Extreme Makeover: Bar Edition’-style project. Volunteers painted walls, reupholstered booth seats, decorated the bar, added lighting accents, collaged the bathroom doors, and gave the space a deep clean. Grant and Tesolin, along with their friends Tyler Worden and Aleks Liskauskas, helped prioritize and coordinate daily tasks to keep things running smoothly. 

Photo courtesy of project volunteers

Work in progress shot from inside Tabu/The Underground 

Over the course of the week, people caught word of the Tabu/Underground Revamp Project and began stopping by to show their support. An artist visiting Guelph from Ottawa named Arthur II offered to paint a small mural behind the ATM wall, a Guelphite named Bud dropped off vintage mirrors for an added touch, local band members from Shebad cleaned the stairwell on their rehearsal break, Atelier Ferdinand created a custom wooden sound panel for the stage, and artists like Squig and Zoe Dougherty worked on larger scale art pieces to brighten up the walls. It all creates a vibe that aims to welcome all kinds of music lovers.

Photo courtesy of project volunteers

Mural by artist ‘Squig’, hand-drawn onto a freshly painted wall

In a time when local musicians and collectives (like COMET) are advocating for more performance spaces, Tabu hopes to establish itself as the go-to venue for local and out-of-town acts alike. The refresh comes at an exciting time in Guelph’s art scene when new spaces like GAC’s artBar, Ed Video’s gallery space, and Art Not Shame’s brick and mortar are being established. 

Tabu will continue to host music gigs on an ongoing basis, and bookings can be made by contacting [email protected] or @guelphunderground on Instagram. 

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