The vanishing taverns in Montreal?

The Laurier sports bar, the Jarry tavern and the Québécoise are all iconic Montreal taverns… which are no more. Replaced by SQDCs or refreshment bars (to name a few), taverns, once an important part of the Montreal landscape, are dying out in favor of other places of consumption.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the golden age of taverns, Montreal alone hosted about 700, according to professor in the Department of Social and Public Communication at UQAM, Anouk Bélanger.

Today, the president of the Corporation of owners of bars, brasseries and taverns of Quebec (CPBBTQ), Renaud Poulin, believes that although they are not yet endangered, « he is closing in on a regular”.

The Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux (RACJ) defines the tavern as an “alcohol bar reserved for men”. Since 1982, the prohibition to enter the taverns for the women is lifted, but it is necessary to wait until 1986 before the whole of the taverns welcomes the women. A kind of grandfather clause allowed certain well-established taverns to make referendums with their customers to possibly remain open to men only.

The definition of a tavern is therefore no longer the same today, since they have the same legal status and the same liquor license as a nightclub, explains the head of media relations for the RACJ, Ms.e Joyce Tremblay. It is therefore difficult to obtain precise figures for taverns.

Ms. Bélanger published a scientific article in 2006 in the journal World dealing with taverns and their evolution: From the Joe Beef Tavern to the Edgar Hypertaverne. The tavern as a popular expression of industrial Montreal in transformation. As part of this project, she spent six months frequenting Montreal taverns, such as VV Taverna. The ones she visited are all closed today. She continued to participate in various projects on the subject thereafter.

In the eyes of this specialist in popular culture, it is not the arrival of women that has changed the taverns.

In fact, “the women came to the tavern because the world was changing. Rather, it is industrial development, slow gentrification and densification that has turned neighborhood life and popular habits upside down,” she says.

The tavern follows exactly the curve of development and then of industrial decline.

Anouk Bélanger, professor in the Department of Social and Public Communication at UQAM and specialist in popular culture

Today, when we talk about taverns, those that are the direct descendants of the traditional Quebec tavern, we often talk about drinking establishments equipped with « slot machines, big Labatts, billiard tables and dark lighting », such as the nicely describes Pierre Thibault, president and founder of the Nouvelle association des bars du Québec (NABQ). The taverns are generally affiliated with Mr. Poulin’s corporation, he points out.

“The tavern is somewhat the victim of a slow gentrification, says Anouk Bélanger. We notice it as much in the South-West as in the east of Montreal, as well as in neighborhoods like Villeray, Rosemont, the Mile End. It is this slow process of neighborhood revitalization that in many cases is steaming into gentrification.”

Change in consumption habits

In the golden age of taverns, « there were two, three major breweries » that supplied beer to the province: Molson Coors, Labatt and Sleeman, which today are united in the Association des brasseurs du Québec (ABQ). However, “in Quebec, alcohol consumption has completely changed” over time, underlines the professor at UQAM.

“The SAQ has begun to develop what it calls the refinement of taste for Quebecers,” she explains. The population was thus encouraged to love good liquor and good wine.

The rise of microbreweries, “in the 2000s”, pushed taverns to continue their metamorphosis. “In the classic taverns where you had three, four [fûts]then big Molson, Labatt and O’Keefe, well there, you have like 50 beers [en fût] then 150 on the menu.” The taverns had no choice but to adapt in order to be able to compete. « It completely changed the dynamic of the tavern because there are not many people looking for bars where there is just beer, » says Ms. Bélanger.

Renaud Poulin agrees: resto-bars are gaining in popularity. Being in regular contact with other players in the community, he ensures that the consumption of alcohol in bars is decreasing. Changing general consumer behavior and the high cost of living are making life more difficult for tenants.

Only 11% of beer and alcohol consumption takes place in bars.

Renaud Poulin, President of the Corporation of Bar, Brewery and Tavern Owners of Quebec

He also points out that the number of drinks drunk in bars has decreased and that people « have other ways of meeting », other meeting places. “The consumer is changing the way he entertains himself,” summarizes the president of the CPBBTQ.

Post-industrial Montreal

“The tavern, recalls the professor at UQAM, was like a buffer between work and home” for the workers. When Montreal was the industrial capital of Canada, there were “two or three next to every factory”. The workers went there and talked about “everything and nothing, sports, politics”. These bars acted as much as social spaces to decompress as they did as spaces of resistance.

By dint of talking about their working conditions among workers in the taverns, they became spaces for social and political gatherings.

Anouk Bélanger, professor in the Department of Social and Public Communication at UQAM and specialist in popular culture

Hence the expression « the people’s parliament » to designate them.

« There has never been an anti-tavern movement where the tavern was targeted, it’s several contexts and social changes [qui sont en cause]“, indicates the specialist in popular culture. When women had more access to work, « after the mid-1970s », they began to have money to spend, and their husbands wanted to take them out to more « socially acceptable » places.

The different types of bar licenses therefore changed to « men who wanted to take their wives out to a place that was more morally acceptable and women wanted places to hang out alone because they had it, money, and wanted to hang out. ‘They had the right to go out,’ sums up Anouk Bélanger.

What really put the final nail in the tavern’s coffin was when workers who used to go to the tavern after work started to retire, say from the late 70s to the late 1900s 80.

Anouk Bélanger, professor in the Department of Social and Public Communication at UQAM and specialist in popular culture

Who are the remaining taverns for?

“These bars exist, in Montreal, for the old of the old”, because of the neighborhood habit, reports Anouk Bélanger. « That’s what the owners were telling us when we walked around. » There remains a part of the population still concerned by the basic mission of the taverns, « those who go there all the time and who only go there ».

It still exists, Montreal is not completely gentrified even in the last enclaves.

Anouk Bélanger, professor in the Department of Social and Public Communication at UQAM and specialist in popular culture

These regulars « of several generations » meet « young people, gentrifiers, creative entrepreneurs ». They go to taverns because they are looking for a certain nostalgia, a certain atmosphere, a certain aesthetic. For them, the tavern is not a place of refuge. « There’s a lot of talk about cultural omnivorism, » she says, referring to the consumer habits of these customers.

Although some taverns have been completely transformed or have been sold, « there are others that have remained neighborhood bars anyway, » says Anouk Bélanger.

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive a daily summary of Montreal news.


Back to top button