The closure of seasonal, LGBTQ-friendly bar Alexandraplatz in September 2019 was a sad moment for patrons and the denizens of Mile-Ex, the neighbourhood that hugs the train tracks north of Mile End and lies adjacent to Park-Ex and Little Italy. The industrial space formerly owned by BVM brewery went up for sale, with the future of the building and its adjacent lot unclear.
Newly opened Wills Bar now answers the question of the building’s fate, continuing the bar and brewery combo with a commitment to preserving the location’s reputation as a comfortable, welcoming spot for the area’s neighbours and visitors.
Cousins Ethan (ex-Larrys) and Alex Wills co-own Wills Bar, and the building that houses it, while Kaitlin Doucette, ex-Foxy sommelier and founder of the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund and the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition, directs the beverage program and overall management. The bar, with ample outdoor seating, is now open four evenings a week, with the goal of transforming into a seven-day operation.
There’s a through line of family connections here: Ethan and his family have lived in Mile-Ex for a decade; his in-laws, just around the corner, have been there for almost a quarter century. Alex, while new to hospitality, used to work in oil and gas, bringing a “practical expertise that surprisingly translates,” Ethan says. “He knows all about liquids flowing from pipes to tanks.”
The space, designed by Ethan’s wife, interior designer Annika Krausz, has soaring ceilings, a firehall door with daytime light streaming through, and heated floors for the winter. Two immense earth-toned paintings by Annika’s father, renowned artist Peter Krausz, and a huge red light fixture above the semi-circular bar further enhance the space.
Doucette and Ethan have known each other for years through the hospitality industry and were eager to work together on a community-driven space. “We didn’t want this building to be another AI office or condo,” Doucette, an MA student in Human Systems Intervention at Concordia, says.
“I want to convey a notion of accessibility and festivity in the wine list,” Doucette says, adding that she’s aiming for an approachable list from producers she loves. “We’re going for natural wines that will appeal to folks who might want to learn more, as well as to sommelier friends who can come in and find delicious wines that are drinking well now.”
The cocktail program is the brainchild of mixologist consultant, friend, and musician Devojka, of the local Pink Panther cocktail pop-ups.
The industrial portion of the address, Wills Beer (just on the other side of the bar), is currently being transformed into a brewery producing hop-forward pale ales, lagers, and Pilsners. They’re aiming for an August opening. A bottle shop and tap room are also in the works. (Until the brewery is up and running, beers are mostly from local microbreweries.)
More friends are on the food side, as there’s no current kitchen program: The Nouveau Palais Winneburger truck is at the ready, parked in the lot surrounding the bar’s outdoor space. And dogs are welcome, too: Ethan and Annika’s dog Willow is a frequent visitor, as is Alex’s dog Otto.
Wills Bar is open Thursday to Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. at 6731 Esplanade Avenue.