There’s more than meets the eye at Club Pelicano.
From the outside, the basement bar, tucked under Peruvian-Japanese restaurant Tiradito (from the same owners) is easy to miss. But inside, the bar flaunts a rich menu of zero-waste cocktails and a stunning swimming pool-themed setup, making it one of few spots in the city’s nightlife to tackle the former, and the only one to accomplish the latter.
Pelicano owner David Schmidt (see also: nearby beer bar Pamplemousse) stumbled upon the underground space when working to open Tiradito. He was drawn in part to its unique features — high wood ceilings and medieval stone walls — and to its structure. The venue’s sides were lined with foot-tall steps that created multiple levels within the space, akin to the stairs that lead into the deep end of a swimming pool.
“The first thing I said when I walked down there was, ‘Oh it kind of looks like this used to be a bathhouse or a pool or something,’ because of the two kind of levels,” Schmidt tells Eater. “And that’s how the project began, with that sentence.”
Sticking with the idea that he’d uncovered an old bath house hidden in Montreal’s downtown core, Schmidt got to work researching designs to recreate what the venue once was. It wasn’t long before he discovered that the space had never, in fact, been a swimming pool — but he stuck with the design idea, nonetheless, crafting the space to look like an old public bathhouse, with some similarities to defunct places like the Généréux baths in the Village (now the Ecomusée du Fier Monde). With its blue tiles featuring a “No Diving” sign spelled into the floor, it opened in April 2018, and quickly began receiving praise for an ambiance that exuded 1930’s Paris art-déco style. Later that year it earned Eater Montreal’s 2018 Bar of the Year award for its effortlessly cool vibe.
That critique is apt: Schmidt’s primary source of inspiration for the bar was the Piscine Molitor in Paris, France. The indoor swimming pool was built in 1929 and used primarily for Olympic training, but would often be emptied out for fashion shows and theatrical performances. It was eventually abandoned in the 1980s, morphing into a hotspot for raves and graffiti art, before being restored and reopened in 2014. For Schmidt, the numerous lives the pool took on over a century mirror the multifaceted experience he hopes to provide patrons at Pelicano.
“We’re DJ-heavy, we’re music-centric, [but] people come just as much...for nice cocktails and that side of our product, as for our DJ sets later on at night that we book,” he said. “It feels like the different eras of Piscine Molitor in different ways.”
While Schmidt admits that the bar’s location underground has put it at a disadvantage in attracting early evening crowds (it’s become more popular among a late-night party-goers), aperitivo cocktails remain the bread and butter of Pelicano’s menu. When crafting the drink list, the team at Pelicano set out to serve aperitivos inspired by Mediterranean regions of Europe (in particular, southern France and northern Spain and Italy), foregrounding vermouth and sherry. But when Schmidt stumbled upon the work of globetrotting zero-waste cocktail pop-up Trash Tiki, he turned the menu’s focus toward maintaining a low carbon footprint.
With a bit of brainstorming, Schmidt’s staff came up with drink recipes that allowed them to re-use ingredients and give them a new life. The average citrus used at Pelicano, for example, goes through stages: it is first zested, then juiced (for stirring into drinks and for mixing with soap to clean the bar’s tables), its carcass is then boiled to create a cordial, before being hydrated to garnish drinks or to blitz into a salt. The very little that’s left over after this process is then composted. The bar also utilizes used coffee grounds from nearby cafe Finca to create an almond coffee syrup for espresso-flavoured drinks, and sources many of its liquors locally, thus reducing the bar’s food miles.
Schmidt says taking this route has cut the bar’s waste in half.
“This is common practice in restaurants, of course you’ll try to make a fish stock out of the rest of your fish,” he says. “These are things that we have kind of always done, but in the bar world we haven’t really challenged it or wondered what we were doing with our product.”
While these zero-waste drinks are typically priced lower than most of the menu, because they require fewer new ingredients to prepare, Schmidt says convincing patrons of their value has been the toughest part of implementing a waste-free practices at the bar.
“How do we explain to people that this has a value, moreso than the regular cocktail? Because we hear things like ‘Do you dumpster dive for you citrus in order to make this drink?’ And things like, ‘Oh, am I drinking trash?’”
As Pelicano enters its second year of operation, its menu of drinks and array of DJs is ever-changing — but its chic atmosphere and unforgettable patron experience is not.
“There’s so much to offer in this city right now … people can go anywhere, and they go where the place feels different and looks cool,” Schmidt says.
“People feel like they’re somewhere else when they go here, and that’s needed in Montreal.”