Diva #1 and Bellatrix were shopping downtown and looking for a nice place to stop for a bite and a drink. The Golden Square Mile is filled with touristy restaurants and a few good getaways that the Divas have already exhausted. We just wanted something refreshing. We had frequented M: Brgr’s modern trendy burger joint, spiraled into 1940s Paris at Le Pois Penché and disappeared into Fino’s Tuscan courtyard for some hearty Italian. We wanted something new… and instead we stumbled upon something very old.
We entered Dominion Square Tavern and were immediately wowed with the spectacle before us. Built in 1927 as a hotel tavern, it is reminiscent of a 1920s speakeasy right in the center of the shopping district of downtown Montreal. How had we missed this hidden gem nestled below St.Catherine on Metcalfe?
We opened the thick wooden door, saw the high ceilings with metal chandeliers and tiled walls, and felt transported back in time. A library ladder is against one side of the bar to get to the harder to reach bottles, the bar stools are leather with metal bolts and the backsplash of the bar boasts old faded mirrors. Perhaps some background is in order: Diva #1 can be found roaring down the streets of Montreal blaring the “Jitter Bug,” “And All That Jazz,” and any other jazzy tunes or Chicago Broadway burlesque music associated with the roaring 20s. Diva#1 has also done a 20’s themed burlesque party and, in general, embraces the time of “jazz, liquor and the men who play for fun.”
Thankfully the awful watered down prohibition gin of the 1920s was long gone and a wonderful assortment of gins has remained at Dominion Square Tavern: Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray Ten and Hendricks adorned the bar. Dominion Square Tavern makes their own tonic which makes gin n’ tonic their drink of choice, but we were feeling adventurous and decided to order Pimm’s Cup Deluxe and a Canadian Old Fashioned.
La Femme Fatale had told us about Dominion Tavern and had recommended their Canadian Old Fashioned, and she did not steer us wrong. The drink was strong, bitter, and the morello cherries and sugar cube added the right amount of sweetness. This was the perfect drink to enhance the 1920s atmosphere. The Pimm’s Cup Deluxe was also very good but a much weaker drink so it really depends on whether you feel like a stiff drink or not. Either way, the citrus was wonderfully sour and the Proseco added the right amount of fizz.
The wine list was impressive with a great array of private imports, Bellatrix had a glass and we would certainly return to enjoy a nice bottle of wine while gossiping about work, men and life. Dominion Square Tavern is a place you disappear to and come out feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and a little tipsy
The Divas don’t usually quell on atmosphere in their posts but this place deserves a standing ovation. Even the bathrooms respected the theme, from the Dominion of Canada tiles leading you to the water closet, to the large copper basin to wash your hands.
The menu was also unusual. It features British fare that is also true to the 1920s. This is not the usual Montreal French bistro with tartares and foie gras. The appetizers were heavy on eggs, meat, and traditional English dishes. We opted for the devilled egg, corn fritters and fried clams. We plan to return for the Scotch egg with Swedish sauce that our waitress informed us was a house specialty.
Bellatrix loves a good egg, she has been caught snacking on hard boiled eggs on more than one occasion. Naturally the devilled egg was an ideal choice. The yolk was blended with Dijon mustard and chives making a smooth center to the delicious egg white. A delicious amuse bouche and perfect for two people to share.
Each dish from Dominion Square Tavern arrived in various Victorian-styled dishes that looked like bone china, had red or blue filigree, or even had the names of other restaurants decorating the plate. There is no matching set at this 1920s dive.
Then came the corn fritters and we were quickly wowed. Deep fried dough with corn in the center made for wonderful bites that were filling, rich and even though they were deep fried, the tastes all came through. This was a pretty big appetizer and perfect with their homemade catsup that was light and not overpowering like the usual artificial ketchup. We were quickly filling up on the appetizers alone.
Our third appetizer was the fried clams with curry mayonnaise. At first we were confused because the clams were thin and long and not short and round like we were expecting. Once again, this was also fried but the clam taste came through and the appetizer was not overly greasy. The curry mayonnaise was interesting and not too strong because we are not huge fans of curry. Well we were soon enchanted and chatting away merrily listing all the friends we wanted to bring here ASAP. The fried clams and corn fritters were both very filling appetizers and we were soon wondering how we would eat our mains, but we managed.
Another Dominion Square Tavern favourite is the Ploughman’s worker lunch served with vegetables, old cheddar and a devilled egg. There is the option of the meat version with duck ham, pig’s head terrine and rosette, or the fish option with salmon gravlax and fish terrine. This looked wonderful but it makes for a large appetizer or a small main dish and we really wanted to try as many appetizers as possible. At 22$, the Ploughman’s worker meat plate, as well as the charcuterie appetizer, looked very interesting.
We then ordered two main meals to share. The first was the pulled pork sandwich which our waitress told us was a very popular menu item. The pork was plentiful and the sauce was a type of sweet and sour sauce served with iceberg lettuce in an old fashioned bun. Our only complaint was that there should have been more cheese in this sandwich, like aged cheddar, to compliment the pulled pork. Either way it was served with golden crisp fries that still had their skin, and a type of seasoned mayonnaise that was wonderful.
Our waitress also recommended the Bangers & Mash, a true British dish. The bangers (sausages), served on a bed of cheddar mashed potatoes with a shallot sauce, were made with apples and cider, but the type of sausage changes regularly. This was indeed the pièce de resistance; the sausages were flavourful and the mashed potatoes wonderful. The cheddar in the mashed potatoes did not stand out but it did not diminish the overall quality of the dish and the shallot sauce was delicious.
In the future, we would also return for the mussels that are cooked with bacon and cider and that the table next to us was enjoying. We almost asked them if we could try one!
Their dessert menu is pretty impressive and we were soon planning to return for other delectable sounding treats. La Femme Fatale had been there before, and on her recommendation we ordered the sticky toffee pudding with coffee ice cream. Bellatrix hates ice cream, and even she loved it with the sticky toffee pudding! The coffee taste was very strong and the toffee pudding was wonderful and not overly sweet.
Dominion Square Tavern is so wonderful that Diva#1 returned for drinks a week later with Vegan Vixen and Sweet Pea. We enjoyed our old fashioned cocktails, had a sticky toffee pudding and ordered the tartelet that our waiter explained is a type of British sugar pie that is served with homemade vanilla ice cream and orange zest. It was heavenly! If that was not enough, our waiter also recommended the homemade nutmeg doughnuts that were not too oily but perfectly fried with sour cream. Another great dessert, and we were soon regretting that we only came for drinks and not for dinner. We enjoyed our dessert with a cappuccino that came with raw cubes of sugar and was served in mismatched bone china. Could we have asked for more?
Dominion Square Tavern is a Montreal historical landmark. In 1927, it was a hotel tavern that survived both the Depression and then a great fire that destroyed the adjacent hotel. In the 1970s, it was one of the first gay bars only accessible to men from a discrete alley entrance. In 1988 when single sex restaurants and bars became illegal, it became a bar. In 2009 it became a restaurant again offering their British tavern cuisine and restoring the original chandelier, coloured terrazzo floors and ceramic tiled walls with the coat of arms of the provinces of the Dominion of Canada. Their website has a great old picture of the tavern:
A city that is rich in history, Montreal has some good stories and they are not all within Old Montreal, we just have to find them. Dominion Square Tavern is affiliated with Whiskey Café & Cigar Lounge (another Diva haunt), and Baldwin Barmacie. The food was lovely, desserts even better, the ambiance perfection and the drinks exquisite. It is too bad that they are not open past midnight because it would be a great place to stay late and drink into the night. The food can be better, with more variety and maybe with a touch of French flair but it stays true to its roots and created an unforgettable night into 1920s Montreal. It is nice to experience Montreal in the twenties and not the habitual Chicago or New York; truly a magical place.
Our Rating: Splendid
Tagged: 1243 Rue Metcalfe, 1920s, Bangers, British, British Pub, Charcuterie, Cheese, Clams, Cocktails, Deviled Egg, Dominion Square Tavern, Downtown, English, Eric Dupuis, Gin, golden square mile, Gravlax, H3B 2V5, Jean-Simon Petit, Lunch Menu, Metcalfe, Montreal, Montreal Restaurant, Mussels, Old Fashioned, Pimm's, Ploughman’s, Private Imports, Reservations Needed, Sausages, Scotch Egg, Speakeasy, Splendid, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Tavern, Taverne Square Dominion, Tonic, Whiskey Café, wine