Boulevard Saint-Laurent in Nine Dive Bars: Café Cléopâtre or Bust

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Golden Hands Before God... @ Barfly - Credit: Flickr, Jean Raco

I’ve just got back home after a two-year hiatus in Glasgow. A tentative “pub crawl St-Laurent?” text sent to one or two friends promptly attracts ten more, which is what happens when you hang with like-minded riffraff who occasionally work, but mainly enjoy getting wasted in the middle of the week. From my English boyfriend and my “real” journalist friend visiting from Qatar to my gay bud from Trois-Rivières with his Irish and Algerian roommates in tow, I’ve managed to rally some kind of demented version of the UN. Our plan is to march down St-Laurent and hit up as many places as we can, from Bernard Street in the Mile End to the Lower Main and its infamous stripclub/cabaret Café Cléopâtre. The night will end with pussy, we promise. This is Montreal.

We decide to down three beers and a shot of tequila each before leaving the house. “I wanna be drunk before we go,” says the Irish girl Emma, and it seems like a good idea at the time. Royal Phoenix is our first stop. This Mile End bar is a milepost outside the Village for the LGBT crowd, who flock there for a cheap can of Pabst and a bit of a boogie (ed.: closed until further notice). No trace of funky vegan lesbians tonight, only a hodgepodge crowd of polo shirt-wearing, post-work types watching the hockey game – probably virgins from the nearby Ubisoft headquarters. No matter, my friend Vince knows the barmaid and we chase our lukewarm PBR with some free, sweet and sticky shots. Time to have a quick laugh in the unisex bathroom, because a stranger’s penis is always funny, and move on to the next place.

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Snack ’N Blues – Credit: Flickr, I.daho falls

Snack N’ Blues is the type of bar you could walk right by if you didn’t know what lay beyond its cheesy signage: walls covered with images of dead music legends, blues, soul and jazz tunes blaring courtesy of its miniature DJ Coco, stern and stylish barmaids – and its owner supervising the lot, sporting a shiny suit, his short, silver hair slicked back, and overtly tanned leathery skin stretched out around a large, ivory-white chopper of a smile. Oh, and free snacks. Munching on hard jelly beans, I up my dosage, lapping up a giant glass of cold lager with a double Jameson and ginger ale. Things are starting to spark up, and Snack N’ Blues is too hip, too collected, too cozy for this brewing storm.

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Brasserie Chez Serge – Credit: Flickr, lolhiphop

We run across the street to Chez Serge, a Montreal Canadiens-themed bar, rammed to the ceiling with fans shouting “GO LES BOYS!” On a non-hockey night it’s a great place to dunk your face in some Molson beer-based sangria, throw yourself on the mechanical bull, and dance on the bar with the barmaids in their short shorts. On a game night you’ll be clambering on top of a pile of sweaty dudes and hoping for the best. Fuck this, we’ve got a long way to go. The groping hockey bros will have to wait.

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Nuclear Power Pants @ Casa Del Popolo – Credit: Flickr, stacyannlee.com

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Casa Del Popolo – Credit: Author

Next stop: Casa del Popolo, a dingy hipster den where you can sip on 5$ pints and get hit on by one of the weirdos from Godspeed! You Black Emperor, if you’re into that kind of thing. A grizzled veteran of the scene is spinning some cool jams. The space cadet barmaid, tucking on her bowl cut, pours us an appropriate amount of whiskey shots – one too many for each of us. Admittedly, shit is getting real. We’re only at St-Joseph, blocks away from our final destination, with hot liquor dripping down our chins, delirious, as fashionable youngsters munch on their bean burritos and try to avoid eye contact with us. Time to move on.

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Balattou – Credit: Flickr, Martin New

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Balattou – Credit: Author

After a quick barter with the door keep we enter the Balattou. Usually there are a few curvaceous cougars hanging about, trying to snag a young African beau, but tonight it’s just us and the Afro funk band. We do our best to make a scene: I let out a warrior yell and head to the dance floor where Leila is attempting a twerk, with Vince grinding behind her. We’re the only life at the party, white people embarrassing themselves by imitating some kind of tribal mating dance in an empty bar. It’s probably too early for beer-fuelled casual quasi-racism. We’ve got more to see, more people to meet and quite possibly offend with drunken, caricatural imitations of their culture. We tone it down at the Barfly, a timeless punk gem amidst the swankier new joints. It still attracts the crustiest of the rest, in for the cheap drinks and live tunes. The middle-aged barmaid isn’t too happy to see us, with our silly grins and sweaty foreheads. We down a few pints and head back out the door to decide upon our next destination.

Korova? That mating ground for 18-year old brosters from McGill? Why not. Surprisingly, the place is half empty. “Do you need drugs?” asks a voice emanating from the darkness (i.e., my editor). Probably not, but here I go, tiniest bump of cocaine later, and I might just make it. The taste of metal fills my mouth and I gorge whiskey after whiskey to make it go away as the moose hanging over the bar stares at me disapprovingly. We dance without listening to the music, maybe there was no music at all, just us dancing in silence and me, too drunk to be high.

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Korova – Credit: Flickr, Olivier Benny

Let’s go, we’ve still got a lot of this wench of a street to tread upon before the threatening portals of Chinatown tell us to go home. We storm into the Bar Bifteck, probably one of the few places on this strip where you can still get a decently-priced pitcher of shit beer, and if you’re really broke, feast on endless baskets of free, mouth-parching popcorn. Usually a perfect spot for a bit of a pre-party before hitting a club, but we abandoned reason, order and logic a few blocks back. We crawl up to the TRH Bar and see a giant skate ramp in a cage, surrounded by youngsters in baseball caps, jersey-wearing skater babes drowning in Jagermeister. It feels like a discotheque for Blink 182 fans, if it were still the 90s and that reference was relevant. Every skater dude is blurring into one, as I stumble about trying to figure out where this bar ends. It feels huge, rammed with clones of my 14-year old self’s fantasy boy. Sk8 or die, mate, and I’m leaning towards the death part. Fifteen minutes or four hours later I step outside and glance south, but all I can see is twinkling lights and a destination that we were probably never meant to reach. I float to The Main Deli to nap on a bowl of poutine, shut my eyes and imagine the end. Had we paced ourselves we could have made it to Cléo’s. No pussy tonight. Cheers St-Laurent, maybe next time – I hate you, but I love you.

Main Deli - Maison du Biftheque

Main Deli – Credit: Flickr, Papahazama

ADDRESSES

Snack N’ Blues (5260 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

An unpretentiously cool bar attracting an eclectic, attractive clientele: pocket some free snacks and bop your head to the lively beats, courtesy of resident DJ Coco.

Chez Serge (5301 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

A trashy hockey pub where bros go to cheer their team and leer at the scantily-clad barmaids. After a few rounds, try your tricks on their famous mechanical bull.

Casa Del Popolo (4873 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

A hip bar, vegetarian restaurant, and venue with regular, varied DJ nights. Cool bands constantly grace the small stage: share some nachos, have a cheap pint and hope to see “the next big thing.”

Le Balattou (4372 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

Renown worldbeat venue with weekly live gigs and tropical disco DJ nights: save your best moves for the dancefloor and keep an eye out for the prowling lady predators.

Barfly (4062 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

An unchanging punk classic on a constantly evolving street with weekly live gigs on their tiny stage: make your place at the bar next to the loyal, crusty regulars, and don’t miss their popular Bluegrass Night on Sundays.

Korova (3908 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

A small, debauched club for the young indie-pop crowd: arrive early for the ridiculously cheap spirits and stay late for a sweaty dance fest with horny 18-year olds.

Bar Bifteck (3702 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

A perfect dive bar to whet your palate before dancing the night away: sit next to the window and admire the street’s nocturnal wildlife while munching on some free popcorn.

THR Bar (3699 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

A weird, trashy club for boys with skateboards and the ladies who lust after them: gawk at the lads busting moves on the giant ramp and open wide at the bar as the bartender pours liquor straight into patrons’ mouths.

The Main Deli (3864 Boulevard Saint-Laurent)

A 24-hour diner for the drunk and depraved: try their smoked meat and be nice to the elderly waiters – they put with a whole lot of shit.

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