Eccentric and tres chic — that’s Montréal, long a city for artists, bohemians, and renegades of all types. It’s also Quebec’s big metropolis, a sophisticated city that marches to its own beat and is passionately devoted to the pursuit of fine wine and great food, upstart fashion and design, stay-all-day coffee houses, and experimental live music venues. That extends to bars, pubs, lounges, and microbreweries, in particular theme bars, which have exploded onto the scene in full force. Put these originals on your must-visit list.
Bar Big in Japan: Underground Japanese in Plateau-Mont-Royal
Tucked away in an old punk bar, Bar Big in Japan is so hard to find, it only adds to its cool factor. It’s also sultry, sexy, and secret. Sporting a distinct speakeasy style, this place on St-Laurent near Mount Royal has no address or sign, just a gray door. Locals love it for the unusual tree-shaped bar, softly lit by hundreds of shimmering votives, and intimate feel. Take home one of the bottles of Japanese whiskey suspended above the bartenders, sip a rum or gin cocktail over tuna tataki, or sample sake and a Japanese apricot liqueur called umeshu. This place is cozy with understated elegance — ideal for date night. (Don’t confuse Big in Japan with the restaurant of the same name.)
Idole: “Game of Thrones” in Little Italy
Atmosphere makes Idole, inspired by both “Game of Thrones” and Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” oft described as spectacular. Very Dark Ages and deliciously dungeon-like, the space still resembles its former nightclub self. Classic cocktails are on offer, including selections like The Holy Grail, served tongue-in-cheek in a chalice with a communion wafer garnish. Expect Medieval, Goth, and religious decor touches, plus red velvet and chandeliers, that make this a hands-down hit.
Snowbird Tiki Bar: Polynesian kitsch in Little Italy
Tacky in a good way best describes Snowbird Tiki Bar, a retro classic that debuted in 2017 on St-Laurent Boulevard, an area already packed with outstanding watering holes. Order a super-sized blue rum cocktail and take a seat among the colorfully lit lanterns, palm fronds, campy island decor, and faux-Polynesian artwork. Cozy into in a bamboo booth, order a tropical Mai Tai or Scorpion Bowl with an over-the-top garnish and some kahloa pork buns, and enjoy the kitsch. No matter the season, it always feels like summer at Snowbird.
Bar Waverly: Meet the locals in Mile End
Laidback in the daytime and raucous at night, Bar Waverly is a local haunt known for good music and beer. In the hip Mile End neighborhood, this place manages to be relaxed and rowdy at the same time. An exposed wood ceiling lit by golden globe lights and chandeliers makes the long warehouse space lined with big windows comfy and inviting. DJs regularly spin electronica and groups of friends gather here to watch big events on the bar’s TVs.
Philemon Bar: Toast a birthday in old town
If you’re celebrating a special occasion, you need to check out Philemon Bar — a great spot for people-watching catering to young professionals. Set in an 1860s vintage space in cobblestone street-lined Old Montreal, this shabby-chic indoor-outdoor bar is modern, rustic, and sleek, but still accessible, friendly, and fun. The vibe is chill and the specialty is upscale cocktails and champagne drinks washed down with oysters and artisan charcuterie.
Le 4e Mur: Classy cocktails and a show somewhere in the city
Decidedly cool Le 4e Mur offers an enormous array of unusual, generous-pour cocktails for discerning clientele (try the Moscow mule garnished with curls of white chocolate or the Old Fashioned made with slow-frozen ice) and impeccable service. Even better, it’s a Prohibition-style speakeasy hidden behind a brick wall with a secret location somewhere on Saint Denis — the name is French for “the fourth wall.” You have to email the bar to become a member and find out exactly where it is. A private spot that’s always packed, you'll love the soft lighting and the popular burlesque shows.
Bar Suzanne: Greenhouse vibe in Mont-Royal
Clink glasses on a sunny summer afternoon over oysters and lamb-seaweed dumplings at atrium-like Bar Suzanne, Montreal’s first “dumpling bar,” a collaboration of some of the city’s best bar pros. This hangout in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal on Avenue Duluth E, not too far from McGill University, feels airy, bright, and inviting with Chinese accents and a central skylight fringed with jungle-like vines draping down. Order one of the sake cocktails (or sherry or soju), sip on delectable wines, and enjoy an outdoor ambiance inside.
Bar Playground: Ping Pong in Griffintown
You can play Ping Pong in Mile End, too, but groovy, games-focused Bar Playground is really perfect if you actually want to try your hand at a friendly competition, plus perhaps have a match of beer pong. This spacious Griffintown go-to is home to three Ping Pong tables (playing is free), plus Foosball and video games with industrial-chic-skateboarder décor. As far as refreshment goes, you want to order icy brews, or perhaps a cocktail, and nibble on the bar snacks.
Believe it or not, these are just a few of Montreal’s many exciting and original bars; and then there’s the restaurants and clubs and live music venues. Add more time to your trip if you want to really dive into the scene.
Research more top places for eating and drinking at the Tourism Montréal website.