UPDATE: The Quebec Government has reversed its decision to only release data weekly and will instead continue to release it on a daily basis.

Yesterday, the Quebec Government announced that it will no longer be publishing daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths as it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. They will still be collecting data but only releasing it to the public on a weekly basis.

Today, at a press conference in Montreal, Quebec’s National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda assured reporters that the data will still be looked at on a daily basis and if there was urgent information that needs to be communicated, it will be. Also, if the numbers start rising, they will go back to daily updates.

Arruda also announced the deconfinement of most of the remaining sectors of the economy. Bars, amusement parks, casinos, spas, water parks and hotels can now re-open while festivals and other large events, overnight camps and combat-related sporting events cannot.

Arruda stressed that these businesses must impose social distancing restrictions, in particular the two-meter rule. He also encouraged wearing masks as much as possible and didn’t rule out reconfinement if COVID numbers spike.

There will undoubtedly be some changes in how some businesses operate. For example, Arruda mentioned that bar patrons will need to remain seated as much as possible and not move around, much like restaurants, so probably no dance floor either.

This Thursday, the Habs kick off their 34th playoff rendez-vous with the Bruins. At least one pundit is calling for a 7 game tussle. Do you know what equates to? Twenty-one hours of screen time, multiple weeknight drinking sessions, and, if you’re lucky, a sprinkling of good food.

Back at series outset, BlogMTL highlighted some viewing hotspots and Eater helpfully listified some foodie-oriented playoff viewing joints.

But we’re on to round 2 and we feel it’s time for a fresh, eccentric and fiercely budget-friendly compilation of playoff bars in Montreal:

1) Fiddler’s Green

via Facebook

This small pub is ridiculously underrated. A semi sous-sol steps south of its more cavernous Irish cousin, the Embassy. This is where to come for a true change of pace. You’ll be enamoured with the die-hard fans that make this their pub of choice (and will probably hate me for blowing their cover). Prices are better, vibes cosier, and atmosphere more homey than their pubby cousins up the street.

WARNING: the back section is for very serious fans only–don’t even consider sitting there if you want to sneak in conversation during the game!

1224 Bishop / Facebook page

2) Pub Sir Joseph

via Facebook
via Facebook

The St-Laurent gastropub has truly come into its own with its carefully considered menu, tasteful décor and a heady range of booze. It’s usually quite full, so get there before first face-off.

4902 St-Laurent / Facebook page / website

3) Café Ciné-Express

Those who haven’t stepped inside will probably sneer at the suggestion. But those who’ve been for a game know what’s up. Ciné-Express not only offers a glut of huge screens, cheap pitchers, and affordable nibbles, but they’re host to private nooks. Each can accomodate a group of 4-8 or so and contains a private couch and TV. No extra cost.

1926 Ste-Catherine O.

4) Inspecteur Épingle

via Facebook

Tall boys of Labatt 50 and a huge HD screen? A quirky clientele that effortlessly mixes young and old? What more could you ask for? Well, food. So make sure to stop somewhere first on Duluth.

4051 St-Hubert / Facebook page

5) Taverne Régale

See #4. But add more screens, more CH flags and more old men. (Bonus: it’s directly across the street from the Charlevoix métro entrance, so you can easily stumble home).

2567 rue Centre / Facebook page

6) Chez Baptiste sur Masson

via Facebook

Chez Baptiste is a perennial favourite, but its Masson outpost is more fun. As their website insists, you risk “2000 square feet of pure pleasure.” Interesting drink specials every night of the week, and the opportunity to crawl over to some other spots on thriving rue Masson.

3014 Masson / Facebook page 

7) Taverne Normand

via Facebook

The Taverne takes hockey very seriously, so much so that you might like to reserve your spot in advance. But screens are abundant and the atmosphere is almost like being at the game. What’s more, they have $5 pints.

1550 Mont-Royal est / Facebook page

8) Chez Claudette

via @PhilipAuthier/Twitter

You will not find a casse croûte that more seamlessly merges lack of pretension, budget-friendliness, and utter passion for Habs history/lore. Screens are more limited, but the whiff of excellent poutine and a repeat of ’93 is in the air at Claudette 24 hours a day!

351 Laurier est 
Cover photo via Reg Natarajan/Flickr.

We all know Québecers love Florida. But do Miami and Montréal in particular have any kind of bond? A week ago, I would have said no.

But sometimes it pays to rent a car and follow your stomach. The first stop on my namesake quest took me to Schwartz of Miami, a surprising discovery which I discussed last week.

Here’s the rest of the rundown.

Copacabana

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How odd. Here I am in Spring Break Central, a town where 70% of the local population is Spanish-speaking, and a local Google search for Copacabana yields nothing. Meanwhile, I am reminded of the near-legendary status of Montréal’s booty-shaking venue de Maisonneuve Blvd.

I persist. And with some effort, I uncover Boteco Copacabana, a newish Brazilian resto with mixed reviews online. I track it down on foot, landing smack in the middle of Miami Beach’s less-glamorous, tourist-trappy pedestrian street, Espanola Way.

I approach with caution. Visions of our own flamboyant, booming Copa quickly recede as I spot a lonely man played guitar in a front window—Boteco Copacabana’s sole indoor patron.

Sad guitar playing manAnd while the streetside has customers, the food looks sad and the prices outrageous. As much as I’d love to waste $30 of my hard-earned dollars for a lousy plate of chicken, I need to save up for the journey.

Grumpys

Montréal’s Grumpys is a cozy and cavernous joint whose vibe—intentional irony?—is so good-natured that I always stay too long. There’s no Grumpys in Miami, but there is a long-lost-brother: Gramps.

IMG_3529Crusty on the exterior while remaining honest, loveable and addictively fun inside, Gramps is a last remnant of grunge in Miami’s quickly-gentrifying Design District. The city’s de facto dive bar radiates screeching guitars, is housed in a crumbling warehouse, and is even guarded by ZZ Top’s eldest grandson.

Casa del Popolo

It seems like a safe bet: generic Spanish name and all. So imagine my joy when, after a hot thirty minutes on South 22nd Street, I spot Casa Felipe. My joy turnes to disappointment when (instead of a café I could compare with our own) I realize I am approaching a cigar emporium. But then I turn the corner and suddenly, it was all worth it. Thanks, Obama.

Obama smokes a stogie in Miami

Le Cheese Truck

Just outside Gramps, I stumbled upon a southern sibling of Le Cheese Truck. I almost did a double-take! It was called Ms. Cheezious.

IMG_3521Even the down-to-earth dudes who ran it mirror the sweet, bubbly proprietors of Le Cheese. They are super nice and obviously have a loyal following. Sandwiches such as grilled blue and bacon, apple-pulled pork, all sounded tantalizing—if a bit unoriginal to me. Sadly, they are not up to par with our own boys’ endeavour. My “Shaved tavern ham” with spiced apple and sharp cheddar with tomato on sourdough was sloppily satisfying—great for après-bar. But frankly, I was struggling to see why anyone would pay $10 for that when the same price would yield something much more flavourful and original chez Le Truck (such as the chili with cheese curds or their fabulous mac n cheese).

Varadero

In rush-hour-induced moment of contemplation on our two towns, I was struck with the fact that throngs of Montréalers escape to Varadero on a whim while Miamians—whose roots extend far deeper into the country than, uh, Sunwing—have no such luck themselves.

To make up for it, they have places like Varadero II, a run-of-the-mill Cuban bakery somewhere near nowheresville, (I later learn it’s called Tamiami).

IMG_3252

Handing my fate over to the lady behind Varadero‘s counter, I am summarily presented with a pastellito de guyaba. What a revelation. The flaky, unsweetened exterior gives way to muted, silky cheese. All fine and good. But then: the sweetish aftertaste of that mild queso suddenly bleeds—miraculously—into a gooey, ultra-sweet guava jam. Insane! At 75 cents, my blood sugar will be thankful that I won’t be able to find this in Montréal.

But I include this anecdote only to conclude that, subtle bonds aside, Montréal needs more Cuban food. While my stop at this and this Cuban cafeteria were both exceptional, it was that tiny bakery on SW 8th Street that truly tipped the scales.

More Cuban flavours on our frigid streets can only make this a warmer, happier, healthier place.

 

In case you missed it, there was a lot of chatter about restaurant no-shows this week.

Last year I championed a great Gazette article—the first to spark serious awareness of the issue. It featured plenty of restauranteurs who were all-too-familiar with no-show diners. But a veritable firestorm kicked off this week with the birth of Twitter account @NoShowsMontreal. Its purpose? To name and shame no shows.

The account came online only days after Villeray’s Tapeo saw 28 patrons skip out on their reservations in one single night.

@NoShowsMontreal launched with gusto, telling restos to: “…send us in a (direct message) the name and complete phone number of your no-shows, we’ll post them here.”

Then it seemed to disappear—casting doubt on the seriousness of its authors, or visions of a complaint and Twitter Terms of Service violation.

But—much to the joy of hungry journalists—it turns out the glitch was temporary. The account was back up as of Wednesday afternoon, garnering more than its fair share of media attention.

In the interim, it seems a few lawyers were consulted. The authors’ modified request was that perpetrators’ numbers be shared with partial anonymity, “e.g. (514) *23-*567”, all while noting it remained “entirely legal to publish the full name of ‘no-shows’, very useful for all restauranteurs.”

Obviously not everyone agreed with the aggressive tactics, prompting various different responses.

Meanwhile, many restos lauded the effort, while others remained ambivalent. And as for the man whose story seemed to kick off all the attention? Tapeo’s Victor Alfonso tweeted appreciately about all the awareness, yet stopped short of endorsing the tactic.

838ab9f9b3ebe0a9d40765b963cd49e51bf729c27f3900d30ac887a833cacb73

Whatever your views on naming and shaming no-shows , the discussion has brought out several important points, not the least of which are Québec’s archaic laws when it comes to a resto rights. An establishment, for example, cannot legally charge a no-show credit card, nor can they accept prepaid sums for meals as collateral.

When you think about it, this is totally wacky—a holdover of rituals and traditions around public dining that really have no relation to modern business practices.

Booking tickets for concerts, galleries or other outings are par for the course—usually online with a credit card. Ditto for hotels, which always have clear terms as to when and how one might cancel a reservation (and the ensuing penalties).

Why, in an era of on-demand entertainment and ubiquitous online ordering, should restaurants be shackled by such bygone legislation?

As of now, @NoShowsMontreal has generated a lot of buzz but has only actually posted the names of six pesky patrons.

But they’ve been very successful at highlighting the faulty logic in our business laws, which are mostly hurting small establishments. It’s sad, because these scaled-down, agile kitchens are exactly the types of places we need to keep culinary innovation alive.

Denis Coderre doesn’t mind if Montrealers drink a little bit later. Inspired by Nuit Blanche, he’s calling for proposals on how to allow bars in certain areas to have a closing time of 6am, a full three hours past what it is now.

My initial reaction was surprise. It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest Coderre fan, but letting Montreal bars stay open later is damn cool and something I’ve been hoping would happen for years.

My next thought was one of support for this plan because it makes total sense. Why clog up our streets with a mass exodus of uprooted partiers when you can let people trickle home drunk instead?

Before getting clever and saying that the only downside was for whomever gets royalties from that kinda annoying 90s song Closing Time (I like the Leonard Cohen version better) and calling it a day, I decided to speak with a few people directly affected.

Christine Rigby, who has been bartending for the past 15 years, isn’t sure if the benefits of this idea will outweigh the cons.

bar6“Coderre’s romantic fantasy of allowing people to prolong indulgence as part of the Montreal joie de vivre,” she speculates, “was born of his very controlled experience of the recent Nuit Blanche event. The reality of day to day city life where bars are open until 6am might be escaping him.”

Rigby wonders if the project’s purported economic benefits may not materialize if operating costs and salaries increase to stay open longer while the clientele during the extra hours is significantly smaller. She also questions the public security benefits:

“Anyone who has worked in service,” Rigby argues, “can tell you that people who misbehave when they leave the bars will do so regardless of what time it is.

But she doesn’t rule out that Corerre’s idea may end up working. We just need to be cautious about it.

“I imagine that the experiment is worth trying and that time will tell,” she says, “but overall, once you look past the basic frat boy notion that it’s an ‘awesome’ idea, because who doesn’t want to party all night, the reality is much more complicated and may have less than desirable results.”

But everyone doesn’t go home at 3am under the current setup. Montreal is already home to a vibrant underground after hours scene. Some larger licensed venues stop selling booze at 3am like bars or they don’t sell it at all and others are, well, more underground.

If regular bars remain open until six, it will undoubtedly affect the after hours scene. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the scene will die.

“I think this scene will always be alive,” says afterhours DJ Matteo Grondini, “because it lives on the margins of society. Artists will always have loft parties, trying to live away from the disco-malls.”

Grondini doesn’t feel, however, that police tactics towards unlicensed after hours events will change with an extension of regular bar hours.

bar3“There already is a huge crackdown on illegal venues,” he observed, “I don’t see why they would tolerate them in the future.”

While he admits bars staying open later may attract some of the clientele currently extending their evening elsewhere, Grondini thinks that it really depends on where the 6am closing time is permitted.

“If this pilot project only goes into effect in the Quartier de spectacles and Crescent area, caters only to tourists and is limited to big clubs with 3000 square foot dance floors,” he speculated, “I guess there will still be a market for smaller, illegal afterhours. In fact, that’s what worries me the most. That this project doesn’t cater to the crowd that’s actually going to illegal afterhours but creates another class of consumers who never felt the need to go to bed drunk at 7am.”

The parts of town where this will be permitted is just one of the details that needs to be ironed out. Grondini asked how this will affect bar opening hours, currently legal as of 8am, and the fact that liquor regulation is actually a provincial matter, so Coderre would need to work with Quebec to make it happen.

“We know too little about this possible project to have an opinion on it,” Grondini said. And I agree.

How will this affect taxis, residents, police and others. Will the metro stay open 24 hours on the weekend? I think it should, but given Coderre’s admitted fondness for the taxi industry, I’d be surprised.

But then again, this whole idea caught me by surprise. I still think we should be excited by the prospect, but the true success of such a project is in the details.

UPDATE: The pilot project will go ahead for a few weeks this summer on St-Denis below Sherbrooke and Crescent Street. While certain bars will remain open until 6am, alcohol sales will stop at 3am for this initial phase.

* photos by Catalin Croitoru

Imadake pub japonais

When I say “sake,” you say ___ ? If you cannot fill in the blank, turn off your computer. Run straight to your local Japanese pub.

Nothing nearby? Try Imadake.

This neighbourhood watering hole (if you consider Place Alexis-Nihon a neighbourhood) has been around for three years. But you’ve been so blinded by Kazu and Big in Japan that I bet you’ve been missing out.

That’s a shame. Because you have no idea how much a wee tray of oily mackerel and a Sapporo-drowned sake can brighten a winter’s day.

Imadake may already be well-rooted in Montréal—albeit on a bleak stretch of Ste-Catherine West—but I still think too many izakaya fans are missing out on the culinary form in its most rowdy and flamboyant.

The longstanding Japanese concept of the small-plates-drinkery (annoyingly called “Japanese tapas” by some here in the West) is still a bit of a novelty to us in Canada.

But, you might protest, Kazu is like a household name by now!

I don’t disagree. But although the latter brings izakaya plates to life, Imadake brings life to the party.

Imadake pub in mtl

A warning: Imadake’s long wooden tables are built to order…for sake-bombing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll find out within about five minutes of sitting down. If you’re already getting anxious, you needn’t worry—the worst that could happen via proximity is a beer-stained blouse.

The biggest groups, it would seem, rev up in intensity as the night wears on. A horseshoe of two-seaters keeps couples at bay—though well within auditory range. Imadake is not a forum for intimate chatter. It might be argued, however, that neither is izakaya.

But you deserve to cut loose once in awhile.

At worst, you’ll learn a new tradition and get to bask in the sprawling, epic feat of graphic design that is the Imadake menu.

Once seated, however, you never know what could happen. You might just stumble upon some adventurous cocktail offerings and crisp variations on Sapporo and Kirin Ichibn. Try especially the Tokyotini (gin, ginger syrup & sake) or cassis-tinged rice lager.

While the night is still young (and your tastebuds pure), it’s a good time to sip a few varieties of sake (again, groups work well for this). You won’t find more varieties on offer in town (more than two pages worth!), so make the best of it.

Personally, however, I was there to dig in. So I’ll give you some suggestions:

Mackerel sashimi
Mackerel sashimi, fired for a few seconds at the table.

Torched at your tableside (see photo), the mackerel sashimi is simple, gorgeous: a steal at $6.50. Naked but for a squeeze of lemon, I could very easily have downed these fishy slivers all night.

Sake bombs go better with sampling, however, so be sure to venture further. In complete opposition to our expectations, we found the dumplings bland and texturally nondescript, yet the “burdock french fries” a surprising delight. Wasabi-octopus dashi is tempting but hit-or-miss, but it will help you sober up for a stretch.

If, at this point in the evening, you find yourself ravenous from so much table-banging (the one and only way to dunk sake into beer), do this: get the Surprise Dome.

Do not be alarmed when, the server at your side, your tongue is suddenly coated with doubt. Persist. Because the worst part is over once you’ve said it aloud (“one surprise dome, please”).

That said, you will need a little bit more persistence when it arrives. First, excise the wafer-like globe. Then, dismantle the (tastier than expected) shell. You will be enchanted by something akin to a forest floor: greens, avocado, scallion, crunchy tofu and chunks of tuna as pink and juicy as grapefruit sections.

Now that I’ve ruined that surprise for you, here’s another spoiler: Imadake’s best bite might just be a tiny blob of tendon.

Fatty, tender and ever-so-slightly gamey, this beef is served with a mound of turnip slaw—a brilliant, delicate garnish that, as you gnaw, sinks with steady grace into the heady ponzu broth.

It might be a pub, but you should still give dessert a try. You’ll be doubtful of your ability to stomach a cartoonishly-depicted creamy/crunchy/chewy/slimey experiment after who knows how many beers, but you’ve come this far: don’t back down now.

In fact, the Imadake experience might be summarized with a mouthful of the sweet-soybean-ice-cream-mochi bowl: slightly wacky, slightly awesome, but totally worth the adventure.