In Montreal these days, a dangerously fun way to ensure you surrender your keys and summon Uber to take you home is to order the Ti Ponch setup at Agrikol. It involves a bottle of Barbancourt, a bucket of ice cubes, and a tray of mixers – lime wedges, dark cane syrup, and a carafe of sugarcane juice, freshly pressed to order. How you proceed from here is entirely up to you. This is DIY drinking at its sexiest.
In the Haitian bar and restaurant, named for the style of rum distilled from cane juice in the French Caribbean, Jen Agg has created a space that breezily conjures the tropics, without kitsch or affectation. The Toronto restaurateur behind The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar, and Agrikol’s muse, Rhum Corner, had to grit her way through a grueling, delay-plagued build with husband, and artist, Roland Jean, and Arcade Fire's Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, who own a home in the neighbourhood anchored by the Art Deco Marché Saint-Jacques. The result more than meets the intended vision. Agrikol on Amherst, post-revamp of the former Coo Rouge bar, is a restaurant imbued with the potential to transport and delight.
"I tend to think very quickly about design. I’ll get an idea in my head and latch on to it."
"I tend to think very quickly about design," Agg remarks. "I’ll get an idea in my head and latch on to it. Roland and I talked about opening the ceiling up to the balcony and creating a New Orleans, Caribbean vibe with the ironwork. That was really essential to me. I don’t work with plans, I just do it as I go, which I’m sure is really irritating to contractors. I find when I work that way I end up with something that feels a step away from a slick design, which is actually to its benefit. You want it to feel lived in."
"Anything that’s cool, wasn’t here before," Agg adds, proudly. It’s true. Arresting flourishes include a staircase-side painting by Jean, which impressed former Talking Heads frontman, and devoted art collector, David Byrne, recently in town to play the Kanpe Kanaval benefit with Arcade Fire.
"It’s not a mural, it’s a painting. I think that’s really important to point out. He just took it from the face and went from there. It almost killed him. Just the physicality of it, up and down a ladder, a scaffolding, over and over again. It’s beautiful and it really sets the tone. I love that the face is confrontational and musical. It’s not an angry face, it’s a passionate face."
It’s a cohesive room that unspools private nooks and hideaways.
There’s artwork from Butler and Chassagne’s personal collection, stained glass windows, disco ball congas, jungle foliage wallpaper, French Quarter style bannisters, and grooving Haitian tunes. It’s a cohesive room that unspools private nooks and hideaways — twin bathrooms, the adorable kind that prompt selfies, are linked by conjoined wooden theatre chairs. Patrons seated at a snug counter below Agrikol’s street-facing neon sign are bathed in a soft pink glow. Bartenders ascend a green ladder to snag bottles from the back bar’s top shelves.
It’s romantic, it’s fun, it’s diversion by décor; and food and drink. Beyond the make-your-own koktel setups, Agg and David Greig, the manager at Cocktail Bar and former cocktail editor at Scout Magazine, have developed a list of drinks, both classic and new (the Kokonut is lethal). "David is a godsend, I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s the one in the trenches, and he’s amazing."
A bottle of Prestige, Haiti’s national lager, is not a bad move either. The drinks, whatever they are, suit what’s coming out of the kitchen. (You don’t need to order food to drink at Agrikol’s bar, but food must accompany alcoholic beverages elsewhere in the restaurant. Pro tip: order some food, no matter where you sit.) Chef Marc Villanueva spent several months at Rhum Corner to prepare for his Agrikol gig, and the former Cabane à Sucre Au Pied De Cochon cook has taken to Haitian cuisine with gusto.
"He’s blown me away. He’s an excellent cook, and really gets these flavours."
"He’s blown me away," raves Agg. "He’s an excellent cook, and really gets these flavours." Tuck into stewed oxtail, comforting rice and beans, warming griot, clove-laced pork ribs, creamy mac ‘n’ cheese, and whole fried fish. It’s food to stay you through the winter months, but come summer, when Agrikol’s terrasse is unveiled, and the 65-seater almost doubles and opens seven days a week, snacks like accra fritters, served with pungent pikliz, and washed down with ice-cold beer slushies and Ti Ponches, will be just as inviting. It’s hard to picture a scene more festive, or full of bon bagay (good things) in Montreal right now.
Open Thursday to Monday from 6 p.m. to midnight, drinks until late
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
No reservations; bookings for parties of 15 to 25 contact firstname.lastname@example.org