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Montreal's 6am Bars: What Was Proposed, Why It Failed, And What Might've Been

An inside look at the pilot project and what it could've meant for the city.
Montreal's 6am Bars: What Was Proposed, Why It Failed, And What Might've Been

Photo cred – Richard McGuire

When it was announced over the summer that Montreal bars and clubs would stay open until 6 a.m., Montrealers around the city jumped for joy. Although the list of places who’d be participating in the pilot project was a bit perplexing (it was concentrated primarily on laid-back bars rather than clubs where you’d actually want to party until 6), the thought of having nightlife around the city last later was an enticing one. Montreal already has a killer party scene, many thought, so why not give it the opportunity to become even better?

The day before the project was supposed to begin, after over a month of anticipation, the city was shocked to learn that the bars wouldn’t be staying open later after all. It was hard to understand what could’ve gone wrong: it seemed like a great initiative to capitalize on the city’s cultural strengths, as well as an excellent source of revenue for businesses and the government. Six months after the fact, many Montrealers still have no idea what exactly had happened with the project, and I set out to talk to various people involved with the city’s nightlife in order to try and figure it out.

According to Borough Councillor of the Jeanne-Mance District Christine Gosselin, a member of Project Montreal, the problem lay in the plan’s execution. Mayor Denis Coderre liked the idea of having the city’s nightlife last longer after experiencing the success of Nuit Blanche firsthand, and he wanted to allow Montreal to experience a cultural and economic boost similar to what the annual festival provided on a more regular basis.

Unfortunately, he didn’t think the pilot project through much beyond his desire to see it happen, which is how the list of places chosen to participate ended up deviating so heavily from what a typical Montrealer would’ve wished for. On top of the poor location selection, he likely would’ve had a better shot of having the project realized if he’d approved it with the provincial powers within Quebec first, and his failure to do so contributed to it finally being struck down by the province’s Liquor Board. “The project was so…badly presented, so badly brought forward, that there is no way it could ever have gone through. It was dead from the start,” said Gosselin.

As many nightlife professionals saw it, Coderre’s failure constituted a missed opportunity for the entire city. Brooke Walsh, owner of Coda Nightlife Group, called the pilot project “an absolutely amazing idea” that “would’ve had a ripple effect throughout multiple other industries.” He thought that the extended hours could be a way for the city to acquire cultural capital and compete with other top nightlife destinations around the world, and he saw its idiosyncratic culture as being a prime reason for its potential. “Just Montreal being French alone makes us different from the rest of North America,” he said. “It makes us unique. We are culturally different.”

Zach Macklovitch, owner of Apt. 200 and SuWu, agreed, saying, “We’ve been, for a long time, identified and branded as the nightlife capital of Canada, let alone one of the major nightlife destinations in North America. You’re pigeonholing us by making us close at 3 a.m.”

Photo cred - An Ordinary Occasion

On top of the cultural and financial gains to be made by extending the hours of the city’s nightlife, many saw the later closing time as having the potential to make the city safer. Jean-Marie De Koninck, chair of the Road Safety Task Force of Quebec and creator of Operation Red Nose (a program which escorts people home who feel unfit to drive due to intoxication or any other reason), saw the initiative as having the potential to curb drunk driving around Montreal. As he explained it, partiers would have more time to sober up before they head home, and the streets would be less flooded with customers exiting simultaneously. “Everybody’s in the street at the same time, and it’s difficult to manage for the taxis and the drive-home services,” he said. DJ Robert Robert agreed, saying, “I think it would make it…[easier] for everyone to enjoy the night the way they want,” meaning that late-night clients could head home at a range of times throughout the night rather than creating a mass exodus at three.

Still, most agreed that any sort of initiative to keep bars open later would need some sort of restrictions. Gosselin suggested having certain clubs which would only be open from midnight until noon. Customers at such establishments would have to show up before two and stay until at least 5:30, ensuring that they’d be able to take the metro both to and from the clubs. She proposed creating a new category of zoning for the late-night spots, ensuring that they’d be built a reasonable distance from residential areas (thus negating criticisms of the project based on its effect on residents near the clubs). “You have to do it carefully, because you’re creating a cultural product in a culture where it doesn’t yet exist,” she said. “You’re…changing the whole ecosystem, and you don’t really know how people are going to react.”

Many of the Montrealers most heavily involved with the city’s nightlife suspected that reactions would be positive. Although local DJ Ryan agreed that such a plan would need to be rolled out with certain caveats, she saw the city as being ideal for having clubs stay open later due to its overall good vibes.“It’s really more friendly in Montreal,” she said, in comparison to European cities such as Paris. “Once you’re in the club…you feel, not like home, but you feel good…That’s what could make it special in Montreal. Open until late, but still friendly.”

Photo cred - Nadia Seccareccia

In addition to the promise of good times around the city, the prospect of later hours has the potential to alleviate Montreal’s economic woes. Macklovitch noted the financial benefits which nightlife can provide, saying, “If you look at the strength of nightlife tourism places like Berlin or Miami, who had major falls and are finding their ways back into the limelight right now, many of them did that through nightlife.”

Luckily, Montreal very well may eventually get the chance to reap the economic and cultural benefits it deserves. Most people I spoke with were optimistic about the possibility of another attempt at extending closing hours around the city. With the help of a better executed plan, perhaps Montreal will one day be allowed to recognize its full potential for cultural greatness.

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