The Montreal street drinking survival guide

Want to drink outside before the cold strips you of your will to leave your home? Of course you do. And here’s how to do it.

Picnic time. Photo by Jordan Henri

It’s nothing to scoff at. Civilized nations like Japan and New Zealand both allow it, and why shouldn’t they? As long as you’re not being a dick, I don’t see anything wrong with ambling down the streets with an open beer in hand.

After all, doesn’t Montreal seem designed specifically for public drinking? Winding streets and narrow alleyways provide furtive concave covering, wine picnics are quasi-legal in most parks, and, unlike, say, Ontario, where beer can only be bought in government-sanctioned outlets (which can be remote or far apart from one another), it’s readily available here at dépanneurs, which are rarely more than two blocks away from any given location.

Plus, everyone benefits from drinking in public: bottle-collecting hobos make cash off deposit refunds, beer drinkers save money by avoiding bars, and family-run depanneurs can afford rent. Heck, even cops handing out tickets earn the city some much-needed revenue.

Fines are a rarity, though — street drinking is not a Montreal police priority. Neither is jaywalking or rescuing cats stuck in trees, for that matter. But don’t get me wrong. You can still easily get a ticket.

Drinking pour emporter with relative impunity, however, isn’t so difficult if you adhere to a few basic principles.

Beverages of choice
First, most risks inherent to Montreal street drinking are eliminated if you simply stick to mixed drinks. Any fool can pour vodka and orange juice into an old coffee mug and sip publicly without raising an eyebrow. As long as you don’t accidentally mix it so strongly that you get surprise-blackout wasted (which can easily happen), you should be fine.

But since most Montreal public drinking situations involve impromptu pit stops at depanneurs and grocery stores where no hard liquor is sold, the decisions made between beer or wine, can or bottle, tall or short, all affect whether the police choose to let you off with a warning or put your misfortune toward their monthly ticket quota.

Rule number one: avoid glass bottles. These are basically cop magnets. Regular glass bottles (330mL) are already conspicuous enough, but 40-ouncers? Come on, guy. If you’re ballsy enough to waltz down the street rocking a straight-up paper-bagless Colt 45, then you’re probably a seasoned pro who doesn’t really care what I or anyone else has to say about street drinking in the first place.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you insist on drinking from bottles because cans taste too “metallic-y” or something lame like that, odds are you’re the type of person who avoids dive bars and drinks craft beers exclusively (read: not down to pre-drink in alleys).

That’s a damn shame. You’re missing out on the fun of slumming out.

Whatever your hang-ups are, cans of beer are the safer route. For you beer-hating, wine-only types, maybe you should consider compromising your overly discriminating tastes to reduce your chances getting in trouble.

Small cans are less noticeable, and at night they look almost identical to soda pop cans. But for those brave party soldiers looking to “strap on a set and give’r,” it’ll be annoying when that flimsy 12-pack cardboard box of beers inevitably falls apart, cans exploding everywhere as they hit the ground and roll into the gutter.

That’s why I recommend the king can. Sure, they’re still obvious to a cop cruising past. But since they’re way less obnoxious than bulky glass bottle Colt 45s, police will be more likely to turn a blind eye.

All in all, having only one giant beer to carry not only means less trips to the dep, but that your other hand will be free to text, light cigarettes or give sloppy, unmerited high-fives to your wasted buddies for the stupid things they are bound to do stumbling around like a tamer version of the posse from A Clockwork Orange.

Breaking shit
Cans are better because the nagging adolescent urge to smash bottles is too strong, and if you give in, any ticket-preventing karma you might’ve had will get totally fucked. Glass shatter-bombs almost always provoke neighbours to call the police. That, and you’ll be responsible for some flip-flop-wearing individual eventually slicing their foot open — although, fashion-wise, they probably deserve it. Let’s also not forget the clumsy children that fall when they play outside who would hurt themselves more severely if they landed in a stab-puddle of your personified angst.

The road(s) less travelled
Since most (but by no means all) good bars are located along main drags, your best bet is to roll down residential streets parallel to and a couple of blocks over from the busy ones. Nine out of 10 streets in Montreal are narrow one-ways, so you should opt for walking against traffic so as to better spot any oncoming 5-0, buying you just enough time to tuck everything away in jacket pockets and purses. Say, for instance, you’re heading south down St-Laurent and want to pre-game on the way to meeting people at Bifteck. I’d recommend sip-walking against the north-directed traffic on St-Dominique.

Narrow alleys all over the city provide sneaky — albeit sketchier — alternatives to the naked vulnerability of open streets. Particularly in the Plateau and Mile End, alleys like the one between Hutchison and Parc provide unfettered chug-freedom for blocks on end.

If you’re taking a route with several depanneurs along the way, rather than getting weighed down by a six- or 12-pack, try pretending that the deps are lily-pads and you’re a bottle-brandishing leapfrog. Hop into deps one beer at a time and find out which places offer the best deals.

Doing the deed
While walking with a drink, don’t ever let your drink-holding arm hang down by your side all loosey goosey, swinging it around for the whole world to see. You want to cock your arm 90 degrees, bent at the elbow, so the beer is propped right up against your chest. You know, all casual-like. Picture it as a reverse business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back mullet. People can clearly see that you’re holding a beer from the front, but from behind, no one’s the wiser.

Also, remaining calm sends out not-guilty vibes through body language. Looking over your shoulder every five seconds and acting like a paranoid nervous Nellie is bait and, more important, means you’re not enjoying yourself. If you’re going to get slapped with a $140 ticket, you might as well have fun earning it.

Cop talk
If you street drink often enough, you’ll certainly run into some kind of incident or close call with the police. The main thing to remember is: cooperate, cooperate and cooperate. Show even the tiniest shred of an argumentative attitude and the police will not hesitate to write a hefty, budget-eating ticket. Just apologize and say, “We’re taking our friend here for a walk to help him get over his recent break-up. We’re really sorry. Can we pour these out in the sewer?”

Bonus points: speak French, even if you’re hopelessly anglo. It’s not a foolproof plan, but it can’t hurt. At the end of the day, if you do get a ticket, don’t stress too hard. When you factor in the amount of money saved collectively through avoiding bar drinks and tipping, you’re probably in the profit zone. Or at least somewhere close to breaking even.

Off the streets and onto the grass, alcohol consumption is permitted in most parks if it’s part of a picnic. What exactly constitutes a “picnic” is a little vague, though, because I’ve heard of people get away with showing cops a chocolate bar that they just happened to find lying at the bottom of their backpack.

For Sunday funday daytime drunk jams, the weekly tam-tams on Mount Royal is where it’s at. Cops look the other way while a grab-bag of freaks congregate to fight with fake swords, compare dreadlocks and practice their circus moves.

So this weekend, before going outside becomes a disorienting minus-40-degree ice hell, why not pre-drink down long stretches of vibrant, graffiti-saturated alleys before hitting the bars? Your eyeballs will enjoy the wall art, and your wallet will welcome the savings. Your liver, however, will rot and resent you from the inside.

But that’s nothing new. ■

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