The Montreal Jazz Festival is the largest jazz festival in the world. Musical giants such as Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown have all captivated crowds since the festival’s debut edition in 1980. Today, more than 2 million people attend the Montreal Jazz Festival yearly.
But the Jazz Fest is not just about music – it’s about life’s pleasures. And truth is, there’s nothing like a bit of jazz to awake my yearning for a glass – or two – of lilac wine. As famous saxophonist Steve Lacy once said: “Jazz is like wine. When it is new, it is only for the experts, but when it gets older, everybody wants it”.
1) LE BALMORAL is the official bistro of the Montreal Jazz Fest. Located at La Maison du Festival (the Festival’s HQ), it features a full bar, and mostly, an outdoor terrasse that is at the heart of the festivities. From the patio, bop your head to the music emanating from the nearby stages or indulge in world-class people watching. You can even smoke a cigarette if you still haven’t given up that really bad habit. If you prefer French fries as a vice, Le Balmoral serves gratifying French food and becomes an intimate venue at night, showcasing small jazz combos. Where: 305 Ste. Catherine St. West, (514) 288-5992
2) BENELUX is a trendy pub and micro-brewer located in an old bank, right on the edge of the Jazz Festival’s site. This popular local bar is renowned for its fine beers, made on the premises! Personally, I’m a big fan of the old vault at the back of the bar which now serves as a small chill-out room, but if small vaults don’t turn you on, you’ll surely appreciate the high ceilings of the main bar area or the outdoor patio with view on Sherbrooke Street. Finally, if you’re a World Cup fan, you’ll rejoice knowing that you can watch your favorite team at this location – unless you’re an England of France fan that is. Where: 245 Sherbrooke West, (514) 543-9750
3) This one is quite exciting! Carlos Ferreira (from Montreal’s already famous Ferreira Café and Vasco da Gama) and Chef Normand Laprise (from the world-acclaimed Toqué restaurant), announced in a joint press conference last week that they would both open new locations on the site of the Festival. Ferreira’s F BAR will be a Portuguese brasserie, seating 50 people indoors and another 70 outdoors, smack in the middle of the Festival. Any closer and you’ll be eating and drinking on stage with the stars. The F Bar will specialize in stews served in copper casseroles that Ferreira buys directly in Portugal. Where: 1458 Jeanne-Mance, (514) 289-4558
4) As for Chef Normand Laprise’s, he will be opening BRASSERIE T! this Friday, June 25, coinciding with the launch of the Jazz Festival. Contrary to his famous Toqué! Restaurant, the price tag on meals at Brasserie T! will be for everyone. “Even for the kids. I want this restaurant to be accessible to all”, he says. Normand Laprise is known for being a fervent promoter of Quebec’s regional food products and that surely won’t change. The brasserie menu will include a selection of charcuteries, including duck rilettes and head cheese, in addition to classic French main courses such as bavette, croque-monsieur and coquilles St-Jacques. As for drinks, Laprise is waiting on his liquor license. It is supposed to arrive on July 5, but there’s a slight chance it will come in by June 29. One thing is sure, liquor license or not, Brasserie T! will be the talk of the town! Make sure you reserve in advance. Where: 1425 Jeanne Mance St., (514) 282-0808
5) SAQ is Quebec’s Alcohol Corporation, a government-owned corporation responsible for the trade of all alcoholic beverages within the province of Quebec. You’ll notice the many SAQ boutiques throughout the city, and if you plan on heading to a Bring Your Own Restaurant during your stay in Montreal, the SAQ is where you will buy your wine. Every year during the Jazz Festival, the SAQ installs a bistro at the top of the Place-des-Arts steps on Ste-Catherine Boulevard. Look for the Place-des-Arts fountain and you’ll find the SAQ PETIT BISTRO in a matter of seconds. There’s a beautiful view of the Festival from this elevated terrasse and the SAQ always offers a great selection of wine and cheese.