By Justin Allec
Nine years gone, nine years strong, Black Pirates Pub has become a Thunder Bay staple for an eclectic array of live music. Helping ensure good times for the audience is Onur Altinbilek, owner, operator, bartender, instigator, and self-professed “jackass of all trades.” An old school punk guy who played his first show in 1993, Altinbilek moved to Thunder Bay from Toronto for school in 2002 but decided to follow his love of live music into a different career path. “I think I need noise to survive,” he jokes. In early 2007 Altinbilek and a business partner eventually found themselves standing in the storage space that would become BPP. A massive clean-up and a complete refurbishment led to a grand opening in May of 2008.
Just a jag off Red River, through doors guarded by BPP’s stark logo, there’s tonnes of colour. There are metal and punk shows, certainly, but also about eight other genres that get regularly scheduled, as well as dance nights, drag shows, and art parties like DefSup’s Derelicte and The Hunger. BPP provides a positive piece in the community’s arts puzzle. “It’s easy to care, to participate,” Altinbilek tells me. “You’re working with people who know what they’re doing and love what they’re putting on.” Like any committed relationship, a good night at BPP makes him happy but also hungry. If you’ve ever seen him really move behind the bar when the music’s loud, it’s evident how much fun he’s having. “To me, a passionate performance is what matters,” he says. “You can be an acoustic country act, as long as you’re giving it all. You should never come off the stage without a soaked t-shirt.”
Altinbilek concludes that whether he is open for one more year or 20, he’ll keep honouring the bar’s beginnings. With 20 acts on the bill for the anniversary party from May 3 to 6, the Nine Lives of BPP offers a broad sampling of our city’s best, as well as some visitors. “You celebrate every year because every year is a milestone,” he says. “You’ve survived.”