DoNorth

Bars Beyond the Border

Exploring two lively bars on Montreal’s Crescent Street

(DoNorth/Nate LaPage)

Whether it’s Grand Prix weekend or just another hockey night, Crescent Street is the ultimate nightlife hot spot in downtown Montreal. The street welcomed its first bar in 1967, and now, more than 40 years later, the three-block stretch is now home to dozens of bars, clubs and restaurants.  The Mad Hatter Pub and Burger Bar Crescent are two of the latest additions. Catering to the young and old, both bars offer something for everybody.

 

The Mad Hatter Pub

Expect the unexpected. Located at 1240 Crescent St., the Mad Hatter keeps visitors coming back for more with affordable drinks, wacky food combinations and an eccentric atmosphere.

The wide windowless front door leads guests into a dimly-lit basement. To the right, college students cheer as they toss back margarita shots with their friends. To the left, the seating area gives the impression that all is tame, but the real fun happens in the back of the bar.

Pool and ping-pong tables are lined up and ready for eager customers looking to de-stress after a long week. The sound of a ping-pong ball splashing into the final red cup of a beer pong game gets quickly overpowered by the players’ laughs. Nearby, an excited group of people surround a 3-foot wooden barrel as they try to keep a 2-foot Jenga tower from tumbling down.

Since 1993, the Mad Hatter Pub has undergone a series of renovations under several owners. Justin Jolin and a close friend bought the pub in 2016. Previously owned by Maurice Thevenet, the Mad Hatter Pub was known for its metal rock scene. Jolin, however, wanted to create a space that felt like home.

“I had stopped working the bars a long time ago, and I didn’t really want to get back to working nights, but I saw an opportunity that if we cleaned the place up and got a good staff there was potential there,” Jolin says.

The all-black brick walls, hardwood beams overhead and a rather eclectic array of light fixtures including a crystal chandelier, christmas lights and incandescent bulbs on the ends of knotted ropes combined to give the bar a look unlike most.

The new and improved Mad Hatter opened in November 2016. Jolin strived to attract the older fans of the Hatter as well as a new generation of customers. Their food selection unites both groups.

The food menu consists of $5 items, including such gems as the “My Cousin Vinny,” a lasagna grilled cheese sandwich and the “Homer Simpson,” a cheeseburger in a glazed donut with bacon jam.

“If the food is no good then there’s no point, but our food is good portions and it’s fresh,” Jolin says. “It’s pub food, but it’s great for what it is.”

Along with the food, Jolin knew the main draw would be drinks, but he wanted to be able to offer food to keep people there with some quality options.

The drink menu also features some creatively named options, like the “Mystique Apple Cider,” a hard cider with a shot of Fireball whiskey, and the “Liquid Cocaine,” a shooter of jägermeister and goldschlager mixed together.  A constant special is 4 for $15 shots, one of the cheapest deals on Crescent.

Jolin cited the homey feel of the Mad Hatter as a reason that he often hears people come back for.

“Some people when they come in for the first time will worry and be like, ‘Oh how do I play pool?’ and I’ll just say, ‘Don’t worry, put a dollar on the table, you’ll get a game,” Jolin says. “There’s never any fighting, everybody’s just there to have a good time.”

Jolin doesn’t take all the credit for the pub’s success, though. His focus on hiring friendly people has paid off, and his staff has made the Mad Hatter into what it is.

“We did wonders opening the place, but in the end, without the staff we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Jolin says.  

 

Burger Bar Crescent

As one of the newer restaurants on the block, the Burger Bar Crescent has quickly established a reputation for its award-winning gourmet burgers and creative twists on classic plates.

Owner Morrie Baker founded the Burger Bar Crescent in 2011 after he and his brother passed by a Mexican restaurant and noticed it was empty. Baker, who was a former owner of a Ben and Jerry’s franchise, saw potential in the location and decided to channel his restaurant business roots to create something new.

“I called the landlord, who I knew very well from being a tenant with Ben and Jerry’s, and I said ‘we’re going to take [this place] over and make a burger place’,” Baker says.  

Inspired by Ben and Jerry’s brand values on selling ice cream with natural ingredients, Baker wanted to this burger joint to follow the same guidelines.

“I had been a Ben and Jerry’s franchise in Canada since 1988, and I thought it would be interesting to make a burger place based on the values of Ben and Jerry’s,” Baker says. “Really good ingredients, all natural, and everything is made in house.”

To this day, Burger Bar Crescent continues to take those values seriously from cutting their own fries and cooking patties made of fresh ground beef to making poutine gravy from scratch with veal bones.

“In Montreal you can’t have a restaurant without real poutine sauce,” Baker says.

Burger Bar Crescent spices up their menu with witty names for the burgers. Their signature burger is the “Hangover Burger,” consisting of a juicy beef patty stacked with a fried egg and poutine and served on a brioche bun. Another favorite is “The Big Lebowski,” made with melted monterey jack and mozzarella placed over a beef, veal and pork-blend patty with spiced ketchup and crispy fried onions.

“We don’t like to have a name that’s ingredient based because I just think it’s lazy,” Baker says. “When I was with Ben and Jerry, there’s the crazy names they have for ice cream. We wanted to do the same thing with our sandwiches.”

For those who want to keep things simple, ask for “Mr. Personality,” a classic burger with a bold name.

“Our joke was that it’s a plain burger, so to get away with that you have to have a great personality,” Baker says.

The restaurant plays around with variations on Quebec’s signature poutine with Burger Bar Crescent’s “Hot N’ Spicy,” made with classic poutine, jalapeno relish, banana peppers and extra spicy hot sauce. Staying true to Montreal’s signature tastes, the “Smoked Meat Poutine” does not disappoint with its chopped smoked meat, crispy fries, sliced dill pickle and Jarlsberg cheese.

Burger Bar Crescent also offers a variety of beverages from blonde lager and red ale to refreshing sangrias and fine French champagne.

Baker attributes the bar’s success to the Crescent Street community.  

“We have a great merchants’ association, and we all feed off of each other,” Baker says. “Every pub on this street sells a burger, but those same pub owners are in here getting burgers. We sell beer, but maybe they might have something different to offer. The draw is Crescent Street itself.”

Issue 11: Summer/Fall 2018

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