Bar Dominion & keeping spirits up in downtown Montreal

A downtown Montreal destination once closed during the pandemic, Dominion Square Tavern's been revived as Bar Dominion—a timeless classic by design.

The Main

The Main

October 23, 2023- Read time: 5 min
Bar Dominion & keeping spirits up in downtown MontrealDowntown Montreal's Dominion Square Tavern has been revived under the name Bar Dominion. | Photograph: Courtesy Bar Dominion

Now, no one's saying that downtown Montreal is lacking in places to eat, drink, and soak up the high energies of the city, but the last few years—remember those?—haven't been exceptionally kind to anyone.

It's been a hard spell and many institutions have been lost as unpredictable closures, but things appear to be on an upswing now: First, there was the announced reopening of Eaton Centre's Le 9e, followed by Place Ville Marie's observatory being reconfigured as the dining destination Hiatus—and now (chalk one up for the little guys!) Dominion Square Tavern's been revived as Bar Dominion.

Restarted by chefs Pablo Rojas and Hakim Rahal of Provisions Bar à Vin and Andrew Whibley of the Cloakroom cocktail bar, the new name's less of a reinvention and more of a revisit, drawing inspiration from both its last form and the one from when it first opened in 1927 as a hotel restaurant.

Dominion Square Hotel on Metcalfe Street in Montreal. | Photograph: Wikimedia
“Who wouldn’t want an iconic place like this in Montreal open? People come to Montreal for these experiences. It’s important not to let places like these die."

Provisions provide

“It’s such an old building and so much happened in these walls,” says Pablo Rojas over the phone.

It's the evening, and he's only on day three of opening. The energy's palpable in the background.

Noting that he feels the project's truly keeping something essential alive, the chef says the reception's been one of the biggest gratifications of the project.

"I notice everyone coming back, and people are so happy that the space has been reopened. We really want to be the heart of the corner we’re on. People missed coming in through these doors," Rojas says.

“Who wouldn’t want an iconic place like this in Montreal open? People come to Montreal for these experiences. It’s important not to let places like these die."

Hustling. | Photograph: Courtesy Bar Dominion

Bar Dominion was a project that came together quickly in many ways, having been greenlit within a matter months and requiring the team to work around the clock in the weeks leading up to the opening.

Those who knew it as the Dominion Square Tavern that opened in 2009 would recognize much of what's there now, save for the sacrifice of the tables for high-top seating and slight interior changes to engender how much of a bar the team wants this to be.

The menu's now toned down from the ploughman's lunches and Sunday roasts of yore and now focused on more drinks and snackable food, with Rojas and Rahal opting for a leaner but refined offering: Focus now falls on seafood and fish, like a full raw bar brimming with oysters, crab, caviar and lobster alongside standards like shrimp cocktails, fried calamari, and grilled octopus and steaks.

Rojas explains that he and Rahal bring their own 'Provisions' element to it, feeding off the chefs' Peruvian and Arabic backgrounds respectively, as well as the multicultural creativity that defines so much of Montreal's food.

Libations, however, are a different story: A true return to classics and history.

"We wanted to keep that lineage going.”

The Roaring Twenty-Twenty-Threes

“This place has been around for almost 100 years, and when I found out it was going to be available after it shut down? It’s such a beautiful space and we wanted to keep that lineage going," explains Andrew Whibley, who's run the Cloakroom for eight years now.

"We wondered how we could bring life back to this place while addressing what we felt was missing from downtown: A nice cocktail space with good food.”

Bar Dominion's starting out strong with 25 cocktails on its menu, all (slight spins on) classics. | Photograph: Courtesy Bar Dominion

“I wanted to build off the previous owners’ work and their focus on classics and variations on those. I brought back a martini program, for example—all designed to be light changes," Whibley adds.

That martini program for example runs from a dirty martini with a touch of sage and olive leaf to a tuxedo that’s more floral but still dry, or a dry martini with citrus zest and an orange flower infusion.

25 cocktails in all, the drink menu is broken down into martinis, negronis (boulevardiers, white negronis, and so forth), a whiskey-forward cocktail section, a selection of 75s and spritzes, and a section for highballs and fizzes. That's in addition to a wine list curated largely by Rojas that's got champagnes, whites, macerations, rosés, and reds—leaning to the more natural side of things.

“The focus for me—we’ll see how it goes—was to bring back those old emphases. It’s not to do weird molecular stuff or any flavours that are really out there, but to be much more classic.”

Down the hatch. | Photograph: Courtesy Bar Dominion

Reviving the vibe

Rojas and Rahal aren't strangers to what the pandemic took from Montreal when it comes to hospitality. Their first restaurant together, the original no-menu concept of Provisions 1268, was forced to close.

In many ways, Bar Dominion provides them with a chance to diversify and explore new ideas.

"I have the feeling a lot of people gave up on downtown," Rojas laments. "I hope this encourages people to open up here more. There isn’t as much left as there was after 2020.”

There isn’t as much love now downtown as there was before the world was flipped upside-down, Rojas says, but with this and other upcoming projects, he sees it now as more of a cycle.

“We’re hopefully on our way to bringing this part of the city back to life… people are always downtown at some point in their visit. It’s important to show a good image for Montreal, and things like what we have here? That’s what makes downtown so different.”

Bar Dominion is open every day of the week from 2pm to 2am at 1243 Metcalfe Street.

Andrew Whibley and Pablo Rojas. | Photograph: Courtesy Bar Dominion