I have a question for my next trip to Montreal: What pubs, clubs, coffeehouses, or similar places do you recommend with live Quebecois, Acadian, French, Breton, or other Celtic (Irish, Scottish) folk music--preferably acoustic? And what is the food and drink (when available) like in these places? Also, is there a good beer people strongly recommend?
Have warm memories of trundling from the McGill "ghetto" down to Old Montreal in the '70s for a night of music and beer at one of several boîtes à chanson, smoke-filled rooms with tables crammed around a small platform on which a young man would sit, struming his guitar and singing traditional and popular songs, with the audience sometimes joining in. Some of the signers went on to become Big Names in the Quebec music industry. Like similar scenes in other cities (Greenwich Village, for example), it died out soon afterward. If anything's replaced it, it's jazz, and the best venues for that these days are Upstairs (which is, in fact, downstairs) at 1254 MacKay and L'Air du Temps (191 St-Paul) in Old Montreal. And, of course, Biddle's.
As O'Malley mentions, Hurley's often has Irish music and most evenings Brutopia (1219 Crescent, just upstairs from Hurley's) has live music of the non-folk variety. Lots of other pubs, brewpubs and bars occasionally have folkish acts. Your best bet is to check the listings in the free weekly tabloid Hour (www.hour.ca) the week you come to see who's playing where.
A few brewpubs to add to O'Malley's list:
- Taverne Le Sergeant-Recruiteur, 4650 St-Laurent, for real ales. When they first opened, they made a big deal about beer cuisine but have greatly scaled back the menu. Still, the ales are very good.
- Le Cheval Blanc, 809 Ontario E., idiosyncratic ales and post-something clientele/decor/live music.
- L'Amèreàboire, 2049 St-Denis in the heart of the Latin Quarter: fine ales and pilsners. Not only is it the sole brewpub in Montreal to make its own pilsners, the Czech-style Cerna Hora is so authentic that it's the Czech embassy's house beer. (BTW, it's a brilliant name for a brewpub. Phonically, it's a triple pun: the bitter to drink; the mother of drinking; the sea to be drunk. The last relates to the French expression "ce n'est pas la mer à boire" meaning "it's no big deal."
)- Les 3 Brasseurs, 1658 St-Denis: Haven't made it to this brewpub yet or heard from anyone who has.
(I also heartily second O'Malley's recommendation of Dieu de Ciel on the corner of Laurier and Clark, which gets my vote for the city's best brewpub.)
And a few restos:
- Fûtemboule (273 Bernard W., half a block east of Park): Restaurant-bar with probably the city's biggest selection of bottled beers. Food is unexceptional at best.
- Le Pied du Cochon (Duluth half a block west of St-Hubert): Several of McAuslan's superb ales, including the oatmeal stout, on a nitro tap. Also a tasty pale ale that McAuslan brews specially for them. Food is stupendous at best.
- Frite Alors! Beglian beer (a couple on tap) and a few domestic microbrews. Food is, er, Belgian.
As for the local beers worth checking out, well, you could devote a trip or two to doing just that. Quebec is a hotbed of microbrewing. It seems like a new beer shows up every week. However, certifiable beer geeks are in near universal agreement that two microbreweries shine brightest:
- Unibroue, which makes a wide assortment of Belgian-style ales. The deep brown, double-fermented Maudite is probably the best known and deservedly so. La Fin du Monde and Don de Dieu are two pale triple-fermented ales, both winners. Blanche de Chambly is a refreshing, lightly spiced wheat beer. The recipe for L'Ephémère changes every year; the current brew, made with green apple must, is excellent, the only apple beer I've ever taken to. Quelque Chose is indeed something else: a bitter ale macerated with cherries and meant to be drunk hot from a mug (it's much better than it sounds). And so on.
- McAuslan, which brews and markets ales under three labels: St-Ambroise, Griffon and Frontenac. St-Ambroise Extra Pale Ale is my favourite beer in the world, heavily hopped (quite bitter) but wonderfully clean and refreshing; Michael Jackson (the beer and scotch authority, not the washed-up pop singer) has said it's Canada's best beer. St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout is world-class, with an amazing bouquet of espresso, bitter chocolate, dried fruits and malt; a beer judge I know says it kicks Guiness's butt all the way to St. James' Gate. The raspberry ale and apricot wheat ale are very good if you like that sort of thing (I normally don't but will glady down a glass of either).
Oddly--or maybe not, since their beers beers are so characterful--neither Unibroue nor McAuslan makes the most popular microbrew in the province: that title belongs to Boréal, which turns out a range of tasty ales, softer and maltier than McAuslan's, less estery and strong than Unibroue's, which go as high as 10% alc./vol. While they're good, especially on tap, I rarely choose them if St-Ambroise is available.
McAuslan, Unibroue and Boréal beers are sold in bottles in many convenience stores, so you can also take a taste of Montreal home with you.
Probably more than you wanted to know... ;)
Thank you both so much for the info. I too remember hearing some neat French/Quebecois folk music when I was last in Montreal, in the 1970s--down in the Old Port, I'm pretty sure. But when we tried to find a place now, the only places we could find had music that was really noisy, mostly rock and not very good rock at that--anyway, not at all what we were interested in. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, I was twice to folk music festivals in Vermont, and there always seemed to be several Quebec groups (not to mention some wonderful Cajun)--one called La Bottine Souriant (sp?), I think? I wonder where groups like that perform in Montreal. I love Irish/British Isles music too, but I think "when in Rome" one should try to hear at least some of the music de la compagne (sp?), so I'd rather a mix with some French-language songs. Is there any of that at Hurley's? Do you remember Ian & Sylvia? They always did a few French songs too. Anyway, I did find the name of one folk music holdover from the "old days," by nosing around the Net: it's called the Yellow Door, on Aylmer, up near McGill. It seems to be a coffee house, not serving alcoholic beverages (most unfortunately). But we will check it out next time.
My husband actually had some of the beers you mention--the St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, and two kinds of Boréal, a light and a dark. He also had a Portuguese beer at Jano, and I think a pilsner at Stash's, the Polish restaurant. He liked the stout and the darker Boréal best; I tasted them all but didn't like them as much as he did--probably liked the dark Boréal best. But, anyway, I did find in one place my second favorite beer that I've ever had, one I first discovered in Paris many moons ago, the Belgian beer Stella Atois. It was just delicious.
Please don't be upset by any of this beer complaining, since those few beers were just about the only thing I ingested in our whole stay in Montreal that I didn't care for (except for some surprisingly bad Danish at the hotel's Continental breakfast). Everything else was absolutely delicious!!! In fact, it seemed virtually impossible to get bad food in Montreal, in any cuisine! Plus, I liked all the glasses of house wine I had while my husband was beer drinking. The delicious bread, pate, grapes, and cheeses prompted us to rush out when we returned and buy these items from a local semi-gourmet grocery. But, except for the grapes, it was all pathetically bad in comparison. I wish we could come back tomorrow!!!
Two interesting things I noticed about the restaurants: that "resto" you Canadian posters use seems to be popular slang in Montreal. Do they say it in the States? I've never heard it, but it's fun learning new slang.
The other thing: the service in all restaurants was excellent until it came time to get the check, and then the waiter or waitress seemed to disappear. We found this most odd until we talked with a Canadian who explained that people in Quebec are very offended if the wait staff bring a check too soon. Ha! How very opposite New York City, where everyone is always in a hurry!!! But this explains some of your remarks about being shooed out at 8:30--I doubt we'd mind as much. Anyway, while we like to linger over meals sometimes, at other times we do not (esp lunch, and us being Really Busy Tourists), so we solved this problem simply by asking for the check at dessert time.
I read that you mentioned the Yellow Door. It's a great place I love it, and I am a regular there. It is a coffee house. It is in the basement of a house in a residential neighborhood but it's got a certain instant rapport with the people that visit it I find. I am sure if you ever visit it the atmosphere will compensate for the lack of alcohol. It opens on Friday and Saturday nights only, with an open stage segment at the end of the show on Friday. So if you play come down with your instrument or ask someone to lend you theirs that happens alot. The shows usually start at 8-830pm and end at around 11.
This is all you need to know really. It's got quite a history. So, if you go there make sure to ask the Coordinator, the sweetest lady in the world, for a compelete history of the place. I'm sure she'd be more than happy to oblige.
carswell - Going through old threads a month later, I see you posted about the 3 Brasseurs. I was there a few weeks ago, and it was awful. The beer was very bland and IIRC it was far too expensive considering the quality of microbrews you can get elsewhere. The only other brewpub I've been to in town was Brutopia, which had some good ones.
re: Joe Mason
Hey, Joe! Fancy running into you all the way down here. Thanks for the warning. I almost dropped by Les 3 Brasseurs on the 17th, when I was in the neighbourhood to catch the Nouvele Sinfonie. Thought I'd grab a pre-concert bite at Frite Alors! on Emery but found, to my surprise, that it had changed hands. So I wandered up to L'Amèreàboire but their kitchen is closed on Sundays. I then considered L3B but it was such a scene (the only place on the street that was hopping on that snowy evening), the menu didn't inspire confidence and the vibes it gave off were lots of surface but no depth, form over content, "all hat and no herd" as they say in Texas. I passed and now I'm glad I did.
Hurley`s Irish pub (Cresent St.) has traditional live music almost ever night of the week. Have never eaten there. There is a brewpub next door called Brutopia that has some interesting offerings on tap. Bieres and Compagnie on St Laurent and on St Denis stock many imported beers that can be hard to find elsewhere and serve them in the proper type of glassware....more of a trendy bistro type setting than the previous two. Dieu de ciel on Laurier West (just west of St Laurent) is a great little brewpub in a relaxed setting away from the touristy offerings of Montreal. If I can be of any more help, let me know! Otherwise, enjoy!