Montreal Restaurants Face 42 Month Construction Nightmare

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The city of Montreal has, as of February 16, received more snow than all of last year. A big chunk of that fell over the last week or so. Montreal has always prided itself on our world-leading snow removal efforts. Our skills at speedily clearing and hauling away snow have brought officials from other cities to see how it is done.

Let me point out that I am not a food critic, but the meal and service we received were both excellent. Sadly on a Saturday night in Montreal – a home hockey Saturday night at that – the restaurant had just a handful of tables in use.

Perhaps the lack of snow over the past few winters has us out of practice, but this year there is abundant complaining in several city boroughs with at least one contractor being fired.

This problem is seasonal and can be easily remedied, but a more serious situation exists that is costing several restaurants dearly. Last weekend my wife and I went out to dinner. We had decided on a Mexican place called Mesa 14 that neither of us had ever been to even if it has been around, under a couple of names, for 25 years.

Mesa 14 is located in downtown Montreal on a block of Bishop Street, a main cross-street that is currently under construction. The city is installing a new cooling station for the metro system. The process will take over three years to complete – yep, over three years, 42 months to be precise. It took five years to complete the first version of the metro in the early sixties, but this one cooling station alone is going to take almost that long.

This has required the east side of Bishop Street to be blocked-off and huge construction hoardings placed along the length of the construction site essentially hiding buildings on that side of the street. Businesses on the west side of the street are only inconvenienced by a whole lot of lost parking spaces in a city already short on that commodity.

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A sign indicates the open businesses. Unfortunately this one is located at a point where you cannot get to Mesa14

Let me point out that I am not a food critic, but the meal and service we received were both excellent. Sadly on a Saturday night in Montreal – a home hockey Saturday night at that – the restaurant had just a handful of tables in use.

The city needs to vastly improve the signage so that it not only clearly indicates that these establishments are open for business, but also how, under the circumstances, to best gain access to them.

If we accept that there really is no alternative to the long presence of the work-site, it seems to me the city should focus on making it as easy as possible under the circumstances to get to these restaurants. This is part of the problem; we had intended to go to Mesa 14 and I knew there was a construction project underway, yet even so when we attempted to follow the small sign to the restaurant we found that we had to backtrack, cross the street, walk up the block and enter from the other end. I imagine potential patrons not as determined as we were may well have blown-off Mesa 14 and gone to one of the many other restaurants and bars in the area. When your customers have to work to get to your front door, it does not augur well for business.

The city needs to vastly improve the signage so that it not only clearly indicates that these establishments are open for business, but also how, under the circumstances, to best gain access to them.

Until that happens you will have to take my word for it that Mesa 14 is well worth the effort!

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+

 

Montreal Bars of the Eighties

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+

 

 

Hydrant or School Crossing Guard?

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I have often been asked by visitors why our fire hydrants appear to be holding little stop signs on a pole. Are they the latest in technology, acting as school crossing guards when not in use fighting fires? Or did the city run out of actual stop signs and use the hydrant as a substitute? No, that would not explain those hydrants that have a yellow stick projecting from them.

When I tell folks that, in all seriousness, on occasion the snow falls in such an amount, and blows about, that it covers the hydrant. God forbid it should have to be put to use, but if the need arises it would be nice to know where it is. Often this is greeted, primarily by those from hotter climes and therefore unfamiliar with snow, with mirth. They think I’m pulling their leg. But as the above photo attests, this is the reason for the pole.

Having receive 29 centimetres (almost a foot) of snow overnight, it wasn’t just hydrants that had to be dug out!

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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+

Montreal Gazette Names City Columnist

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Dear Ms. Hanes,

Congratulations on your new role as The Gazette’s city columnist. I have long been of the opinion that local newspapers, even those oh so old ones that could be neatly folded and carried in a jacket pocket to be referenced throughout the day, are the lifeblood of communities and cities. Further, I believe that city columns are the heart of city newspapers.

Further, I believe that city columns are the heart of city newspapers.

I grew up reading your predecessors, including Ted Blackman, Nick Auf der Maur (at one time they alternated days, giving Ted an easy to remember schedule: on today, Auf der Maur) and Jack Todd.  Having broken into this one time bastion of male journalists, you already provide the promise of a different take on things.

It is my contention that the key to a good city column is to write about issues that touch locals and about people who readers will find familiar, all the while revealing unknown tidbits of information. It is all about interacting with local figures. In other words a bit of gossip never hurts. However the method of obtaining these morsels of interest has no doubt changed.

At one time the topic of many a city column was gleaned during a long, boozy lunch – ‘overheard in a Bishop Street bar’ – or over too many late night drinks in smoky watering holes. Well, the smoke, much like the IBM Selectric on which more than a few city columns were composed, is gone, at least to a point nine metres from restaurants and bars. (Interestingly if adhered to this bylaw would place many smokers square in the middle of the street. Yet another of the dangers of smoking.)

At one time the topic of many a city column was gleaned during a long, boozy lunch – ‘overheard in a Bishop Street bar’ – or over too many late night drinks in smoky watering holes.

I suspect you will do the lion’s share of your interacting via laptop and smartphone, the modern tools of the trade. But perhaps the occasional boozy lunch, and a late night, sans smoke of course, every now and then might not go amiss, if only for old times’ sake.

Again my congratulations; I wish you the very best of luck in your new endeavour and look forward to reading your column.

Sincerely,

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+

Abandoned Scooter Survives Snow Removal

scooter

Yesterday was the day after the first significant snowfall of the year. That means yesterday was the first snow removal day of the year. As I understand it, the city must give folks 12 hours advance notice regarding no parking restrictions. So if your street is to be cleared between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm they must put up the signs by 7:00 pm the night before. I can attest that when I arrived home at 5:15 pm on Monday evening the signs were duly positioned, a full 14 hours in advance.

…  towing contractor refused to take it on grounds that it was already broken and may withstand more damage during the removal process.

This poses no problem for us as my wife leaves for work before seven o’clock anyway, but it would seem that after a few months of summer, many people forgot about the whole car-towing for snow removal concept. In talking with one city employee he told me that on one street alone a total of 15 cars had to be towed away. This greatly slows down the entire process of removing the snow.

no_parkOne of the ironies however is that across the street from my place there has been a scooter parked for a least a month. It causes more trouble that a small vehicle should as people are afraid to park too close to it lest it get knocked over and bang their car. One little scooter is affecting two parking spots! Well I thought this would be remedied by removing the scooter to allow for snow clearance. But I was wrong.

There were two cars on my street that had to be towed away, but when it came to the little scooter the towing contractor refused to take it on grounds that it was already broken and may withstand more damage during the removal process. He was concerned that he would face any ramifications should the owner ever emerge.

So now the scooter is packed in with snow and is still causing much annoyance to locals seeking parking.

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+

Ideal Montreal Christmas Tree

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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+

Leonard Cohen Memorial Grows

While out doing some shopping this weekend we happened upon 30 Vallieres Street, the home of recently departed Montreal artist Leonard Cohen.  Cohen passed away in Los Angeles last November 7 but word of his death was not made public until a few days later. Since that time a memorial has been growing outside the small house he owned in Montreal. A place where he was known to stay from time to time.

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The house is listed in his daughter Lorca’s name according to the Lovell’s Street Directory.

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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+