During the Prohibition, gangsters, rabble rousers, dissidents, and everyday citizens of means had their own private hangouts where they could unwind and enjoy an illegal drink of alcohol – much of which was smuggled in from Canada. It was these kinds of enterprises that made fortunes for such notorious criminals such as Al Capone and Bugs Moran.
These secret venues were known under what is now an infamous term: a ‘speakeasy’.
The classic speakeasy was a place that was hidden or disguised as another business. All it took was a secret knock or a password and one was let into an invisible tavern to enjoy drinks and food. And now, in fine Prohibition tradition, Montreal has its own hidden gem – Le Speakeasy.
Located on McGill street in the heart of Old Montreal, Le Speakeasy ‘deceives’, when one enters. For it looks like a regular ice cream parlour. Yet behind the innocent looking counter is a door marked “Employees Only”. And behind that door is a completely different universe: a restaurant and full-fledged bar offering almost any kind of alcoholic beverage imaginable. Complete with photo portraits of every major gangster and bank robber from the 1920’s and 30’s, and a bar menu hidden in a book, Le Speakeasy takes one back to a time when the Thompson submachine gun was King.
Our gracious host, Nicolas Delrieu, co-owner and founder of the place, started us off with some of their signature cocktails (Merci Nicolas!). We were treated to excellently made Vesper martinis, and to the famous ‘Speakeasy’ cocktail of dark rum and bitters served on a flaming silver platter. For those who have more of a penchant for straight-up drinks, name it and they have it. Le Speakeasy also has an excellent wine list suitable for any connoisseur, and several top beers on tap.
Our waitress, Isabelle, was very professional and polite. If you are lucky, she’ll be there when you are! As we were also hungry, she was quick to bring us the lunch menu and make some wonderful recommendations. We feasted on several signature entrees and main courses designed by the world traveled fusion chef ‘Ash’, who hails from Jordan (Shukran ala al-ta’am wa al-khidma al-mumtaza!)
To start, we enjoyed fresh lobster rolls in an Asian sauce. The meat was succulent, tender, and cooked to perfection. We then tried the delicious Korokke (cod cakes) served with an Asian tartar sauce and prune sauce. This dish was a true Japanese delight. And I know that you Japophiles out there will freak for this.
Finally, we savored the in-house foie gras – a must for any real foodie. All I can say is that for you foie gras vampires out there, this is one of the best I have tried in the City. Perhaps not as good when compared to a select few rare places I have been in my travels, but well worth the price and the experience. You will not be disappointed.
Our main courses were completely different and wonderful. First, we sampled the fish of the day (an amazing display of cut salmon fillet with Romanian cream cheese, herbs, and OMG wickedness). This dish is a must try if they have it on hand when you come. We next enjoyed the General Tao inspired octopus with rice. For those who like octopus, you will certainly love this fusion inspired dish. And finally, we devoured a most succulent and fresh beef tartar. The meat quality in a tartar, as you know my friends, is paramount. And Le Speakeasy understands this and delivers.
These dishes were excellently prepared and delicious. However, one must keep in mind that they are made fresh on the spot and require some time for preparation – the wise will order early as they enjoy their drinks.
Dessert was a ‘petit gateau’ with sour cream, vanilla, and field berries. Like your Grandma used to make. Amazing, refreshing, and sweet. Classic and old school perfection. But who knows what you might get my friends – it changes over time. But rest assured that it will satisfy.
My final analysis you may ask? I strongly recommend Le Speakeasy for anyone looking for a taste of what life was like during the Prohibition and its unseen world. It actually does make you feel like you are doing something a little wrong. Which is what makes it cool. I rate this establishment an A+ on drinks (and a variety of drinks/cocktails) and a solid A on food. Do me a favor and go there. Tell them Billy Wilde sent you. Ask for Nicolas. Ignore the ice cream flavour selection in the front and become a part of gangster legend.
This is Billy Wilde, signing off for BKM.
Le Speakeasy is located at 120 McGill St, Montreal, QC
For reservations, check out their website.