With the city awash with restaurants and bars moonlighting as makeshift pandemic-era retail counters, two Old Montreal bartenders have done one better: They’re opening their own specialty beer shop on Centre Street in Pointe-Saint-Charles next week, where they say customers can expect the same level of service as they would navigating an elaborate cocktail list at a swanky bar.
Three hundred and fifty different beers — all from Quebec — will neatly line the fridges at Bière Froide at the opening on Tuesday, say owners Kevin Demers and Sam Kirk, both from popular Old Montreal bars Coldroom, El Pequeño, and Parliament Pub & Parlour (of which Demers is the owner and Kirk, the beverage director). Among them are products from 4 Origines microbrewery, just down the street from their new digs, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve stalwarts Oshlag and L’Espace Public, and extending further off the island, brews from spots like L’Inox, the oldest operating microbrewery in Quebec City. They say that with 150 active breweries in Quebec, that’s just the beginning.
On the service side, the duo brings years of expertise from the hospitality industry — and so do the rest of their staff. “Everyone that has applied to work here are ex-bartenders, and that fits with what we wanted for the store's style,” Kirk says. “Sure, they won’t be making products to order anymore, but they’ll still have the opportunity to pair and suggest drinks, and get people coming back as regulars.”
Even the design of the 1,000-square-foot space, which revolves around a central, almost bar-like island where customers can make their purchases or easily flag down some help without having to zigzag to the opposite side of the store, is a nod to those settings where they’ve spent the bulk of their professional careers.
Otherwise, the space is light and bright, with white hexagon mosaic tiling on the floor and retro schoolhouse pendant light fixtures up top. The look was conceived after Kirk did some field work, visiting beer shops across town and noticing that more sombre palettes were the norm. “There’s a common design style that I’m going to call ‘Quebec chalet chic,’ lots of wood, very rustic, that kind of vibe, which is nice and familiar, but in the end, we wanted something that was more familiar to us, and what that resulted in was kind of a 1920s apothecary bar setup,” he says.
One more inspiration behind the spot trickles in through its name: “Bière Froide” refers to the resounding calls of concession vendors snaking through stadium stands at Montreal sports games, announcing their offering and promptly fielding requests. The name is given extra significance because the shop’s third owner, Jason Demers, Kevin’s younger brother, is a hockey player, a defenceman playing for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
And like at the Bell Centre, drinks aren’t the only thing on offer. There are snacks, too. For now, they’re mainly shelf-stable items that pair well with beer, but at a later point, Demers says patrons can expect products from local bars and restaurants undertaking their own pivot to retail. “It’s all about supporting our local teams,” Demers says, keeping the sports analogy going.
Armed with a grocery permit, Bière Froide is — crucially — able to operate even amid heightened coronavirus restrictions, surely a welcome change for Demers, whose Old Montreal bars have been shuttered for seven months now. Having a grocery permit, as opposed to a restaurant or bar one, also means the shop can deliver alcohol without an accompanying food item. They’ll soon be taking orders via an online shop, for delivery across Montreal.
Of Bière Froide’s location in Pointe-Saint-Charles, Kirk says, “It’s kind of nice being out of our normal stomping grounds in the Old Port and being in more of a neighbourhood setting.” Demers adds that the energy is certainly “more homey” than in Old Montreal, where the tourists who’ve historically overrun the streets remain “nonexistent” to this day.
Though the Centre Street location is Bière Froide’s first, the pair say they hope to eventually branch out — perhaps even, someday, off the island.
Dépanneur Bière Froide Cold Beer opens on Tuesday at 1905 Centre.
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