Bar Populaire was once a bar on St-Laurent, in Little Italy, north of the Mile End, but possibly excluded from that made-up couple of streets nicknamed the Mile Ex by travel bloggers and suburbanites. We referred to it as the communist bar, because of its thick, Soviet lettering, Che Guevara posters, hemp-based beer products and chatty French barman. It was all very pseudo-socialist and I seem to recall Manu Chao booming on the stereo most nights.
La vida es una tombola, tombola
It mainly attracted like-minded, pony-tailed customers with a passion for social justice and card games starring dragons and elves. It occasionally drew me in when the leafy terrace of the neighbouring Vices & Versa was overly packed with young professionals and spicy beer enthusiasts or worst, when the unpretentious, sad-faced musician types who work there decided to blast loud hockey games to subconsciously spite me. I’d crawl across the street, parched and open-minded, and settle for plastic chairs on the sidewalk and heavy hemp beer at the communist bar.
Once, I almost joined a revolution at Bar Populaire. My roommate had been sucked in by Occupy Montreal; a strike at her workplace awoke a dormant political beast and she found enlightenment in hurriedly built tents, jazz fingers waving in some form of activist democracy. She’d come home and talk about the revolution: it was coming, she said. She coloured her white winter coat with a giant map of the world and scurried about the city in hopes of, you know, “changing things.”
The night I almost joined a revolution started like most, with a large bottle of wine. “Come to my meeting tonight,” she pleaded to my friend Richard and I, our teeth stained grey with Caballero de Chile, eyes bloodshot. “What’s it about? Will we have to participate?” I drooled. “Against the banks and no, you can just sit and listen. Come on, it’s right down the street…at a bar.”
Convinced, we stomped out and headed to the legendary, the inimitable Bar Populaire. My roommate quickly joined a group of about 5-6 eager individuals sitting in the back, while I dallied at the bar, ordering a concoction composed of absinthe and beer and Richard opted for the “Boilermaker,” a beer-and-whiskey mix. We hesitantly sat with the activists, hoping they wouldn’t notice us. My face felt like it had partly melted away anyway and who wants to start a revolution with a faceless woman-child.
The purpose of the meeting was simple. They were organizing a protest of a bank downtown, during which they planned on dressing up like Robin Hood and yelling about taxes and the rich and income inequality, and so on. I learnt that this type of endeavour takes hours of detailed preparation involving a lot of voting and jotting down of meeting minutes. Most of the discussion revolved around the costumes. Should they use garbage bags? What colour? Who had felt to make hats? How big should these hats be? Who should make these hats? What slogans would they yell? Maybe one of them should pretend to be a banker and act out quitting and joining the protest. Yes! Yes! That was absolutely brilliant!
While my roommate eagerly participated in the conversation, Richard and I sat there quietly, sipping our ridiculous drinks and quickly ordering more. To our dismay, the leader-type of the group, a clean-cut blonde man who seemed more like a banker than a Robin Hood, turned to us mid-meeting. We froze, looking at each other, praying for invisibility. “What do you guys think?” he smugly asked with the confidence of a man who nonchalantly wears black turtlenecks. The group silently waited for our response. Richard chuckled awkwardly and I nodded, mumbling something like “yeah!” while sinking deeper into my chair in an effort to become one with it. Unimpressed, the blonde man discarded us and resumed deliberating on what colour of garbage bags should be purchased (green, obviously), leaving us to sulk in shame.
Eventually, the topic of filming the protest came up. A fat hairy man named Gabriel said he could do it, but he didn’t have a camera.
“I HAVE A CAMERA!” I maybe yelled, but also maybe whispered to myself.
The group excitedly turned to me: “you do? Could you film us?”
“SURE! OF COURSE I DO! OF COURSE I COULD!” I confirmed.
Gabriel and I exchanged phone numbers and later that night, once we had finally escaped, I had several Facebook friend requests from my fellow Robin Hoods. I was instantly redeemed, one of them, a social justice warrior.
It took months of strict avoidance for my new pals to come to terms with the fact that I would never show up and that maybe, I had never planned on showing up to begin with. In the years before the “Seen at 3:21 pm” feature of Facebook messaging, anything was possible.
Friends tried to decipher why I had invented great filmmaking skills and the existence of a camera that I definitely did not possess. I blamed the revolutionary absinthe adrenaline rush, as well as the discovery that very awkward social situations make me unnecessary lie about meaningless things.
Today, gone are the revolutionary ideas and would-be Robin Hoods. In their place stands a bar called Taverne Cobra. A neon snake greets you from the outside, while the inside is adorned with white trash irony and superhero dolls. They serve Duff Beer, which is a fictional cartoon beer that adult people are really excited about, just like the classic rock soundtrack and pinball machines. The bar staff is mainly composed of tattooed, ball cap-wearing dudes you might have had sex with in 2006. It’s seemingly impossible to order a beer without the tiny babe of a barmaid insisting you accompany it with an ice-cold shot of Jagermeister even if you inform her that you’re old and that a reasonable, factual beer will suffice. This, combined with your pathetic incapacity of saying no to unreasonable things, will lead you to being dead-drunk at midnight, praising pizza-ghetti as “the best thing ever.”
Hasta siempre, Commandante.