If you’re fond of a drink, especially quality alcoholic beverages served in venues of distinction, Montreal is a fine place to wash up in. It’s not on the New York scale of extraordinary bars, but after three years here I’m still a long way from working my way through the best on offer.
Even so, I’ve done quite a bit of first-hand research, from classy cocktails to craft beer, rooftops to an art hotel bar. So if you’re visiting Montreal, or a local looking for something new, read on!
Something the province of Québec excels at is craft beer. There are scores, maybe hundreds of artisinal brewers, and plenty of them serve their wares in their own bars. Montreal has several of these microbrasseries, or brewpubs as they’re known to English-speakers.
Reservoir is a relaxed two-level joint, whose French doors swing wide open to create a sort of indoor-outdoor space. There are usually five or six excellent brews on tap, made on the premises in the big steel vats behind the bar. I keep being drawn back here, perhaps because it was the first brewpub I tried on my hot and humid debut summer in Montreal, but this means I rarely visit any others.
Among the best is Dieu du Ciel!, a cosy bar with numerous house brews and imports on offer. Terrasse St-Ambroise (terrace or patio, Montreal-style; pronounced ter-arse!) by the Lachine Canal is a great warm weather destination. I especially enjoy their seasonal brews: spring’s maple ale, summer’s raspberry and autumn’s pumpkin.
I like a good beer, but I love a good cocktail, so I’m lucky that Montreal’s best cocktail bar is a short walk away. Like Le Lab‘s decor, their drinks are inspired by more than a century of cocktail tradition, but there’s also plenty of contemporary innovation in their carefully hand-crafted potions. Considering the quality, they’re modestly priced, especially the daily specials (see the blackboards) and the $8 from 5pm to 8pm selection at the front of the seasonally changing menu.
Big in Japan (the bar, not the resto next door) is more pricey, but the cocktails are swell and the candlelit bar itself is fascinating: it snakes around the centre of the room so that staff and patrons all seem to be at the centre of the action. There are three La Distillerie bars, all of which are relaxed places serving cocktails in Mason jars, but I favour the one on Avenue Mont-Royal because it’s a short walk from home (there’s a pattern forming here!).
I discovered Montreal’s rooftop terrasses belatedly last summer, so chances are most tourists don’t know they exist. Check ’em out, people! My go-to place to take visitors for a sunny rooftop lunch is Terrasse Nelligan, nestled among Old Montreal’s historic rooftops and spires. On a warm afternoon or evening, it’s easy to while away the hours with jugs of sangria or bottles of wine here.
The rooftop views from Terrasse sur l’Auberge takes in Old Montreal as well as the Old Port, and if you’re seated right there’s also an excellent view of summer’s frequent fireworks. From Terrasses Bonsecours you can see a huge sweep of the city skyline old and new, which is especially charming when silhouetted against the sunset.
Another part of town, another rooftop. Newtown has a bit of a pool party vibe and quite good cocktails (I love the spiced tea piscine, served in a brandy balloon!), while SAT (Société des Arts Technologiques) brings a smart local, artisinal, experimental attitude to their food and drinks. For a pint of beer at ground level, the Ste-Elisabeth pub is a good bet – especially if you can nab a seat in the courtyard, where the high brick walls are covered in ivy during summer.
Back in Old Montreal, La Champagnerie is, as you may have guessed, a champagne bar. The long list of bubbles from around the world is impressive, but what really sets it apart is the option to open your bottle in heroic French fashion with a sabre!
If you like art, especially 20th century art, a drink at the lobby bar of LHotel is a must. This boutique art hotel is stuffed with sculptures, limited edition prints and paintings by the likes of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg (stay the night to discover scores more amazing art works!).
A downtown concrete park mostly used for drug deals was reinvented as Jardin Gamelin this spring. Raised garden beds, pretty lights, free entertainment including DJs, an awesome suspended sculpture of glowing net, plus lots of places to sit and enjoy a drink from the shipping-container pop-up bar. This is some of the best urban renewal I’ve ever encountered!
Top spots I’m still getting to!
Pullman: Classy, modern wine bar.
Le Mal Nécessaire: Chinatown tiki bar.
Fitzroy: Newish joint established by expat Aussies. Apparently it’s inspired by bars in the cool Melbourne neighbourhood of the same name.
Barraca: This little rum-and-tapas bar is not even five minutes walk from my house, so why is it still on my to-do list?
Baldwin Barmacie: Cocktail bar with decor inspired by a 1920s pharmacy.