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Monkland Tavern at 20: Chef Stephen Leslie Reflects on his Cornerstone NDG Restaurant

Two decades in

That sign
That sign
Randall Brodeur

Update, May 2, 2016: Monkland Tavern is back, new and improved, after a facelift.

Some pivotal Montreal restaurants have celebrated commendable milestones in 2015, from Joe Beef (a decade), to La Chronique's 20 years in Mile End. Venerable Monkland Tavern, long a Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood fixture, is in that mix as well. The restaurant hit the two-decade mark this past weekend, and duly celebrated with a bash that drew scores of regular customers, as well as former staff, several of whom now helm kitchens all over the city. Eater spoke to chef and co-owner Stephen Leslie today about Monkland Tavern's remarkable run (below the interview, enjoy a photo gallery of the restaurant taken by Randall Brodeur two years ago).

So how does it feel to turn 20?
Old! [Laughs] I won't lie, it feels old. We had a little party the other night. Seeing everybody, it was so nostalgic. You lose sight of the timeline you created, but seeing so many old faces puts it in perspective. You forget about that in the day-to-day hustle of running a restaurant. It was emotional.

Do you feel settled at the ripe old age of 20?
I think it's the opposite, honestly. You still worry that you're not as hip, not as new. How do you drive interest? That's always the question. I'm not that into social media, so my philosophy is similar to what it was in 1995—just make good food.

But I feel like Monkland Tavern has such strong support from the neighbourhood. A lot of restaurants probably envy that.
I feel support from the neighbourhood but it's competitive. Clients who used to come in once a week now come in maybe once every two weeks. Montreal's population hasn't grown that much in 20 years but we have a lot more restaurants now. Neighbourhood places like mine have a loyal clientele but we have to share more and more. You don't rest on laurels in this business.

You have a few restaurants now, with Tavern on the Square and Le Sieur d'Iberville. How do you divide your time?
Well Josh Crowe is my chef now at Monkland and we just made him a partner. He's a great kid. You need youth. I pulled a 15-hour shift in the kitchen last Friday, and my feet were killing me! So Josh runs Monkland with [co-owner] Barbara Irwin, and I split my time between Westmount and Sieur. Hockey nights are quieter at Westmount, and busier at Sieur, so that kind of works out.

I'm very proud of what we've accomplished at Monkland Tavern though. I saw a lot of chefs that worked for me at the party, and someone said 'You know how many chefs you've produced in the city? How many cooks have come out of your kitchens?' That was great to hear. It's inspiring.

I think they call that a legacy. Thanks so much for your time.

Monkland Tavern

5555 Monkland, Montreal, Quebec H4A 1E1 (514) 486-5768 Visit Website