Montréal has long been renowned for its gorgeous architecture and charming downtown district, and in the modern era, this storied Canadian city is developing one of the most impressive cocktail scenes in all the nation. While visitors can stumble upon a wealth of polished lounges and cozy speakeasies during a stroll across Old Montréal, the 2023 North America’s 50 Best Bars list has shined a light on specific destinations like Atwater Cocktail Club and Cloakroom—and while the city may not be known worldwide for its stellar cocktail scene, this designation comes as no surprise to local industry professionals.
“What sets Montréal apart is the city’s approach to hospitality and French influence mixed with the highest North American standard,” states Christophe Beaudoin Vallières, 13-year industry veteran and co-founder of Québec-based hospitality company Groupe Barroco. “Our cocktail scene has dramatically evolved over the last ten years due to recent accessibility to international distillates and consumer interest towards new spirits and cocktails. We’re seeing bartenders and operators embrace more advanced techniques while still embracing Montréal’s spirit.”
While the aforementioned Atwater Cocktail Club has earned acclaim for its sophisticated atmosphere and complex cocktails like the fiery Fresa Sin Fresa and tropical fruit-forward Pokemango, sibling property Milky Way has mastered the art of the tropical cocktail, with the Plantation-loaded Marcus Hibiscus serving as a top choice for rum aficionados. To keep the warm weather cocktails flowing, visitors can head to Le Mal Nécessaire for a perfectly-crafted Painkiller in a charmingly-decorated space, while The Coldroom is a favorite speakeasy for locals and tourists alike, offering superb cocktails to anyone able to track down the entrance.
As an added bonus, Montréal’s thriving cocktail scene is accompanied by a wide array of high-end restaurants, providing visitors with countless dining options to explore after a few drinks. For those who prefer to stay downtown, Chifa offers beloved Peruvian favorites like lomo saltado and chaufa in a vibrant setting, while the city’s Mile End district is a can’t-miss neighborhood for visiting gastronomes. New arrivals can snag curried goat and Guyanese chow mein at Le Jardin Du Cari, while Damas has mastered the art of elevated Syrian dining, with beet mutabbal, pistachio fried kibbeh and moujaddara all on the menu—but for a taste of Québec’s most iconic dish, Greenspot is a can’t-miss destination. Located in Saint-Henri, this storied venue has been a staple for Montréal residents since the late 1940s, and currently serves as a top destination for a hearty plate of poutine.
Given its high concentration of top-tier bars, planning a cocktail-focused trip to Montréal may seem like a daunting task—but fortunately, Vallières has curated a list of favorites for visitors to enjoy. For those wishing to stick close to the city center, Philémon Bar offers a diverse selection for both cocktail and wine lovers, while those willing to venture west will be richly rewarded with ultra-flavorful small plates and excellent espresso martinis at Majestique. In terms of new arrivals to the scene, Vallières highlights Bar Dominion as a recently-opened spot that excels at crafting classic cocktails, but when it comes to long-standing local institutions, there’s one venue that he’s particularly fond of.
“I go to Midway Tavern all the time,” says Vallières. “It’s one of my favorite dive bars and a fixture of those in the industry. It’s a historic bar in Montréal that dates back to the 1920s but was revamped 9 years ago—you really feel it when you walk into the space. Even though I love cocktails, I keep it simple with a classic boilermaker because they have a great selection of beers and spirits.”