Where to Drink in Montreal, According to One of Its Best Bartenders
Montreal has a long history as a city of sin: In the early 20th century, Québecois gangs and bootleggers fueled a thirsty USA during Prohibition. Today, with a legal drinking age of 18, Montreal still plays host to bachelor parties and college kids who head north to slurp up drinks at one of the city’s many clubs, speakeasies, and bars (or from someone’s belly button at a cabaret, if that’s their style).
While Montreal certainly isn’t as seedy as it once was, it’s still unquestionably Canada’s party capital. For a taste of what the city’s got going on, look no further than the Atwater Cocktail Club, a craft cocktail refuge with a speakeasy vibe that consistently ranks as one of the country’s best bars.
Atwater is “glamorous, dark, and intimate without being stuffy or pretentious,” says head bartender Thomas Yeo, who has plenty of accolades in his own right. “You can come in early and chat with the bartender about one of the 700 or so bottles on our back bar, or come in late and party with the DJ while drinking cocktails and shooting tequila. Or you can stay all night and do both!”
Originally from the small town of Chelsea on the border of Quebec and Ontario, Yeo’s spent most of his adult life embracing Montreal’s joie de vivre. “It’s a city where people still smoke cigarettes and eat poutine. We’re all more concerned with living well than living long,” he jokes.
When visitors come to town, Yeo finds it tough to recommend all of Montreal’s best places to drink—other than his own bar, of course. But here, he was kind enough to share his personal favorites.
For 5à7 (aka happy hour): Milky Way
“Full disclosure: Milky Way is [Atwater’s] sister bar, but this cocktail spot in Pointe-Saint-Charles would have made this list whether it was part of the family or not. As soon as you walk up the black-lit staircase from the street, you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere else. The aesthetic has a very Miami Vice kind of vibe to it, and the huge atrium over the bar makes it feel tropical all year round. The cocktail card reflects the atmosphere: big bright flavors and eye-catching glassware. (Two-foot-tall copper swan, anyone?) They share a kitchen with Fugazzi Pizza downstairs so it’s the perfect place to grab a wood-fired pizza and a cocktail or two while the sun sets over the city.”
For a neighborhood dive: Bar de Courcelle
“Bar de Courcelle is exactly what a neighborhood dive should be. Nestled in an old building in Saint-Henri marked with a winking Felix the Cat decal in the window, the space is low, dark, and full of character. They serve up big bottles of Labatt 50, $4 Wild Turkey shots, and a great bar snacks menu. Like any true dive, the staff don’t take anyone’s shit and won’t hesitate to call out obnoxious behavior. The big upside is that as long as you behave yourself (somewhat) you couldn’t ask for a safer or more welcoming environment.”
For a hole in the wall: El Pequeño
“I’m pretty sure at one point El Pequeño had the honor of being Canada’s smallest bar—it’s certainly the smallest one in Montreal. It’s worth pulling up to one of their seven seats for some of the city’s best Cuban-style cocktails and Cubano sandwiches. The room evokes Hemingway’s Cuba, so grab a daiquiri and have one of their knowledgeable bartenders tell you about Cuban cocktail history or some of their rums. They’re also affiliated with and located right above the hidden entrance to The Coldroom speakeasy, and asking your bartender about it is one of the best ways to get in.”
For keeping things hush-hush: Cloakroom
“The Cloakroom feels like a true speakeasy experience. The entrance is hidden behind a gold wall just outside a menswear shop, and you wait patiently until the wall magically opens and you’re ushered inside. The space is small and elegant and makes the bar the center of attention. There’s no menu, so a bar team that has featured some of Montreal’s best-known bartenders over the years creates cocktails made-to-order using a carefully curated back bar and house-made ingredients.”
For tiki drinks in a speakeasy: Le Mal Nécessaire
“Montreal’s original tiki bar, Le Mal Nécessaire (or Necessary Evil) is a full-on tiki experience in the heart of Chinatown. They serve up great tiki classics and tropical creations served in pineapples and coconuts, but also have an awesome boilermaker list. They’re known for championing sustainability and finding creative ways to reduce food waste in their bar program, which is super cool—head bartender and GM Mickey Rizk even did a TED Talk about it!”
For a go-to pub: Honey Martin
“There’s just something about this place. It feels super authentic, especially in contrast to so many other Irish pubs that often feel almost like caricatures of the concept. The walls are covered floor to ceiling in framed paintings, mainly of boxers but with a few curveballs thrown in. When it fills up—and it does on the weekends—the crowd is a real cross-section of the neighborhood and has a pretty special energy. Go grab a shot of good Irish whiskey and a pint of Guinness and enjoy the live music.”
“A quintessential Montreal wine bar, Rouge Gorge is the perfect place to go to immerse yourself in the city’s wine culture. They have a beautiful wine list with plenty of options by the glass so you can try a variety or have the staff suggest a bottle and really get to know it. The menu of easily sharable plates is simple, fresh, and delicious and provides a great compliment to the wines. After dinner, pop downstairs for a cocktail by Manu Ruiz and his team at Le Royal, a gorgeous cocktail bar in the basement.”
For classing it up in a hotel bar: Bar George
“Located in Le Mount Stephen Hotel, Bar George is one of the most spectacular spaces to drink in the city. The boutique hotel and bar are housed inside an immense Victorian mansion that screams old-world opulence. From the insane amount of detail in the woodwork that covers the space from floor to ceiling to the bizarre religious iconography in the stained glass windows, every inch of the place is a feast for the eyes. Bar-chef Elise Sergerie and her team (featuring a few Atwater Cocktail Club alums—shoutout to Niz and Brandon!) offer up thoughtful creations and well-crafted classics alongside a menu of English and Scottish fare with a Quebecois twist. Grab a seat at the huge oval bar in the main room and enjoy something fancy to really feel the vibe.”
“For me, this one is a tie. Entre Deux is a relative newcomer to the scene and has quickly become a favorite. It’s owned and operated by a group of young industry vets (and yet another Atwater alum) and feels like a real passion project. They have a small but excellent cocktail menu, a great selection of wines that are very on-trend, and a delicious and creative rotating food menu. I love seeing what they’ve come up with each time I go in.
Tuck Shop has been a Saint-Henri favorite since 2010, and for good reason. The menu is market-driven fine dining and is always spectacular. The wine list is wonderful and the service is what really sets it apart. Owner-operator Jon Metcalfe has hospitality in his bones and it shows. If you’re in the mood to manifest some fun after dinner, you might talk him into getting behind the bar to show you his perfect pour.”
For a wild night out: The Wiggle Room
“Who doesn’t love burlesque? The Wiggle Room commits to their stated goal of bringing a traditional Vaudeville spirit back to Saint-Laurent Boulevard with host and general manager Frenchy Jones leading the charge. From the opening swearing of the house oath until the last scraps of lace are collected from the floor, the show is always interactive, bawdy, and, above all, entertaining. The great cocktail menu is icing on the.. well, I’ll let you figure out where the icing goes.”