Spring is in the air. Montreal is blossoming and so is the city’s literary crowning jewel, The Blue Metropolis Festival. And where there are writers congregating, you can bet there are drinks being poured…
The Blue Met Fest is a celebration of international literary superstars and some of Montreal’s finest writers. This year’s programme is impressive- for instance, there’s a face to face with Gore Vidal hosted by CBC’s Michael Enright. Or if that doesn’t float your boat, you can see one of Europe’s finest writers, Bernhard Schlink (The Reader), hosted by Noah Richler (yes, son of that Richler). If non-fiction is your thing, then Montreal’s Joel Yanofsky (Bad Animals), Charlene Diehl and Judy Fong Bates read from their memoirs for a program called Blue Met Nightcap. According to me, a series of symposiums called “Nightcaps” can only be read as an indication of how much writers love to drink.
Now, there are some things that are stereotypes because they’re true. For instance, most hippies have actually piloted a decrepit, seatless school bus with a bed in the back and a Mason jar full of sprouts growing on the dash. Likewise, on any given night most writers have enjoyed a drink or seventeen. The romance of the writer and the drink has been unfolding for centuries and is alive and well all over Montreal today. Here’s a look at the past, present and future of where Montreal writers drink.
The likes of Mordecai Richler, Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen have all called Montreal home. However, you’d be hard pressed to find Leonard Cohen yakking it up at local bar and you probably won’t see Anne Carson traipsing around Jeanne Mance Park, playing dominoes and drinking out of a paper bag. However, that’s not the case for scribes like Layton and Richler. In fact, Richler could usually be found engaged in animated conversation with patrons and journalists at bars like Woody’s, Winnie’s (pictured above), Ziggy’s and Grumpy’s, fondly referred to as Dink’s in his writing. In Richler’s flusher years, he was known to enjoy some drinks at the now defunct Maritime Bar at the Ritz Carlton. Less of a man about town, Irving Layton is lovingly remembered for imbibing in his McGill office. Even though current Montreal writers seldom go to these places, they’re worth a peak just to see where these former men of letters slurred their words.
Presently, you can find the Montreal literati at a few choice locales. For instance, local writer David McGimpsey mentioned that you’re likely to find sportswriters of all colours at the universally beloved Hurley’s Irish Pub. If you venture north towards the plateau, you’ll find yourself at the infamous Copacabana on Saint-Laurent. This bar features a Tiki inspired sunset on the wall, a conspicuous palm tree and a neglected pool table. The bar’s a bit of a dive but it’s dark, quiet and cozy. I’ve often thought that you can deduce the quality of an establishment by its bathroom and Copa’s bathrooms are immaculate, so there you go. Countless local writers, journalists and poets have spent countless dollars on their no frills drinks. Occasionally the bar will host a customer’s book launch, as a nod to their clientele. The bar itself is nothing fancy, but it’s well worth it.
The future of Montreal writing can be found all over the place, but they tend to congregate once a month at the Pilot Reading Series which takes place every last Sunday of the month at Sparrow. Keep an eye out for these youngsters; soon they’ll be taking over the Blue Met.
The Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, April 27-May 1, Holiday Inn Select Montreal Downtown Hotel, 99 Viger Avenue West
Woody’s Pub, 1234 Rue Bishop, (514) 954 0771
Sir Winston Churchill’s Pub Complex, 1455-1459 Crescent Street, (514) 288 3814
Ziggy’s Pub, 1470 Crescent St, (514) 285-8855
Grumpy’s Pub, 1242 Bishop St, (514) 866-9010
Ritz- Carlton, 1228 Sherbrooke West, (514) 842 4212
Copacabana, 3910 Saint-Laurent, (514) 982-0880
Sparrow, 5322 Saint Laurent, (514) 690-3964
Photo Credit: Hurley’s- Appaloosa