Montrealers live for the summer. The minute the mercury rises, the city’s multitude of sun-drenched terraces fill to bursting and its boulevards and parks teem with people squeezing every drop of pleasure from the non-stop calendar of festivals and events.
Finding a peaceful spot to while away a few hours with a drink or three can require some creativity, or at least a few steps off the beaten track.
Cheap and cheerful
For generations, the traditional, family owned Cheval Blanc tavern lacked even a women’s bathroom. In 1987, however, it received both a ladies’ loo and a transformation into the city’s first modern brewpub, and it has continued to evolve since. Today, the once-narrow room has doubled in size and the bar’s hard metallic and laminate surfaces are softened by red-lantern lighting.
Drink options have been expanded, too, with wines and spirits now available in addition to the house-brewed beers and a handful of imports. Still, the wise imbiber sticks with the brewpub’s forte, beginning with the reliably tasty and refreshing La Blanche wheat beer and moving on to something hoppy or fruity, depending on your mood. 809 rue Ontario est; lechevalblanc.ca
Hotel bars generally fall into one of two categories: grand and storied or the place you drink when you’re too lazy to leave the building. Le Sarah B., the bar in Montreal’s Hotel Intercontinental, is mostly the latter, but you should visit anyway.
Sarah B. provides the complete absinthe experience, going beyond merely offering the fabled “green fairy.” Order the Swiss La Clandestine and watch the traditional, ornate fountains slowly drip water into the glass, dissolving the sugar cube perched atop the perforated absinthe spoon, clouding the drink and mellowing the spirit’s considerable fire. In an era where most drinking rituals have fallen by the wayside, it is a romantic return to a time of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, and contrary to legend, one which will lead to pleasure and sociability rather than madness and severed body parts. 360 rue Saint-Antoine oust; montreal.intercontinental.com
Venture up the avenue Montrealers call “the Main” and you will find first the stylish bars of St. Laurent, then the funkier vibe of the Plateau Mont-Royal and finally, almost at the Trans-Canada Highway, the chic but casual confines of the Whisky Café.
Lush and stylishly sophisticated, the iconic date night destination is equally satisfying alone or with a group, whether perched at the most agreeable bar or settled into one of the large and luxurious U-shaped booths. The drink here is whisky, of course, but three rather than just one, in the form of the $45 Degustation Première Classe, featuring 21-year-old Glenfiddich, 18-year-old Macallan and 25-year-old Highland Park. 5800 St. Laurent Blvd.; whiskycafe.com