When we think about taverns, certain stereotypical associations come to mind: the smell of not-too-fresh beer, the feel of worn wooden chairs, the sight of eggs and tongues in giant jars of vinegar, the ubiquity of the famous crackers and even the remembered notion that, at one time, women were not admitted to these places. In October, all of these sensations were stirred once more with the news that Gaspar’s Taverne was opening in Old Montreal. Gaspar's promises to be everything the old-style tavern ever was. Situated in a place that housed a local warehouse in the 18th century, the new enterprise is operated by the Antonopoulos Group, a large-scale professional conglomerate that specializes in catering and hotels in Montreal and counts L'auberge du Vieux Port among its holdings. To ensure its success with the brewery, Gaspar’s owners have hired Zack Suhl, former owner of the Brewery la Brunoise, and chef Mario Guerrera, former executive chef at the W Hotel, onto their payroll.
Much investment of dollars and thought later, the new tavern has emerged as the only place where Montrealers can find a solid house beer, with decent gastropub cuisine that shines, particularly in the company of its headlining British comfort food. Prices are attractive, presentation is neat and the food is hearty. Let's hope it remains like that.
On the evening of my visit, a slew of customers were in the bar gleefully celebrating what seemed to be their happy hour. Several groups were gathered at different tables, sharing a meal, a buzzing reality that made for quite a noisy tavern. The decor was warm, though, and the sense that the staff and management want to please, prominent. That’s meaningful to a client; something he remembers. The backdrop soundtrack in Gaspar, tunes that travel from rock to world music and everything in between, complements the atmosphere nicely.
The décor, with its oak paneling and tables, heavy mirrors, stylish ceiling and antique brass accents, is authentic tavern-style. The stone walls of the old warehouse further promote the desired look. The long bar was built with beams recovered during renovations and covered with copper. There is also a raw bar here, where it’s possible for diners to observe the scaler prepare oysters and seafood.
A restaurant that has a different concept and location from most other things on offer tends to fill quickly. It is naturally advisable, then, to book a table in advance, especially in summer when the terrasse will attract tourists checking out the old port. Guests’ age ranged from about 20 to 40 on the evening of our visit. Groups and couples were out in full force, all of them taking advantage of many original cocktails on the menu.
The Gaspar offers a very nice wine list, with many choices by the glass. Bottles are available at reasonable prices, but also in the higher echelons for special occasions.
We decided to start by ordering two appetizers: a variety of olives and a trio of tarts. The three mini pies of the latter order—beef and blue cheese, chicken and meat—proved a good pick to go with our cocktails. Next, we tackled the main courses. The cod fish & chips were crispy in a tasty jacket of beer batter. The home fries that accompanied the fish were also great, complete with a side of dipping mayo. The green pea puree and coleslaw were fresh and rounded out the meal nicely. The pork belly burger is actually a signature dish of the tavern. It was well presented, huge, topped with Queso Manchego with aioli and pimento, and offset by a stack of onion rings. For dessert, I ordered a small cake they called a May West that was simple and not worthy of much of a mention. The cheese plate, with four pieces of delicious Quebec cheeses whose flavours rotate regularly, was a lot nicer.
The service, from our meeting with the hostess through the professionalism and friendliness of our waitress, was excellent.