In 2016, good bars proved themselves as more-than-necessary aids for coping with what often seemed like a bad episode of Law and Order: SVU. Montreal’s top bartenders became our magical healers, doling out carefully measured elixirs in beautifully garnished glasses, designed to ease our worries away and transport us into a world of ever-flowing liquor. Montreal’s best bartenders of the year make a mean drink, have a flare for the dramatic, and an eye for the unique; without further ado, here they are.
Atwater Cocktail BarAddress and Info
Located in the back alley behind Foiegwa, the Atwater Cocktail Bar has a well-developed sense of humour rivalled by its cool. The hottest newcomer to Montreal’s cocktail scene, this place has quickly garnered an intense following justified by its friendly bartenders, one of which is the inventive Kate Boushel, fun atmosphere, and quirky drinks. We recommend the Dame Nature, a herbaceous and citrusy drink with fennel, green grapes, thyme and aquavit.
AgrikolAddress and Info
Though Jen Agg is not the bartender at Agrikol per se, it’s impossible to talk about this Haitian eatery and bar hotspot without acknowledging the intense contributions of Agg's masterminding. After completely changing Toronto’s cocktail scene at The Black Hoof and Rhum Corner and moving to Montreal, Jen Agg joined forces with her husband Roland Jean, and Arcade Fire's Win Butler and Régine Chassagne to open the city’s first trendsetting Caribbean bar. Expect a lot of rum, great music, and bright, bold flavours.
Le 132 Bar VintageAddress and Info
You may not want to trek all the way to Ahuntsic just for a drink. But the creations of Philippe Letellier and the rest of the team at 132 Bar Vintage, which build on lesser-known but up-and-coming spirits like mezcal, aquavit, and pisco with homemade syrups and unusual flavour combinations, make it all seem worthwhile. Add to that dark decor replete with a taxidermied boar head, a fun but discerning crowd, and great music, and you have all the makings of a great night out.
Le Mal NécessaireAddress and Info
When Le Mal Necessaire initially opened, some wagging tongues went off about the fit of a shiny neon pineapple in the heart of Chinatown. But in the years since, Le Mal Nécessaire became a mecca for a more risk-taking, fun-loving crowd in this strip of dumpling soup and hand-pulled noodle shops, thanks to Michael Rizk and his team. With a 1960s tiki theme and drinks that are more of a revelation than a mere concoction, served in single glasses or by the pitcher, Le Mal Nécessaire is blazing a trail through the city with its adventurous attitude.
Le Red TigerAddress and Info
With the look of a Vietnamese street food shop, a medley of bumping beats, and colours that could produce an epileptic seizure even in the most stoic of bar goers, Le Red Tiger is loud, proud, and brash. The drinks demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be hard to balance many competing flavours in one glass. Pair a cold drink with a complementing warm, spicy noodle bowl, and you’ll understand why Dominic Pomrenski, leading the bar menu, deserves a place of honour on this list.
Kampai GardenAddress and Info
Mixed drinks in pitchers have a bad rap as watered down punch at garden parties, or disgusting, sugary Mai Tai concoctions that leave one with a killer hangover and a vague recollection of where their underwear went. But at the industrial-jungle-chic inspired Kampai Garden, bartender Lawrence Picard is reinventing the batched pitcher cocktail like you’ve never seen it before: bold, daring, and perfectly balanced.
TiraditoAddress and Info
Peruvian and Japanese cuisines are not exactly what you’d call natural bedfellows, but under the careful guidance of Valérie Chagnon, pisco and fresh fruit combine to produce stunning combinations that would put the best vacation spot to shame.
Cold RoomAddress and Info
The newest addition of the bars on our list, Cold Room chief bartender Daniel Boulianne is still making his mark at the helm of this speakeasy. But despite the hidden entryway (marked only by a doorbell) and relative rookie status, Boulianne has already drawn some of the city’s hippest and youngest drinkers to the streets of the Old Port with his promises of resurrected and refreshed classics that use a lot of fruit vinegar shrubs and and forgotten ingredients. If you’re still unconvinced, know that the bar is housed in an actual vintage cold room, circa 1877.
Sign up here for our daily Montreal email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the City of Saints.
1. Atwater Cocktail Club512 Atwater, Montreal
2. Agrikol1844, rue Amherst, Montréal
3. 132 Bar Vintage132 Fleury Ouest, Montréal
4. Le Mal Nécessaire1106B, boul. Saint-Laurent, Montreal
5. Le Red Tiger1201 de Maisonneuve East, Montreal
6. Kampai Garden1616 Sainte-Catherine O, Montréal
7. Tiradito1076, rue de Bleury, Montréal
8. The ColdroomSt-Vincent, Montreal
Atwater Cocktail Club plays the hard-drinking sister to next-door French restaurant Foiegwa, but diners will have to exercise some investigative prowess to enter the speakeasy-style joint. A back alley around the corner from the restaurant leads to the entrance, only marked by a red industrial light and an illustration of a Native American headdress. Enter and you'll find a sleek bar covered in ferns, with a green marble-topped bar, mirrored ceilings and coral sofas. Proprietary cocktails are elegant and exciting -- try the Dandy (bitters, coffee syrup, bourbon, scotch, and maple whiskey). This lounge can even be made its own dining destination, with snacks like frog legs, and larger plates like buttered escargots and Black Angus entrecote with fries.
Housed in a white-washed cottage and marked by a bright pink light in the doorway, Agrikol is a popular Haitian food and cocktail haven co-owned by members of Arcade Fire. The colorful and lively space is named after the style of rum distilled from cane juice, so you know the liquor is going to be taken seriously here. The rum selection runs 40 bottles deep, and though cocktails are the highlight, a bottle of Prestige -- Haiti's national lager -- will do just fine for beer loyalists. The Caribbean dishes, like fried plantain discos and lamb-tossed rice, are made for soaking up booze.
This Ahunstic-Cartierville bar combines the comfort of a neighborhood haunt with an elevated level of mixology, making for a vintage-inspired hangout that's among the most popular in the area with a young and trendy tippling crowd. The cocktails at 132 Bar Vintage are far from typical, involving unexpected combinations, as illustrated by the Absinthe Suissesse (absinthe, cream, orgeat syrup, egg white, nutmeg). The complex sips can be sampled at any of the candlelit high-tops in the wood-filled space as experienced bartenders mix and shake under the watchful eye of a stuffed boar head.
It seems like Polynesian-themed tiki bars have been a delightfully corny necessary evil on the cocktail scene since their popular emergence in the 1950s, yet Le Mal Necessaire manages to bring new life to the old format in Montreal's Chinatown, of all places. A bright neon-green pineapple sign lures drinkers in for tropical concoctions that predictably includes a Mai Tai poured into a hollowed pineapple, as well as complex inventions like Big Trouble in Little China (Tanqueray Rangpur, Aperol, matcha salt, chicha morada grenadine).
Le Red Tiger serves modernized versions of Vietnamese street food in a pub atmosphere that reads a lot like an updated American diner -- with checkered tile floors, bright colors, and a counter-wrapped open kitchen. Beers are on tap, and an intriguing list of Asian-inflected proprietary cocktails are served, like the F.O.B. (fusing gin, Thai basil syrup, lime and egg white). The food is just as appealing as the cocktails, with a menu focusing on less common Vietnamese plates, from beef jerky-papaya salad to snails sautéed in lemongrass, in addition to a cast of special Vietnamese soup dishes.
Antonio Park, famous for leading the kitchen at Park, has gifted Montreal with what very well might be the chicest beer garden in the city. An island bar pours drafts in a space that reads like a hybrid between a funhouse and a greenhouse -- the 10,000sqft warehouse is covered in greenery, from ferns to flower pots to walls engrossed in ivy, and sports pool tables and tucked away sitting areas for groups to gather. All the green makes the pale pink stools pop, where guests sit and munch on Park's elevated bar fare. Hopefully you'll learn to live by the Edith Piaf lyrics emblazoned in pink neon script on a moss covered wall in the space: "non, rien de rien... je ne regrette rien."
Tiradito is a tribute to Nikkei cuisine, the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors that was born in the 1800s when South America received a wave of Japanese immigrants. Chef Marcel Larrea studied under Peru's celebrated chef Gaston Acurio, and he puts his learned knowledge to use in a menu where both cultures shine.
This space went from a former industrial cold room to a different kind of cool: a mixology haven by award-winning bartender Daniel Boulianne of La Distillerie. True to Coldroom's history, ice is taken seriously, and the shapes and sizes of cubes are thoughtfully paired with each drink. You can build your own charcuterie and snack plates, but you'll have to visit the spot yourself to see the menu -- speakeasy leanings keep things hush-hush, and we wouldn't want to spoil any surprises.