It was cold enough outside on a recent Sunday night to see your breath, but the owner of Mile End’s most venerable bar was seated on a sidewalk bench, placid, and dressed for warmer weather. Inside, a projection screen played the 1979 cult film The Warriors while Jonesy, a Hochelaga-Maisonneuve punk band, ripped through a pulse-quickening, window-rattling, NSFW set.
"I don’t really understand this music," confessed Steve Katina-Glow with a shrug. "To me it sounds like casseroles banging together."
If Katina-Glow had his druthers, Snack N’ Blues, the boulevard Saint-Laurent bar he opened in 1991, would probably stick to pure jazz. (Indeed, from the outside, the bar’s trumpet player silhouettes sometimes cause passersby to mistake it for a jazz club.)
"We started with jazz. That was the original plan."
"We started with jazz. That was the original plan. We didn’t have a stage, just a DJ booth that I had built. This place was a port and cheese bar before, so we had to make some changes. DJ Coco, who’s been with us since the start, played jazz when we opened, and that grew to include blues, pop, and other types of music."
Snack N’ Blues wasn’t Katina-Glow’s first bar. The 70-year-old ran L’Officiel, on de la Montagne, in the 1980s until it burned down. "That was a crazy experience. It was a big and busy bar. After the fire, I wanted to do something different."
Mile End was as different as it got from downtown Montreal. Katina-Glow knew the old neighbourhood well; his grandfather was a politician whose turf included what is now Plateau-Mont-Royal. Before a stint in the Merchant Navy, Katina-Glow walked the streets as a youth, on the hunt for ways to make a buck. With fondness and a glint of nostalgia, the bar owner recalled the different businesses that dotted Mile End at the time: bakeries, tailor’s shops, and, across the street from where Snack N’ Blues is now, a kosher establishment that rendered beef and chicken fat.
Patrick Watson, Timber Timbre, and The Barr Brothers, have all graced the Snack N' Blues stage.
From its jazz-fueled inception (interrupted by the odd flamenco night), Snack N’ Blues evolved into a venue favoured by breakthrough domestic musical acts. Patrick Watson, Timber Timbre, and The Barr Brothers, have all graced its stage. Stars filmed part of a music video at the bar. In due course, Snack N’ Blues changed in other ways too. The snacks, namely.
"At the beginning we served European hot dogs," said Katina-Glow. "They were like the ones at Lux, which was next door. We had the machine to open up the baguettes and put in the condiments and sausages. We even got the bread from Lux. But then they decided they didn’t want to supply us anymore. Maybe they were worried about competition."
The bartenders, past and present, have become an indispensable part of the story.
Complimentary bowls of snacks, conscientiously refilled, eventually became Snack N’ Blues’s hallmark, as much as DJ Coco, the pool table, and the patchwork décor. But, like any quintessential neighbourhood bar, it's the bartenders, past and present, who have become an indispensable part of the story. Bartenders like Sara-Isobel Mulder, who co-owns the visionary Two Horses hair salon and tattoo shop, and Sydney Krause, an artist, and self-described electrical engineer Barbie, who is best known as the creator of the Rainbow Dream Cloud. Krause has worked at Snack N’ Blues for five years.
"I worked in other bars before, and now I could never work anywhere else."
"I worked in other bars before, and now I could never work anywhere else. Steve takes such good care of us. He gets takeout for us, he drives us home when it’s cold and late, and doesn’t expect us to always be on. It’s a bar where we can be ourselves, and the customers can be themselves. Honestly, it’s so much fun working here, I’d probably do it for free."