Some say the Quartier Latin hasn't had an easy time lately.
Following the closure of the iconic student bar Saint-Sulpice after 43 years in business, owner Maurice Bourassa cited high rents and dwindling crowds as big factors for the departure.
We'll go out on a limb and say he was half-wrong: True, the Quartier Latin's mostly become a strip where rents are jacked up to the point that younger generations wanting to do cool and new things can’t afford to join the party.
On the other hand, people still want to go out.
That's why the new restaurant Le Café Big Trouble's opening in the neighbourhood bodes well. Last month marked the first steps for the new 25ish-seat restaurant from Alexander Levi, Madeleine Stuyt, and Melissa Mastrocola, and it's gaining momentum as a place looking to re-inject some honest fun into the area.
“On Saint-Denis, there isn’t a lot like this going on: A cool middle ground where we could elevate childhood classics," says Levi, noting the group's aim to build out a community hub in the face of franchises covering the strip.
“A café, a diner, a place to both study and bring your family out… it's a spot where everyone feels like they can come and hang out,” Stuyt adds.
Currently in its first form as a daytime café and snack bar serving coffee, viennoiseries ranging from croissants to in-house pop-tarts, and a casse-croûte menu with things like hot dogs, poutine and chopped cheese sandwiches, it'll soon spread its wings into a fully-fledged restaurant by night when booze is also offered.
Today's snacks and those future dinners combine Levi's experience from the institutional Gibby's, Stuyt's baking tenure at Nora Gray and Elena, and Mastrocola's coffee know-how from MELK, Cordova, and Beta Bar to create the full-service to come at Big Trouble.
Once it reaches its full speed, Levi explains that in addition to what's already offered there'll be “family-style, Ashkenazi-influenced dinners, the kind of stuff that my bubby would serve me," he says. "Leaning into childhood giddiness with big roasts, big sharing servings… presenting it to a table and letting people slice it apart. Knishes, latkes, kreplach, you name it."
“It’s like homemade fast food with some 90s family-style nostalgia, but doing it right and doing it well,” says Stuyt, pointing to her pop-tarts and the potential for plays on things like ice cream sandwiches and sugar pies in addition to fresh sourdough and anything else bread-related.
Completing a circular ecosystem of hospitality for musicians
Together, Big Trouble's partners have created a place that's part of a bigger goal to build what’s been called a European venue model by Turbo Haus owner Sergio da Silva.
Completing a sleep-stay-eat trifecta for touring bands while giving Montrealers a good place to eat, the restaurant is a natural extension of da Silva’s hope to create a circular ecosystem of hospitality for musicians.
Having played in the band Trigger Effect and experienced being on tour constantly, da Silva knows a lot about what makes a good venue: Hospitality.
“The biggest thing is that when you go out there as a small band, (it's about) how you’re treated,” he says. “If you go anywhere in Canada, 99 times out of 100 you’ll show up, no one cares, you load in, you don’t get fed, you play a show... You’re literally begging people to let you stay at their house. You’re always on, and glad-handing to get to the next gig.”
When in Europe, Trigger Effect would play in squats and holes in the wall—think leftover infrastructure from WW2 like converted bakeries pumping out food for the Yugoslavian army, or a compound in Switzerland—but a big difference was the simple decency of being fed punk rock stew and having a place to stay.
“You’d always have food, and you were taken care of… we’d play tons of shows in Poland, the Czech Republic—no matter what, we’d have a place to stay and eat, even if it was, like, weird fish and toast in the morning.”
Turbo Haus first began as a 1,500 square-foot DIY venue at the long-gone jamming address 1180 Saint-Antoine. Now located on Saint-Denis, the current iteration is one of the few venues the city’s got left, and the city needs it.
“There needs to be places like this. Watching music in a small venue is the best way to watch it. There’s no better experience to take in music in a small room that’s sweaty, loud, and packed… you feel like you’re part of the show, and you can feel the energy that the band is giving you, and their reaction to the energy you give back to them.” — Sergio da Silva
With Turbo, there’s still a stomping ground made for the new bands from Montreal and other touring bands of other Canadian cities that has a beating heart.
With Big Trouble, however—and those apartments da Silva rents out above Turbo to avoid noise complaints—those bands can at least get a good stage, a good place to stay, and a good meal alongside locals.
Le Café Big Trouble is open at 2054 Rue Saint-Denis; now open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with hours set to expand in the coming months.