A happy hour destination for Montrealers is being turned into condos. The historic greystone building where the Irish Embassy was located had been a feature of rue Bishop since 1885, according to the bar’s website, but it was transformed forever on March 24, 2018, due to a massive fire.
The business had just expanded, opening a new craft-beer bar in the basement to match the classic pub upstairs, when it all went up in smoke, explained Irish Embassy general manager Joe Cannon.
Cannon said there was “talk about building it back,” but “with the fire and the water, the inside of the building was just done.”
Early this year the property was sold to developers who are constructing a 41-unit condo and commercial space branded the Bishop Embassy, which is slated for completion in 2022.
All that remains of the building’s former life as a pub is its historic façade. The old beer-stained tables have been thrown away, the kitchen where cooks whipped up an Irish breakfast or fish and chips is no more, and the alley where you could take a smoke break is giving way to a 10-story building.
But, before you go off on the evils of gentrification, know the Irish Embassy was unlikely to return to its old location at 1234 Bishop Street, according to Cannon.
“Since the fire in 2018, the Irish Embassy’s intention was always to go to a different location,” he said. “We were actively searching out places but we never found the right place that made sense.”
What's next for the Irish Embassy bar?
The owners of the Irish Embassy have “been looking for the right location at the right price,” to reopen, but without much success, said Cannon.
Late last year they were considering locations on rue Crescent and in Griffintown but their plans fell through.
Cannon said they’d like to reopen somewhere downtown.
“Our intention is to be back but it just has to make sense,” he said. “It’s a very tight industry. There’s not a lot of margin in it and if you’re paying too much rent, you’re dead before you start.”
Their dithering has been a blessing in disguise, said Cannon, as they’ve avoided the novel coronavirus pandemic’s unprecedented impact on the city’s bar and restaurant industry.
“We’re fortunate that our procrastination kind of paid off for us,” he said. “Because we would have been screwed like everybody else in this industry.”
What will the new downtown condos be like?
The 41 studio units range from 350 to 520 square feet and come with nine-foot ceilings, large windows, quartz counters, and the possibility of a balcony.
The starting price for a unit is $274,100. Thirty-two units are still available at the time of writing.
Residents will also have access to a fitness centre and a rooftop terrace. And to keep its historic appeal, the building’s façade is being preserved.
This month, the developers began marketing the building, which is tucked inside a hip corner of downtown Montreal.
“Location, location, location,” said Maya Girlando, the marketing director for Bishop Embassy, as to what sets this place apart from the competition.
The building will also include a commercial space on the ground floor and a hotel on the first six floors.
Girlando said the space on the ground floor is still available and Cannon confirmed the possibility the Irish Embassy could reopen there.
"We could always go home again," he said.
What does Cannon think of the new condos?
As the city contends with chronically high prices and a housing shortage, Cannon said he understands some Montreal residents might be surprised and upset to learn that a favourite bar is being turned into a condominium project.
"They have to build more places for people to live downtown. Nobody’s going to have a townhouse so what do you do? You build condos," he said.
"That’s just the nature of the beast, unfortunately."
"I think the condo project is better than parking lot," he added.
He said the developers should not be singled out for blame.
“I know people are going off on condo development and I hear the complaints and what people are saying,” he said. “But they did a lovely job. It really looks nice.”
“I mean I understand it. I live in Little Burgundy and when I walk around and see what’s happening in Griffintown and I see what’s happening downtown, I don’t see it as something that’s bad, I find it exciting. The Montreal skyline is magnificent now.”
Cannon said he thinks there should be more affordable housing downtown.
“That would be ideal," he said. "But I don’t think it’s fair to sh*t all over these developers.”
“I wish the city could solve some of the housing issues in the city to make it more affordable but I don’t know what the answer is to that," he said. "My sociology degree is expired.”