Down a twisting back alley on the corner of St-Amable and St-Vincent in the Old Port, there is an unmarked door. Above it hangs a blue ‘Sortie’ sign, and, next to it, a little doorbell. This is the entrance to the Cold Room bar, opened Sept. 24. Owner Kevin Demers calls the unmarked bar, “a full fledged speakeasy. You come in by the back, you leave by the front.”
Demers has tried his hand at many trades, including professional hockey and film production, but he is first and foremost a veteran of the Montreal nightlife scene. Having worked for 12 years as a bartender at staple Montreal bars like Thursday’s, Rouge, Santos, and, most recently, Flyjin, Demers cultivated a deep respect for the art of mixology.
The inspiration behind the Cold Room’s drinks came from 19th century immigrants to Montreal, who pickled fruits and vegetables, and stored them in a basement ‘cold room.’
“Back in the 1800s, a lot of bars, before prohibition, were using shrubs, which is vinegar-based syrups, in their drinks,” Demers said. “Those syrups came from the European immigrants who wanted to preserve their fruits and vegetables longer. The vinegar takes out the flavours from the fruit being infused. You can create a super delicious, tart drink, sweetened by the alcohol.”
Demers’ drinks are high concept’cocktails, meaning that they evoke certain sensory memories.
“You’re coming for the cocktail experience [at the Cold Room],” Demers said. “You taste the drink and you’re like, ‘Oh my god that reminds of my childhood, or this dinner I once had.’ It’s [a cocktail] that brings you to another world.”
Demers believes that imagination is one of the most important skills a bartender can possess. In 2015, Demers competed in GQ Magazine’s Most Inspired Bartender Competition in Las Vegas, where he crafted a drink inspired by his grandfather titled, ‘The Classic Gentleman.’
“[The Classic Gentleman] tasted like you were having a steak dinner with red wine. You had all the flavours pop in your mouth, in weird levels,” Demers explained. “The drink was based off the only dinner I had with my grandfather. [….] As a kid I just looked at him like, ‘Who is this rockstar?’”
Though removed from the cocktail scene, many see Montreal as a party city. The restaurant-turned-club, known as a ‘supper club, is a hallmark of the city’s nightlife. Spots like SuWu and Flyjin exemplify the supper club model. These venues are restaurants until 10 or 11 p.m., when the tables are pushed to the side, the club music turns on, and the crowd gets rowdy. Demers wanted Cold Room to be a departure from this trend.
“I’m tired of [the supper club scene], not that I don’t like it. But I want to work at a place that […] when you walk in [the Cold Room], you get this next level drink, and it’s like [going out for] dinner,” Demers said. “You’re going to want to spend your night here, it’s relaxed, you can actually talk to everybody.”
While Demers commends Montreal’s popular clubs for the success they’ve had with their model, he wants to offer a secret respite from the known Montreal party scene.
Upon approaching the door of the Cold Room, the potential customer rings the doorbell, and is either let in, or not. The Cold Room’s entry-screening, combined with the secret address, conveys a certain air of exclusivity. As a brand new bar, Demers has struggled with marketing the unique concept.
“It’s tough, us being hidden [….] How do you get people in here? How exclusive can you be? Montreal is just not that big,” Demers said. “If you start saying ‘you can’t come in,’ are you still going to have clients coming in?”
Manager Daniel Boulianne explained that the Cold Room’s concealment will hopefully grow a customer base that complements the intention of the bar as a relaxed, sit-down enivronment.
“It’s really about knowing what people want, what they’re searching for [from their night],” Boulianne said. “Are they trying to get shitfaced? It’s all about looking at people at the door and trying to know what they are searching for.”
As for their intended demographic, Demers and Boulianne are still feeling it out.
The one thing they are certain of is that the Cold Room caters to those who can appreciate the experience of a good cocktail. Boulianne stressed the importance of this experience, as one of the only cocktail bars in Montreal run entirely by bartenders.
“It is really about the craft,” Boulianne said. “It’s not about making money.”
A previous version of this piece stated that Daniel Boulianne is co-owner of the Cold Room. In fact, Boulianne is bar manager.