Montréalers love a good drink. Maybe it’s the European influence: this is a town where it’s perfectly acceptable, even expected, to begin cocktail hour after work and continue well into the night. On a sunny Friday afternoon, the cinq-à-sept (traditional 5pm to 7pm happy hour) often becomes 5-à-last-call. One caveat: many bars have a table service rule, which means that if you're not sitting at the bar, you have to be seated and waited on by waitstaff. This is an annoying policy – well intentioned it may be, but it seems to limit customers' ability to move and mingle.
Montréal nightlife is the stuff of legend; it’s a vibrant, exciting and ever-evolving scene on the cutting edge of international trends. That’s why touring bands and DJs rave about Montréal audiences. From underground dance clubs to French hip-hop, dub reggae to breakbeat, comedy shows to supper clubs and the still-exciting Anglo indie rock so hyped of late, Montréal after dark holds something for everyone, especially those who love a good show.
Montréalers treat their bars like a second home, unwinding after work for the legendary cinq-à-sept happy hour on Thursdays and Fridays, quaffing wine, beer and cocktails until the wee hours. In late spring and summer this is often done on a rooftop patio as temperatures rise. Come winter, Montréalers are undaunted by snowstorms and long, frigid nights. In fact, that’s the best time to find a warm, cozy bar (preferably with a roaring fire) and while the night away among friends and a few creative libations.
Coffee is big here, and most locals start the day with strong, espresso-based drinks at their neighborhood cafes. It’s not uncommon for artists, students and self-employed types to spend days hanging out at their favorite cafes, laptops in tow. Many places roast their own beans, and you can buy fair-trade and specialty blends in shops around town.
Clubbing & After-hours
While established events and club nights have a following, the appeal of one-off concerts and parties (including raves) depends on who's putting it on (and the talent on the bill), rather than the location. Beloved party brands throw events regularly, while indie concert promoters book shows of all musical genres virtually every night. You can catch big names and local up-and-comers before they top the charts.
Blvd St-Laurent and Rue St-Denis are the two main club strips, with Rue Ste-Catherine in the Village housing a strip of gay clubs. Fancier clubs have selective door policies and cover charges, but anything goes at most underground spots. Things tend to start late (after midnight) and close at 3am, but Montréal’s after-hours scene is very happening, with clubs, plus private warehouse and loft parties; they don’t serve alcohol but are made for dancing and all-night club experiences.
Drinking & Dining
Wherever you go to drink, food is likely to be a part of the experience. You might come across oysters, fish tacos, gourmet poutine, fois gras or even tartare de cheval (raw horsemeat), along with the usual assortment of frites (fries), moules (mussels) and bistro bites.
Likewise, some of Montréal's best restaurants also serve great cocktails, and a party crowd tends to arrive late in the evening at some places, such as Garde-Manger, as the focus shifts from food to drink.
Need to know
- The legal drinking age in the province of Québec is 18.
- Buy alcohol from the government-run liquor stores all over town: Societé des Alcools du Québec (SAQ). Opening hours vary, but dépanneurs (corner stores) sell wine and beer until 11pm. Some supermarkets sell alcohol.
- Bars open around 5pm and close by 3am.
- Clubs typically open around 10pm (some open only Thurday to Saturday).
- Pubs, bistros, cafes and other establishments have varied opening hours; check websites.
It's common to tip 15% of your bill, or between $1 and $2 for each drink you order.
You can often find midweek specials; some will waive cover before 11pm. Admission can be as low as $5 or free, but expect to pay $10 to $15 in larger clubs.
Tickets & Guest Lists
Lining up in freezing temperatures can be a real drag, so check club websites for a chance to get on the guest list, to reserve tables, or get advance tickets to events.
Nearly all clubs and bars in the city have a relaxed dress code.
- Nightlife.ca (www.nightlife.ca)
- The Main MTL (www.themainmtl.com)
- MTL Blog (www.mtlblog.com)
The cocktail craze has swept through Montréal and many bars have elevated the humble mixed drink to a work of art, blending housemade syrups, high-quality ingredients and top-shelf liquors. Le Lab, in the Plateau, was one of the first bars to lead the mixology madness, with skilled bartenders designing a menu of creative cocktails.
Locals have always been fond of good beer. But the microbrewery scene has picked up momentum in recent years, with the opening of excellent, creative brewpubs across town. The most famous is Dieu du Ciel in Mile End, a must-visit for anyone who remotely likes beer. You'll find daring beers among the growing roster of microbreweries – some successful, some not. The settings have evolved too, from sudsy beer halls to brew spots with vintage style, industrial fixtures, reclaimed lumber bars, exposed Edison bulbs and flickering candles.