Inside the McGill Ghetto’s submarine dep

This place is just too trippy.

The Depset doesn’t usually get out of bed to inspect chain dépanneurs, but the combination Subway/Couche-Tard in the basement of the Luna Apartments tower at the corner of Dr. Penfield and Peel is so trippy that I made an exception. Unless you did a stint in the McGill Ghetto, there’s a good chance you’ve never seen what is known by locals as “the submarine dep.”

Many of the 1960s and 1970s highrises of this neighbourhood, which are mostly dedicated to student housing and Airbnb rentals, feature a common element of apartment complex design of that era: the ground floor dep that can be accessed without stepping outside, just an elevator trip away. But the submarine dep takes the concept to a whole other level. It’s a subterranean dep that looks like a submarine with a Subway restaurant (puns are the lowest form of humour, right?), complete with yellow porthole windows, red emergency lights, exposed pipes and pressure valves, a fake old-school captain’s telephone, a periscope and pressure meter and stenciled writing on the walls directing you to the auxiliary electric motor. Don’t miss the metal hatch above the entrance outside!

Painted in bright primary colours, the whole place looks like the decor for a children’s TV show, or one of those interactive science centre exhibits that were so cool when you were seven. But it’s open 24 hours and sells beer, cigarettes and Subway sandwiches. Couche-Tard has tried to make itself interesting using wonky decor elsewhere. There’s one on Laurier and de Lorimier that has a fake second floor apartment balcony built in above the beer fridges, and another in the ground floor of le Colisée apartments on Sherbrooke that has a village main street theme, with storefront facades leading you to the “Librairie” and “Bureau de poste.” The attempts at standing out generally fail to give these chain deps any semblance of coolness, the same way that suburban malls with fake European streetscapes do. But the submarine dep pulls it off so well that you ask yourself, “Whose genius idea was this?”

Beyond the décor, there’s nothing special about this place. They have all the regular corporate Couche-Tard stuff, like the giant digital Van Houtte coffee machine and the endless Budweiser and Coors cardboard displays with $9.99 specials. But next time you’ve got 20 minutes to kill downtown, get off at Peel metro and walk up two blocks to the submarine dep. You won’t regret it. ■

1100 Dr. Penfield