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Drink Deep: Best Dive Bars of Montreal

Posted by Emily Hill / March 20, 2013

MP_Yer'Mad4.jpgWe like them shadowy, poorly decorated, and unpretentious. Hold the gimmicky cocktails and beachwood bar top. Every Wednesday for the next few weeks Midnight Poutine will post our picks of Montreal's most beloved dive bars.

But before anyone gets their feelings hurt, let's define the terms: the dive bar classification is one of the highest compliments. It's a testimony to the bar's worth and conviviality. A dive bar has effortless ambiance, generated by the energy and friendship of the people who assemble there, rather than any deliberate candle-lit effort. You shouldn't dress up to go to this bar. Rather, it's discouraged. It has a come-as-you-are warmth, full of acceptance and free of pretension. A dive bar is both an oasis of empathy for the unemployed, drunk, and indolent - and a land of self-actualization for the CEGEPian, newly single, or painfully shy. These Montreal dives are the life blood of an otherwise dwindling voisinage culture. They connect us with the neighborhood personalities that make our quartier feel like home. Your favorite dive is probably ill-lit, poorly-marked, and health-code defiant, but it's the place you feel most yourself.

The Qualifications:
(curated with feedback from that handsome PhD student at Yer'Mad, the baristas at Café Névé, and my neighboring metro passengers)

  • History
  • Character
  • Regulars
  • Includes, but is not limited to: old men, sports fans, melancholic divorcees, scrappy alcoholics
  • Bathroom graffiti
  • Tacky furnishings (or lack thereof)
  • I'm a fan of decor involving neon, old flags, framed jerseys, and rope light
  • An old pool table
  • ...or foosball table...or jukebox...or (better still) a slot machine
  • Great bartenders

  • My Pick: Yer'Mad Bistro Bar
    Yer'Mad3.jpgI really love this place. I struggle to define it, honestly. Most nights it's a rowdy Breton pub, at others it's a honkytonk, or a roadhouse, or even a speakeasy. Courtesy of some light internet research, I found the poorly supported claim that "dive bar" originates from the late 1800s. Apparently lawless "drinking dens" were housed in basements and cellars. To enter the tavern, you'd have to "dive" underground. This definition applies perfectly to Yer'Mad.

    Descend a few steps to enter the wood paneled warmth of this historical Breton tavern at the corner of Maisonneuve and St. André. Inside, tiny windows peak out at sidewalk level. Forget the world above ground and sink deep into a buttery pale ale and a dark corner booth. Ambiance equal parts brewhouse and pirate saloon, this bar meets all the criteria: loud shouting over foosball victories, wrinkly individuals sipping whiskey, sticky bar tables, and a collection of potted cacti. The kitchen makes a mean stew. Draft beer is cheap, and craft beer is plenty. The crowd is a delightful mix of carrés rouges, Village yuppies, and 9 to 5ers. "Yer'mad" - Breton for "salud" or "cheers" - would be the proper response upon ordering a traditional Black Velvet (cider + Guinness), but no one is keeping score of your authenticity.

    I couldn't recommend this bar more. Strap on an eye patch, order a Jameson, and sit next to a stranger. See where the night takes you.

    Yer'Mad Bistro Bar
    901 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Est
    Website / Facebook

    What is your definition of a dive bar? Have a favorite "drinking den"? Share your thoughts and stay tuned to Midnight Poutine as our dive bar series continues.

    Photos courtesy of Yer'Mad and FZero



    Jakembe / March 21, 2013 at 08:54 am
    Great promo for Yer'Mad. Now I want to check it out.
    As part of this series, Snack'n'blues had better be covered. Free sweets and salties, a pool table, a DJ that, despite decades of working at a bar clearly implying blues plays nothing but jazz, the projections of James Brown concerts and Brazilian Carnivale on weekends, and the unpredictable crowds (crowded Tuesday, dead Friday, overloaded Saturday, etc...). Ultimate dive bar.
    Phil Shearing / March 21, 2013 at 06:10 pm
    Verres Sterilisés please! They rock
    Greg / March 22, 2013 at 01:41 pm
    Thanks for the kind words! We'll definitely check out Verres Sterilisés. As for Snack n' Blues, it is absolutely one of my favourite bars and you can find me in there at least a couple times a week. We already reviewed it on MP two years ago. Check out what we said here:
    Caitlin replying to a comment from Phil Shearing / March 27, 2013 at 07:34 am
    We're on it.
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