Put three wine nerds together in an informal back alley-style spot, throw in a billiards table with a chalkboard highlighting limited quantity bottles from its cellar, and you’ve got Le Plongeoir: A new Montreal dive-inspired wine bar in the Mile End.
There are a lot of wine bars in the city lately, but few look to serve quality wine in places dead-set on doing away with pretension. The basics here is that Montrealers looking for a cheap but swank glass of wine don’t need to look further than this spot, where the glou-glou juice is as easy going down as the vibes are chill.
Officially opened as of March 29, the 35-seat project comes from a happenstance group of restaurant and wine industry vets: Buvette Chez Simone alumni Antoine Denis and Frédéric Létourneau-Archambault (who also worked at Cabaret L’Enfer and Île Flottante), Frédéric’s trusty dog Trotsky, and the self-described “papa of the group” John Hale who’s part of the small wine importation group Grand Ordinaire with Lawrence Fiset of Gia Vin & Grill.
“The wine world brought us together, really. One night, maybe three ago, in my old apartment, I’m hanging out with Antoine,” Hale recounts. “He says, ‘hey, I have an idea—let’s open a bar.’ We talked about it for a long time before the COVID lockdown, but with all of the bars and restaurants closed, it’s almost like we were lying to each other, (playing chicken) over it.”
The've now pulled the trigger, opening a place that’s a far cry from when it used to be a Liv Salades location: Lime-washed walls and ceilings with dark green paint and trim inside, a back bar where all the poured pints and classic cocktails come from, and a wine cellar downstairs.
There’s little ornamentation here, except for a classic stained glass billiards light hanging over a commercial pool table felted in blue at the center of the space—think of a casual spot you’d find in France or Portugal, but with a Montreal touch.
Why a pool table? Létourneau-Archambault cites Taverne du Pélican as an inspiration.
“Our favourite places to hang out at are the casual ones where we like to play pool, but we also like good wine,” Hale says, saying it was a trip and half trying to pick up and ship the damn thing into the space. “The idea behind this place is that we wanted the kind of 'dive bar' we'd want to hang out in.”
“We’re thinking there aren’t a lot of places where you can access (high quality) wine in a casual way, to discover super cool undiscovered natural wines while you’re shooting pool—without all the fancy stuff,” Hale adds.
As for that wine? The place looks to showcase affordable natural wine from ‘undiscovered producers’ with a focus on French wine. This is effectively the place to drink outside the hype, with bottles and producers that don’t break the bank while keeping it accessible through a more convivial atmosphere.
That might sound run-of-the-mill as ‘convivial’ or ‘casual’ gets thrown around often, but this spot looks to be charging roughly half what your average spot does—think $50 or $60 a bottle instead $100 for a ‘low-end’ bottle of something good that’s been sitting in a cellar for years. They’ll sell by the glass on occasion too, but the idea is that you’ll chill here until a bottle (or three) runs dry.
“We wanted to make a space that resembles who we are, through (the look and feel) and what we offer,” says Denis. “It’s a simple place to eat and drink well and simply... in an accessible way, in place where you want to spend as little or as much time as you’d like.”
Still, all this being said, you’re probably thinking well, another wine bar. So what?
“We want to offer an alternative to longstanding styles of services that focus on food and wine in equal parts—we want a good place to drink good wine,” Létourneau-Archambault says.
“If you want to have a few plates with a direct and intimate service, sure, we’re going to do the job we know well,” Denis adds. “But this is meant to be far, far more relaxed… It’s all the quality with none of the weight of higher-end spots.”
The food menu focuses on tapas, simple things like charcuterie from Aliment Viens, cheese, and small cold plates like muhammara, baba ganoush, hummus, and others.
That’s part and parcel of why, with little overhead for the bar to manage, they’re passing along lower prices to customers in the form of cheaper bottles and glasses of natural wine.
As for future plans? The bar is looking to get a terrasse that spills out onto Saint Laurent Boulevard in addition to a small heated back terrasse.
Le Plongeoir is now open and located at 5350 Saint-Laurent Boulevard.
This article was written by J.P. Karwacki. Find him on Instagram: @johnnycrust