If you’re wandering the back streets around Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal, keep an eye out for a non-descript door with a doorbell and a small rubber duck symbol above the door. Ring that bell, wait to be let in, and go downstairs. You’ll emerge into a cavernous basement, decked out with plush blue furniture with thick wooden beams lining the ceiling.
You will have entered Cold Room — former Flyjin bartender (and Eater Awards finalist) Kevin Demers’ new cocktail bar — and it opens today.
It’s Demers’ first venture into owning his own place it’s so low-key there are few photos available yet — although Eater will bring you a first look in the coming days — and despite the streets above crawling with tourists, he’s hoping to turn Cold Room into a spot for Montrealers.
“Having a space that’s sort of like a hidden gem in the city and only locals know about it and it’s right where tourists are all over the place, I find that special,” Demers tells Eater.
The bar’s inconspicuous external presence (there’s no sign at the moment, just the doorbell) should help that, says Demers.
“When someone rings the doorbell in the back, how many people around them are like ‘What’s this guy doing? What is he ringing right now?’ They won’t really get it, it’ll seem super strange.”
But the bar’s semi-secret location won’t be the only draw: Demers and his team are serious about their cocktail menu, calling it a “bartender’s playground”, and they have the credentials for it. Demers has been behind bars for about a decade and was the Canadian winner of Bombay Gin’s Imaginative Bartender competition in 2015 and he’s joined by Daniel Boulianne as head bartender, formerly of La Distillerie and Canadian winner of Amsterdam bartending academy Bols’ international competition.
Demers is hoping to bring cocktail styles from elsewhere on the continent in, with a focus on using shrub as an ingredient — a fruit-based vinegar dating to the 17th century that takes the place of syrup in a cocktail. One such use of those shrubs will be a Manhattan spin-off, made with apple-blood orange vinegar, herbs, whiskey, vermouth and orange bitters — it has a touch of sweetness, but no sugar added.
Another menu highlight is the bitterweet Black Garden, with bitterness coming from suze and cynar, cut with some orange juice, lime and elderflower.
There will be food, too — a simple selection of charcuterie, cheese and marinades that was picked to fit with both the bar’s name — things found in cold room. It fits with the history of the bar: in the 19th century the space was a cold room, serving vendors above in Place Jacques-Cartier, who sold to immigrants and other arriving in Montreal’s Old Port. That history, mixed with Demers’ renovations create a unique vibe.
“It’s a feel of industrial meets grandma’s basement, an homage to the immigrants who made Montreal what it is. ”
It took Demers and plenty of friends plenty of work to get the space looking like that: dive bar Caverne occupied the space until a couple of years ago, but it had been left to decay for months after.
“It was a pure dive, a real dive. To the point where there were rats everywhere, that bad. But there was just something in the place,” Demers recounts.
Demers didn’t put it together entirely alone — beyond Boulianne, Montreal artist T_Artistry pitched in with artworks and design, and many of Demers’ friends and former colleagues put in time, alongside contributions from a silent partner.
STATUS — Cold Room is open daily as of tonight (Wednesday 21 September) from 6 p.m. until 1 a.m. Sunday to Wednesday, and until 3 a.m. Thursday to Saturday. It’s on the corner of St-Amable and St-Vincent Streets in Old Montreal, across from Bevo and next to Café Olimpico — look for the small black doorbell. Stay tuned for an Eater First Look inside Cold Room in the coming days.