Montreal Bars of the Eighties


noalc

During the late seventies and early eighties the Montreal Canadiens were still winning Stanley Cups, the Expos had some great teams, the preferred style was preppy, featuring button down shirts or polos with khakis, and the night air, and bar restrooms, was thick with the pungent aroma of Ralph Lauren’s Polo. One of the most popular posts on this blog is a piece I wrote a few years ago about Montreal’s long history of Anglo-Irish pubs. I thought I would give it another shot by writing about some of the bars that I frequented as a young man during the late seventies and eighties. Of course this is by no measure an exhaustive listing of Montreal’s many watering holes, but rather a bit of a trip down memory lane that might bring back some recollections, if not brain cells, of readers’ youth.

carb_matchesAs I did in my first listing of Montreal pubs, I will start from West and work my way east. Therefore the first stop on our journey is Alexis Nihon Plaza,  now Place Alexis Nihon, which was home to an establishment where many a young lad got his start. I am of course referring to Les Carabiniers, or as it was more commonly called, the Carb. One of the last bastions of male-only taverns, the Carb served cold beer and offered tavern fare at very reasonable prices. Students, retirees and everyone in between were welcome, just no ladies. Given the Carb’s proximity to the Forum, where the Montreal Canadiens played in those days before moving to the Molson/BELL Centre, it was not uncommon for players to drop in after practice.

Also located in Alexis Nihon was the Maidenhead Inn, an English pub and the Bali-Hi which, as the name suggests was a tropical-themed bar. The Bali-Hi’s claim to fame, aside from waitresses in grass skirts and fruity drinks with umbrellas, was an aquarium full of tropical fish that ran the full length of the bar.

Leaving Alexis Nihon and heading east along St. Catherine Street, past the Forum, on the north side was  Station 10. This bar was named for the infamous police station situated just a few blocks away. One of the owners was a former Canadian Football League player by the name of Barclay Allen. As high school students my friends and I spent many an hour in this place as they were not too picky about asking for ID! 

Barclay Allen
Barclay Allen

I recall the price of a bottle of beer being 80 cents. With a twenty cent tip added, both client and customer were happy with a dollar bill. Then the price went up to 85 cents and, as you might guess, tips went down to 15 cents! After a few weeks the price jumped to a buck, and a quarter tip was the norm.

piqueA few doors further along on the corner of Du Fort and St. Catherine was the Pique Assiette, an Indian restaurant with a very small bar at the back that was frequented by many British expats, many of whom were teachers, some of whom were my teachers! As a young boy I remember passing this corner when the place was called Danny’s Villa. It was a topless bar and the window was dannys_villa_68festoon with photos of girls wearing little more than pasties. Over the years it transformed from tasselled to tandoori tits. 

Strolling along we pass the Cock ‘N’ Bull on the south side of St. Catherine arriving next at a place best described as interesting: Café Diana. This was a long established hangout for some seedy if entertaining characters. No dim lighting in Diana’s, bright lights and tough staff made it a little safer. Not a regular haunt of mine, but one that was well worth the occasional visit. I recall meeting a man in there once who could do wonderful card tricks and micro-magic at people’s table for a beer or a buck or two.

Prior to the construction of Le Faubourg legendary Montreal Canadiens’ coach Toe Blake owned a tavern on St. Catherine just west of Guy Street. Toe’s hosted an older crowd who were often not too welcoming to younger louder imbibers. Fair enough, there was no shortage of places for us to go.

toe_blake

One block after crossing Guy Street was MacKay Street, home to Cheers! Actually named Bill Edwards’ Cheers! This bar was a very popular meeting place in the eighties for those in their twenties. The name was obviously ‘borrowed’ from the popular television series. 

Entrance to former Annex/Google Maps
Entrance to former Annex/Google Maps

Many buildings in downtown Montreal have, over the years, been bought by Sir George Williams now Concordia University. These satellites house many faculties and administrative offices. They were, and are still in many cases, called annexes. So it is not surprising that on the east side of Bishop Street just below deMaisonneuve there was for many years a bar called The Annex. Popular among students, the Annex was made up of several sections, one of which was much like a cave. The Annex was also known for often looking the other way when it came to underage drinkers as well as serving beer in the quart bottles that were more regularly a mainstay of taverns.

darwins
At Darwin’s Leonard Cohen, Terry Mosher (Aislin) and co-owner Nancy Nelson.

Still on Bishop Street but south of St. Catherine was The Longest Yard, yet another example of borrowing a name, this time from a popular movie. It was owned by another former CFL player, Dickie Harris and Bill Edwards. During the summer of 1982 the Yard, as it was often shortened to, had a softball team. On a few occasions they played an opponent that wanted to play fastball instead of slow pitch. For these games I would pitch for the team. Following his parting of ways with the Montreal Expos, Bill Lee satisfied his baseball need by playing second base for the Yard.

woodys

Woody’s was a huge place on Bishop that incorporated several adjacent establishments over the years. Lots of wood and brass, it was popular with Happy Hour – free snacks – suits as well as a later night younger crowd. It is now the home of the Irish Embassy Pub and Grill.

darwin_doorDown the street was Déjà Vu, another bar that grew as it became ever more popular. Unlike Woody’s this place expanded upward, and had a staircase that looked down on the stage. Never a good thing to try to navigate after a few too many!

The last building on the east side of Bishop Street was Darwin’s Gazebo. Before every bar and restaurant had a terrasse, some two, Darwin’s had a gazebo. It was essentially a backyard, but gazebo sounded so much better. It was a popular hangout for artists, journalists and writers, and many who fancied themselves artists, journalists and writers. The building was lost to fire.  

One block east brought you to Crescent Street, the Grand-daddy of Montreal’s bar scene. While popping in to and out of numerous bars on the street, primarily between St. Catherine and deMaisonneuve there were a couple that became second homes. The Seahorse was located downstairs from Les Halles; a fancy, snooty restaurant that suffered the constant annoyance from the younger clientele downstairs. The Seahorse was a long narrow place that was packed most weekends with university aged kids.

djsBy the time the Seahorse had run its course a new addition had appeared right across the street with the opening of DJ’s Pub. The original owners of the building thought that Crescent Street might be just the place to open a cinema. So they built a multi-storied venue. Le Flick,  that was supposed to draw revellers either before or after a night of drinking. Unfortunately the idea did not pan out and the building was soon empty. I must admit I did my part by seeing Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones there in about 1975!

DJ’s Pub was named for Derek Johnson, a former race car driver and well-known figure on the local bar scene. Lines of people in their twenties formed four nights a week at the door. The inside was packed with fairly well-heeled kids – did I mention Preppy? – and the drinks flowed. I recall a friend of mine who was a bartender explaining that while he enjoyed having people sit at his bar, he made his money serving the constantly changing line of drinkers who reached over the heads of those seated at the bar to get their drinks and pay.

The former site of DJ's Pub. Soon to reopen as a Hooters
The former site of DJ’s Pub. Soon to reopen as a Hooters

The drinks were primarily bottled beer, no on-tap draft, and shots. Shots tended to be bought in rounds after “flipping” to see who would pay. Those interested were given a quarter and all flipped the coin, the process of elimination whittled down the player until someone lost. The ideal situation was when the bartender lost and the round was free. Popular shots included B-52’s, melon balls, and Southern Comfort. For a little while it was in vogue to have your shot upside down, which entailed turning your back to the bar, leaning back and having the bartender mix the drink directly in your mouth!

Today Rainbow Bar & Grill is a Subway. But the seven steps remain!
Today The Rainbow Bar & Grill is a Subway. But the seven steps remain!

On Stanley Street just above St. Catherine was the Rainbow Bar and Grill. It was a long narrow place with a room with a bar and another adjacent room that was just tables and chairs. From time to time they would show movies in the back room and there was always a game of backgammon going. There were seven steps up to the front door from the sidewalk which explains why the bar had previously been known as The Seven Steps.

Again please keep in mind that this is but a few of the bars and in no way represents all the drinking establishments of the time.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Published by DCMontreal

DCMontreal - Deegan Charles Stubbs - is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

16 thoughts on “Montreal Bars of the Eighties

  1. Thanks for the memories! Having lunch (beers) with Habs I late 70’s at Carb.cool!
    Barclays Allen…NDG Leafs, then Als?

  2. Thank you for this article. I worked at woody’s Pub for many years and was sad to hear it has burned down in March 2017 after becoming the irish Ambassy. Are there any talks of reopening the location?

  3. what was the name of the popular bar in late 70’s early eighties that was situated on Saint Alexandre street near Mayor street?

  4. What a walk down memory lane! I found your blog in the course of a conversation about the first place we had “underage” drinks – The Annex!! I also remember going there to watch interesting films – maybe in the “cave”? Darwin’s was also a favourite for its bohemian vibe. I would add Barnsiders and Winnie’s to your list – spent a lot of time in those establishments as well! Thanks for the memories!

  5. To: DC Montreal, Thank you for remembering the “Seven Steps” on Stanley Street off St. Catherine’s in Montreal. In August of 1969 I left Boston for a Trip to Montreal. I was to interview for a job as a photographer. I had just finished a trip on LSD (acid) at the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel New York on Max Yasgur’s farm. While still reeling from Woodstock music I landed in Montreal. After the interview I found myself wandering around the streets of Montreal with many French speaking people. I had stopped at a crosswalk on Stanley & St. Catherine Street unaware I had stepped on the shawl of the girl in front of me. When the light changed she fell backwards in my hands, cause I was standing on her shawl. In English, swearing like a trooper, she condemned me as an Idiot. I was so delighted to finally find someone that spoke English in downtown Montreal. I explained to her I was a visiting stranger to Montreal and wondering if she could direct me to a place to get a drink. She said to follow her, which I did, up Stanley Street to the bar called “The Seven Steps”. It had a long line of people waiting to get in. She said to hold her purse while she got us in. She marched right past all the people waiting in line, then shortly came back telling me to follow her into “The Seven Steps”. After many GIQ beers a lively conversation, I was invited to her place. The next few days we spent at “Expo 67” Festival area enjoying the displays left from that event. I took many photos of her with my Minolta 35 mm camera. After a long distance romance between Boston & Montreal for a year, we married in Edmonton Alberta on a trip back to her home town of Bonnyville, AL. I had suggested the trip to her because her mother was very sick & dying of cancer.
    I am so glad that you wrote about the place we met, “The Seven Steps”. I now know it did exist in my past life.

  6. Great article DC! Was thrilled to read about DJ’s pub on Crescent!!! DJ’s top Bartender, “Guy Cournoyer” was the nicest guy in the world! He made every visit a great one! I clearly remember Guy servicing the line of people who stood behind us as we sat at the bar. Serving beers over my head, the shooters and the flipping of coins … Again, what a great article and thanks for sharing.

  7. ..much enjoyed the read..no mention of Cafe Prague on Bishop (though I don’t remember if they served alcoholic beverages) and across the street, Tony’s ‘Little Club’ or of the Boiler Room joined to Sir Winston Churchill’s Pub on Crescent

  8. Thanks for the memories. Still have my Woody’s Courtesy Card. It was a great place! I remember there was a bar in the back called the Elephant Bar, all the brass decorations on the bar were elephant’s heads. Halloween parties there were great.

    1. Hey Jon. I worked at woody’s pub, with sheila, jimbo, simon, robin, Douggy. I married ( first husband) Henry from cheers & DJ’s. Just thought I would help your memory with a few names. They have turned bishop into condos. No moore grumpy’s or woody’s ( became Irish embassy) a fire & Pandemic. Kind of helped things along . Thursdays is for sale. The Downtown we knew is long gone not even much of a shadow’s is left of it. I live in Toronto . Like you…my life has moved on but I will never forget those fantastic days!!
      Sabina Moore

  9. Oh what memories. I worked on Crescent and Bishop back then as a doorman. At Cheers as well as at DJ’S. I was the first doorman at Dj’s at remember well the crowd that was there. I had more fun at Cheers where we were 3 doorman. I wish I could remember the names of all those people I worked with back then.
    I now live in northern Norway far away the life that was back then,
    Jon Kleppe

  10. Johnny Mou here.

    Hope everybody out there and inside is well.

    Lets not forget Casa Pedros on Crescent and De Maisoneuve which was owned by Johnny Vago.

    Kicks bar on Mountain and De Maisoneuve and Scaramouche as well.

    The bars were fun but you made it into the Bigtime when you were a Thursdays regular especially after Bernard and Sonny Lindy made that realestate deal and completed the Hotel.

    The best times were late 70s and up to the mid 80s when the political Franco BS Parti Quebecois divided the population and the people.

    Good times and say hi to Cliff, Guy, Nat, Keeble and Heathfield.

    Sherylin was fun especially because we fell in love from Kicks bar.

    Thanks Joy

    I liked it when Garys dad would see us downtown always checking on us, Seargent Dave was cool.

    Ok Mou Mou out for now.

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