Downtown Montreal is a desert when looking for a bar with character and authenticity. Between the circus that is Crescent St. and the various dives latching on to any gimmick to attract the student crowd, there are few places offering anything more than the minimum service and a quality experience. That’s why Grumpy’s Bar on Bishop St. is so notable. Almost lost amongst the trash of downtown drinkeries, this downstairs hole-in-the-wall offers a good selection of local beers from Bierbrier and St. Ambroise complemented by a varied whisky and bourbon selection. While the wine list is decidedly limited (would you like red, or would you prefer white?), this is more the type of place the oenophiles trade in their wine glass for a generous pour of something stronger.
The room is divided more or less into two parts, both warm and inviting. Down a small flight of stairs, once inside the soft lighting and worn wood create a comfortable time warp where six in the evening suddenly becomes one in the morning. The stools in the front cluster small tables and surround the beautiful bar, and while the couch and chairs towards the back have seen better days, that’s easily forgotten by the groups leaning in over the too-short coffee table. One of the better-kept secrets is the in-season terrasse, closed in and perfect for late-spring beers on a warm afternoon.
While the alcohol is often the main draw of any bar, Grumpy’s doesn’t lack in entertainment options. Most nights, the comically cramped stage showcases local talent that spans different media. Bluegrass and jazz, local comics, and creative writing students endeavoring to become an obscure poet add variety and contrast to one another on any given night, and the clash of styles and couture often leads to hijinks and laughs. The hipster influx that can so often cruelly kill a diverse and random ambiance is absent partly because of its location in the soulless downtown core and partly because the rabid loyalty of the regular crowd keeps Grumpy’s timeless.
Ultimately, what keeps people coming back to Grumpy’s is…the people. The bartenders are a motley crew that never pander but are friendly to those who are friendly in kind. They’ll remember your name if you frequent regularly and probably your drink too when you eventually forget it after one too many. The usual suspects hunched over bar stools yell loudly and laugh a little too long at their own jokes, but it’s never obnoxious and, on the contrary, endears the space to converts and first-timers alike. Drinking alone at Grumpy’s is impossible, something that can’t be said for anywhere else downtown. But that’s what Grumpy’s is; the best kind of neighbourhood bar in the least likely of neighbourhoods.