Over the decades, Montreal has garnered a reputation as a city where you can let loose, and a lot of that image dates back to Prohibition when thirsty Americans headed north in search of legal drinks, jazz and all-round debauchery. One hundred years later, from wine to beer to cocktails, this town still knows how to pour a good drink, and here are some of the best spots to fill your cup.
Vin Vin Vin
Wine Bar, Wine
Three wine lovers opened Vin Vin Vin in the Petite Patrie neighborhood in 2019 and put together a fun list of natural Nordic wines. Bottles hail mainly from central Europe, so you can try refreshing options from Slovakia and Germany, alongside tasty Canadian ones. This brightly tiled spot is always busy, but the friendly staff will happily serve you a glass to temper your thirst while you wait for a table at a leather booth along the stucco walls. Once situated, be sure to order a bottle of Austrian orange wine alongside plates of whelks and fried brussel sprouts.
Located between Mile-Ex and Little Italy, just west of Jean Talon Market, Brasserie Harricana is a local brewpub with a chic, contemporary vibe that serves different artisan beer options along with gourmet eats (vegetarian-friendly options are available too). A unique twist is that you can write on the walls of the restrooms – within the text balloons wallpapered on the walls.
If hidden cocktail bars serving southeast Asian-inspired drinks sounds like your jam, head to Nhau Bar in the basement of Laotian chef Ross Louangsignotha’s Hà Bia Hoi in the Business District. The crowd here is a mix of after-work friend groups, tourists who got an insider’s recommendation and couples on dates. Seeing these three groups is normal given the bar’s affinity for a dimly lit atmosphere with dozens of lanterns and boozy cocktails. Drinks like the ginger Pimm’s Cup with galanga, cucumber sake, as well as the Tamarindo that mixes soju, tamarind, pineapple and grapefruit in a metal can are strong enough to make anyone fall in love with Nhau.
This is one of the best hangouts on Chinatown’s stretch of St-Laurent Boulevard for dreamy afternoon meet-ups or late-night drinks and snacks is Cantine Poincaré. Immediately upon stepping inside the bright second-floor spot, eyes are drawn to the jars of pickling vegetables behind a glass case – they’re a passion for Cantine Poincaré’s chef and fermentation expert Jeremiah Bullied, who claims Canadians should use pickled veggies to help get through the winter. The tart servings of fermented corn and tomatoes, as well as salty and slightly sour lacto-fermented fries served with black garlic aioli, go perfectly with the Quebec beers they have on tap from mainstay local brewery Dieu du Ciel and Gaspésie’s Tête d’Allumette. They also serve plenty of tart, low-intervention wines.
You might not be summering in Rome, but Italian happy hour is just around the corner at Caffe Un Po’ Di Piu, where the laid-back tradition of aperitivi is the main attraction. Located smack in the heart of Old Montreal right by the river, this resto-bar, which is done up like a 1970s Italian cafe, has become a favorite where bitter drinks like negronis reign supreme. Try booking a table around 5pm, order a round of Aperol spritzes and a silver tower loaded with classic Mediterranean bites like hard-boiled eggs topped with anchovies, herbaceous focaccia bread, olives and rich salami.
A colossal co-op brewery in Rosemont, MaBrasserie brings together producers from across the city like Isle de Garde and Broue Pub Brouhaha who both have top-notch bars of their own. This huge industrial space that used to be a tannery acts as a tasting room, complete with a snaking wooden bar lined with over 30 beers on tap, as well as kombucha from local producer Mannanova. If you fall for a beer or just want to take something to a nearby park, drop in at their adjoining shop where you can pick up cans of new-found favorites.
Take a seat at Loïc’s long red bar if you’re looking to chat with their knowledgeable bartender or other wine fans. On sunny summer days, head for their sidewalk patio along Notre-Dame Street in Saint-Henri. The bubbly list is long here, so consider diving head-first into a bottle of cava and a dozen oysters or dip a toe into the rest of the French-heavy reds, like light gamays. If you’re thirsty for skin contact, explore their orange wines macerated with the skins on: options from Sicily or Canada’s own Prince Edward County are available by the glass.
Follow the street-level neon-green pineapple sign downstairs to Le Mal Nécessaire, a Chinatown cocktail bar where drinks are tiki-inspired, but the decor is sleek, with long wooden booths and not an actual tiki statue in sight. Their name translates to “the necessary evil”, which some might argue is reflected in their signature drink of bourbon, scotch, fernet, pineapple, lemon and kaffir lime served with perfectly crushed ice. If you want a faster pace, get a shot-and-beer combo. We recommend pairing a tart raspberry sour from Espace Public in the East End with straight-up gin. When hunger hits, have snacks from the neighboring Chinese restaurant Fung Shing delivered to you.
A cafe during the day, Kabinet morphs into a cozy sliver of a bar in the lower Mile End at 5pm. The intimate spot is done up as an homage to 19th century Russia with fringed lamps, framed photos of czars and punchy mules on the menu, including the classic Moscow Mule. Those looking for something different can choose from a long list of house cocktail concoctions, gins and amaro. Plus, there’s always delicious pieces of square pizza at the end of the bar for anyone feeling peckish during happy hour.
Though Le Réservoir has been around for years, they recently revamped their food menu to great success, bringing on veggie-heavy sharing plates of beet falafel and parmesan squares to go with their dozen or so rotating house-brewed beers. Their grapefruit IPA is refreshing enough that even hop-haters can get on board, while their once-in-a-blue-moon cherry porter is worth keeping an eye out for. They also have a nice selection of wines by the glass and imported raw ciders, best enjoyed on their rooftop patio that looks out onto a narrow, but bustling Plateau Street.