Montreal underground cocktail bars

King Crab

Montreal’s underground cocktail bars

Semi-secret subterranean bars offer a great way to spend summer hours.

Montreal underground cocktail barsMontreal secret underground cocktail bars

This summer’s heat waves brought the kind of sopping wet heat that gets into your bones and weighs you down, so I’ve sought refuge in underground — sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively — bars.

Established restaurants have been setting up shop with speakeasies and boozy caverns that have become a higher-tiered alternative to dingily air-conditioned dives. These new businesses offer curated cocktail and snacking lists, and while few things beat a cold pint and a terrasse on a sweltering day, this year’s recent spate of subterranean openings promise air-conditioned and/or summery escapes. The following is an hour-long cocktail crawl that spans Griffintown to Old Montreal.

King Crab
1726 Notre-Dame W. website

This is a spot that’s dismissible on one hand, and a reliable oasis on another. Located under the Grinder group’s new seafood counterpart Makro, King Crab is a velour-seated and electronica-pumping bar that will house the overflow of their supper club upstairs, but welcome to passersby looking for respite from the heat while grabbing a slice and a drink. $5 grabs you a sixth of a pie from a fired oven (pepperoni, all dressed or vegetarian). While the pizza’s undeniably delicious — with soft and crunchy crust in a New Yorkaise style — the cocktail list here is pretty blasé. I can’t rightly say whether or not the deliciousness of my drinks here were dependent on the bartender, but much of what I ordered barely tasted of what was described by the menu. Stick to beers and straight liquors — come for the drinks, but stay for the snacks.

436 St-Francois-Xavier website

You may know the Californian poke bowl resto Venice in Old Montreal, and maybe its sous-sol neighbour Boho accessed through a bookcase in the wall of the ice cream shop next door, but ask the bouncers for Clandestino and you’re taken one level even lower into a deep cavern of mescal. The range of smoky liquors in this dank parlour come in at over 100 brands and varieties, and many of them are tooled into drinks that are pricey, but worth the visit. Presentations for drinks are exceedingly ornate, and the bartenders’ skill here verges on ironically calling them mixologists. Provided that you arrive early enough in the evening to nab a standing space at the bar, it’s cool here in more ways than one.

Club Pelicano 1076 Bleury #001 website

Located below the Nikkei cuisine restaurant Tiradito, Pelicano takes its design and menu straight out of the ledgers of poolside bars. In a downstairs space fashioned after a public bath house drained of its water — one part Tropicália music incarnate and one part French Riviera beach club — picture stepping down and swimming up to a central bar that serves so many ice and slush-heavy cocktails that they practically run from taps. Wine and beer are on offer, but it’s the goblets of cool and lush drinks that make this one of the better openings of the year. The menu from Tiradito’s chef Marcel Larrea and his counterpart Fabrizia Rollo have also made an impact here with items that take a page from pubs, like imperial rolls stuffed with mac ’n’ cheese or hot dogs using karaage instead of beef.

El Pequeño
401a St-Vincent website

With only nine seats plus standing room — it’s a Cuban-themed waiting room to the cocktail savant spot Cold Room — this place holds up to its moniker of (one of) Canada’s smallest bars. Simulacrum of décor and music aside, the cocktails here are named after Cuban classics like the mojito and daquiri but are more inspired by them than instructional. Among all of these bars, however, the bartenders here are the most skilled in flair and make pretty decent Cubano sandwiches as well ($11). Old Montreal is severely lacking in easygoing pitstops for drinks, and while this one undoubtedly gets packed during later hours on the weekends, it’s a solid and simple bet as a waypoint. ■

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