The return of Gerts

Many lower-year McGill students will draw a blank at the name “Gerts.” As a fourth-year student, I’ve only heard stories of the famous bar that’s been closed since 2018. However, with the student bar in the SSMU building reopening on Sept. 14, it’s worth reminiscing about its closure.

Alana Dunlop, Arts Sci ’21, recalled her first drink at Gerts after getting mono in her first year.

“The doctor said [I couldn’t] drink for a month,” Dunlop explained to The McGill Tribune. “A month later, I marked on my calendar that I could drink, […] I knocked on my friend’s door and he was like ‘we can get a beer at Gerts.’ So I had my first drink at Gerts.”

Ksenia Shulyarenko, Management ’20, also shared her first memory at the iconic spot, which involved an over-the-top drink.

“I was doing a scunt for hype week,  [and I had to] order a grenade at Gerts,” Shulyarenko said. “I had no idea what that was [….] Then you had to chug within a minute. It was like five drinks in one.”

The bar, which has been around since 1974, has been closed for only a small portion of its existence. Nadine Pelaez, the bar manager, said the reopening process was difficult.

“All that was left of Gerts, after three years, was the infrastructure,” Pelaez said. “Most of the equipment was broken, but the infrastructure and legacy, the connections we had with suppliers across the city, that’s really all that was left [….] These past nine months have been spent essentially building a business from nothing.”

In reopening the bar, Pelaez had to set up the entire payment system from scratch.

“Usually you start a job, and the debit machine exists, the POS exists,” Pelaez said. “It turns out it is incredibly laborious setting all of that up.” 

Looking around the bar days before its grand return, I was impressed by the massive countertop, the pool table, and the giant shelf filled with liquor––all of which has remained unchanged since the bar closed. Pelaez remembers Gerts being packed at times, but notes that health regulations will change this. 

“It was such a centre for the community, and I want it to continue to be like that,” Pelaez said. “Back in the day, it was a rowdy place [….] The liquor was really pouring here […] And now you have to stay seated at your tables.”

According to Shulyarenko, despite its occasional rowdiness,  Gerts was also a laid-back place to unwind between classes.

“It was very much a […] homey vibe, super non-threatening and relaxed,” Shulyarenko said. “You can also go there during the day to have a study session. Everyone would look at you like you’re insane if you brought your textbooks to any other bar.”

This year, Gerts will also be opening as a cafe, which will allow students to study in between classes. 

Hearing all of these stories, it is baffling to think that so many students missed out on such a central McGill experience.

“I remember fond memories where I went with people I met from [residence],” Dunlop said. “It was a very friendly place where everyone would say ‘hi’ to each other.” 

Although Shulyarenko and Dunlop have graduated, they both plan to return to Gerts when it reopens.

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