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Mar 6, 2012 12:50 AM


I'm looking to head to Montreal, probably next fall, so I'm in the early stages of planning my culinary adventure. I've found several suggestions for dining options (although I'm always open for more suggestions), but what I haven't found is a good place (or places) for cocktails.

Coming from Los Angeles (so you know my point of reference), I've been getting very into classic (and twists on classic) cocktails, especially cocktails using dark spirits. Trying to put some perspective, I've got 8 different bourbons, 4 sweet vermouths and 6 rye whiskey options in my home bar.

I don't tend to prefer loud spaces, though I'm not necessarily opposed. I tend to prefer somewhat more quite areas, food is optional, but good cocktails are a must. Any ideas? Does it just not exist in Montreal?

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  1. I think you will be disapointed.

    Montreal is not a real cocktail city, we're more into wine and beer.

    But, 2 options, none are really quiet (as far as I know).

    Le Lab (1351 Rachel, Est), I've not been, but heard good thing about it.
    L'Assommoir (old-montreal or rue bernard), can be quite noisy.

    Other suggestions : Phillips Lounge, Barmacie, ...


    1 Reply
    1. re: Maximilien

      I'm not much of a cocktail drinker, but have had a decent time at Bond Lounge on Fairmount / St Urbain.

    2. There are no good cocktail bars in Montreal. Le Lab is disappointing and has zero atmosphere. The others mentioned above (or below depending on where this gets posted) are not very good either in the drink dept. Your best bet is Dominion Square Tavern on Metcalfe. They mix good cocktails with atmosphere to spare... but don't compare to LA's cocktail scene. It's outrageous that a supposedly high cultured int'l city of 2 million does not have more than one decent cocktail bar throughout it's entire core. It's part of the reason I'm moving out to the west coast this summer!

      2 Replies
      1. re: OliverB

        "It's part of the reason I'm moving out to the west coast this summer!"

        LOL - bold statement :-)

        1. re: estilker

          Let's call it added incentive then!

      2. I would wager among the main reasons the province has little cocktail culture is that Quebec has French roots and when we finally did our great leap forward in cuisine and culture in the 60s, we looked to France.

        Also, despite our atheist nature today, Quebec had deep Catholic roots and a controlling government, so the production of truly local spirits was never encouraged. Alcohol = sin, which is one reason booze is hugely taxed.

        Furthermore, alcohol and wine imports are managed by the government, via the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ). On the upside, this means selection is fairly decent even in the boonies; on the downside, you don't get quirky selections, small batch spirits, etc.

        All Quebec bars and licensed establishments also have to stock up from the SAQ or negotiate a private import through them. This means that a lot of products that have a buzz in the cocktail culture aren't available yet (no Domaine de Canton, no St-Germain, no crème de violette, etc.) and so it's difficult to develop the craft without that diversity.

        However, do not despair, if you do like wines, there are several places in town that have extensive and well curated selections, including private imports. There are places that do cocktails in town, but usually they aren't the places that also offer the best cuisine.

        Finally, look to some of our microbreweries around and even selections from larger breweries like Unibroue for a nice variety of beers.

        Sorry about the long explanation... I'm a frustrated cocktail fiend!

        14 Replies
        1. re: TheSnowpea

          I think you will have to consider some winebars or microbrasseries on this trip. Port has followers here. The last place I recall where people were ordering cocktails was brasserie t but most places its wine. What you might find interesting are buying your own wines here and enjoying the BYOBs. Maybe some of the hotels such as Sofitel, or the ones in Old Montreal cater to cocktail crowd. ?Suite 701?

          There are some new restos opening in next few months so keep an eye on Opening section.

          Snowpea, I dont know if cocktails are that popular in other provinces either vs wines/beers-I come from another province and no one I know from there is interested in cocktails..

          1. re: mangoannie

            It's a lot easier to find a good cocktail in Toronto (The Drake Hotel, Bar Chef, Toronto Temperance Society) but granted most cocktail people here drink Ceasars and *gasp* vodka tonic.

            I've had the worst cocktails ever in the Intercontinental Hotel, but Suite 701 is not too bad. If it's late summer/early fall their rooftop terrace might still be open.

            1. re: estilker

              what do you guys think of this article? Marketing campaign or honest to goodness mixology?

              The Spirited Traveller: Cross-border cocktails in Montreal

              (I have to say, the Velvet's website is lame, the link to its FB page is incorrect AND once found, that FB page is peculiarly unattractive. Hopefully that does represent the quality of the drinks there!)

              1. re: TheSnowpea

                Probably the former, but still...that Manhattan variation sounds delicious.

                Personally, the mixology/cocktail thing seems to be big in Toronto & Vancouver. It was starting to get big in the States before I moved up here and it didn't seem to be a thing yet in Canada. So gradually and hopefully, we'll have our cocktail revolution here before it heads out to sea completely.

                1. re: TheSnowpea

                  Haha ... this looks like a hipster discotheque filled with slutty girls. And they are Montreal's craft cockails reference? ... LOL
                  Bet you they sell more cranberry vodkas than their Subbourbon that sounds awfully sweet. BTW: first they say it's a variation of a Manhattan, then they call it inspired by the Old Fashioned. Why not call it spiked ice tea lemonade.

            2. re: TheSnowpea

              I would extend your analysis to emphasize the extreme conservatism at the SAQ. I recall about 15 years ago reading somewhere about the SAQ response to the then just appearing flavoured vodkas. In summary the SAQ representative dismissed flavoured vodkas as a "fad" and stating that the SAQ would not stock flavoured vodkas because "vodka is by definition flavourless." Similarly, a few years ago it was impossible to get good tequila or cachaca here, let alone St-Germain and the like.

              SAQ really seems to want to sell wine, and puts there marketing emphasis there. And while I'm a big wine drinker, I too am a frustrated cocktail mixer.

              1. re: buspirone

                Here's more to our analysis: regular Montreal City weblog commenter WalkerP wrote an interesting response to that Reuter's article, stating that there are no proper cocktails in Canada. According to him, the main problem lies with the required measured pours resulting from the regulators affixed to alcohol bottles (the manual or electronic spout that pour exact amounts each time.)

                I admit I have not noticed if all bars use measuring spouts, but I have noticed some very ungenerous drinks in some places. (The spendy martini at Sho-Dan for example was so small and measly, it was laughable.)

                WalkerP does write a rather scathing indictment of "trendy faux-cocktail culture in Canada." I don't want to plagiarize him so I'll just put in the permalink for those interested:

                1. re: TheSnowpea

                  Are the "automatic spout" required ? or simply just more convenients (for managing the inventory) for bars and restaurants where there are no "expert" mixologist ?

                  I've seen multiple bars and mostly resturants where they don't have it.


                  1. re: Maximilien

                    They're definitely not required, a lot of bars don't use them. But it doesn't matter too much because you can keep pouring multiple shots if the drink needs them (it does make it annoying though because it slows down the process). I've tried an automatic one and it pours out exactly 1 ounce. I don't know if that's adjustable or not but I haven't really been ripped off by the amounts before (you just won't get anything more than 1 ounce shots).

                    I've met bar tenders that take their skill quite seriously, but they are not dedicated to bartending as a career so they move from place to place or work part time. It's hard to have a place make a name for itself if it can't guarantee the same work ethic or skill from all its drink makers. So while places will give you correctly-made drinks, they won't really venture into the premium/unique cocktail-making zone. I've had good ones at the Intercontinental and Queen Elizabeth... but I guess that's to be expected and nobody ever seems to reference their restaurants/bars on the site (probably because they don't exactly have the best prices).

                    1. re: artstate

                      artstate: can you elaborate on your experience at the Intercontinental Hotel. I don't think I have had worse cockails anywhere else.

                      Here's my recent experience: We had pre-dinner drink there, reservation at Osco! for the highlights festival. The adjacent bar is called Sarah B. and touted as an Absint bar. All cocktails were not strong enough: Tom Collins hardly had any muddled lemon and tons of sugar. Topped off with heaps of soda water. Mahattan was made with white dry vermouth! No bitters in sight. Old fashioned was with a muddled slice of lime and lemon and cherry. Whiskey instead of bourbon or rye (this is forgivable). Ceasar: this was OK. Out friend who had ordered the G & T was making fun of us. The bar was clearly clueless, so he tought he was in the clear when he specifically ordered Hendrick's Gin with Tonic. The soda gun was off, or the tonic mix had too much syrup not enough water. His G & T ended up super sweet.
                      At $14 / drink tip + tax included.

                      1. re: estilker

                        Yea, Sarah B. is the place. I went with someone in december as we had a friend staying at the hotel and we were waiting for him at the lobby.

                        I didn't have a Tom Collins, it was called a Cartier Collins? or Champlain Collins? I really liked that one, can't say I've tasted that combination before (Absinthe, Peach Vodka and Limoncello). My friend got the house mojito, which also tasted quite good, maybe a bit too sweet though. But she liked it so I guess they also won her over with that one. Felt a little awkward being the only people in their early 20s. The place had a nice chic "vibe" to it, which seems to suit the hotel nicely. It's sad to hear they didn't get the classics right, maybe you need to give it another shot? You seem to enjoy your cocktails though so I'd be interested if you ever find something to your liking in the city.

                        I'm not sure I'll be back anytime soon; I rarely venture into Old Montreal, it's usually not great for my wallet's self esteem.

                        Edit: So they have the cocktails I was talking about on their website, maybe i'll try a version at home:

                        The Jacques Cartier Collins
                        Versinthe, Absolut Pears, Limoncello, house sweet’n sour, soda.

                        Mojito à la mode
                        Versinthe, Bacardi, house sweet’n sour, strawberry purée, lemonade, basil and mint leaf.

                    2. re: Maximilien

                      I believe they're for tax purposes actually; to be able to keep precise automated tabs on income when it comes time to file for Revenu Québec. I was told by the fella who works at Cheval Blanc and Sala that it'll soon be gov't regulated. I agree that it's completely moronic and you can't possibly pour a proper cocktail this way!

                    3. re: TheSnowpea

                      Interesting, Snowpea! I guess I have gotten so used to the delicious beers, that I rarely actually purchase a cocktail. I believe the last time I did I ordered a dirty martini (I know, I know, the shame, but I can't help but like it) when we dined at Cava. It was okay, whereas the glass of wine I ordered with dinner was superb.

                      On the other hand, the martini I ordered when dining at Claire's in Hardwick, Vermont (which, if you ever get a chance to go, do), was not only astounding, but potent, just as WalkerP described of some American pours.

                      1. re: Peaches to Poutine

                        You're the 2nd person I know who has raved to me about Vt's Claire's... but that's a subject for another board :-)