Pointe-Saint-Charles, a gritty working-class residential neighbourhood across the canal from downtown Montreal, is traditionally known for taverne tables set with salt shakers, not the Boston kind. But since January, 2019, local cocktail fans and further-flung explorers alike have been stepping off the Pointe’s main drag and teleporting into a different world.
Visitors ascend into the Milky Way through a narrow staircase, transformed by black lights into a nebula of hand-painted fluorescent stars. Once upstairs, the faux stars give way to real ones: a huge vaulted skylight opens the bar to the heavens.
“We wanted to expand our adventure inthe cocktail world,” says Roberto Porres,co-owner of the Barroco Hospitality Group,the masterminds behind the AtwaterCocktail Club and popular restaurantsFoiegwa, Bocata and Barroco. “We thought that Montreal was missing a spot that wassomewhere between a club and a quiet, lounge-y cocktail bar.”
Co-owner Christophe Beaudoin Vallières calls the Milky Way aesthetic “an open, tropical, Miami Vice style” that avoids going full tiki. Designed by regular Barocco collaborators the Gauley Brothers, the bar elegantly balances artificial (glass brick walls softly glowing with 1980s purple neon) and natural (that spectacular skylight is ringed by a lush riot of cascading greenery that requires its own irrigation system) to create a sophisticated space that’s open and welcoming.
The verdant en-plein-air-tarium is a vast departure from Atwater Cocktail Club, a windowless speakeasy often mistaken for a basement, but they share the same core DNA. “Cocktails are our universe,” says Porres.
The Milky Way cocktail menu plays up tropical flavours with a focus on homemade ingredients, from syrups to dehydrated fruit garnishes. The popular Bon Pour le Moral, which takes its name from a happy-go-lucky ’80s hit by the French Guianan party band La Compagnie Créole, supercharges a basic Rum Sunset with elderflower liqueur, vanilla syrup, orange bitters and a Blue Lagoon-esque shock of blue curaçao.
Milky Way employs another winning strategy from the Atwater Cocktail Club playbook: good food. Just as ACC patrons can order from Foiegwa next door, Milky Way is built above the Barroco group’s new Fugazzi pizzeria. Almost every menu item can be delivered upstairs.
When the sun dips below the horizon, Porres loves watching each evening carve its own trajectory. Co-workers celebrating birthdays, the tentative intimacy of first dates, spontaneous dance parties, staff from other bars unwinding after their shifts—it thrills him to see the ways that Milky Way literally comes to life.
“You start with a concept in mind,” he says, “but then you have to see how people digest it. It’s like an art project.”
TRY: BALLIN’ IN PARIS, WITH PIERRE FERRAND AMBRE GRANDE CHAMPAGNE COGNAC AND GARNISHED WITH A FAKE €500 NOTE.
By: JAMES MARTIN
Photo: ELIZABETH GARTSIDE