Step behind the inconspicuous industrial red door and you will find yourself in an intimate, candlelit lair. Big in Japan, the speakeasy sister of the Japanese restaurant down the street, is one of Montreal’s best local gems.
In authentic speakeasy fashion, if you aren’t privy to the knowledge that Big in Japan lies nestled away next to Patati Patata, you would walk right past it.
Once inside, patrons are greeted with a rush of the prohibition era. Tea candles provide the only lighting, giving the room a dim and warm glow. Overhead, Japanese whiskey bottles hang from the ceiling, occasionally plucked one by one by the staff to serve anticipating mouths.
Seating is provided by barstools at the long glass tables that sit along the periphery of the room, so that when full, the bar becomes a sort of communal dining—aka drinking—room. The setting is intimate and you will seldom find the place empty. In fact, it is often busiest on weeknights.
Patrons range from nonchalant hipsters in plaid to the after-work, suit-clad crowd. Ambient music is just quiet enough to sit and read a book while sipping on your umeshu or Chu-Hi (Japanese plum liqueur and Japanese grapefruit yuzu, respectively.)
On a Friday during happy hour, the place was at quarter-capacity and my friend and I were able to actually have a conversation at an appropriate decibel level, though towards 7 p.m. people started to flock in in groups of two and threes.
The menu, having been recently revamped, features about a dozen signature cocktails, as well as perhaps the city’s most expansive list of Japanese wines, beers and whiskeys.
For groups, the punch bowl gets you quite a lot of bang for your buck. Changing the recipe every season, the punch bowl serves 22 saucers of alcohol for $65. The recipe of the moment is a concoction of gin, Pimm’s, mint, lemon and pomegranate. The fruit and mint merge together to disguise the taste of alcohol, to the point where I didn’t realize I was tipsy until I inevitably stood up and couldn’t feel my feet. The old menu used to include a half-size punch bowl for $35, which was ideal for two people to share. Just one fan’s opinion: bring that back!
The Yorkshire Lemonade, another new menu item, has been introduced to much acclaim. Made with gin, lemon, strawberry and cucumber, it is remarkably smooth and refreshing.
The Jamaican Mule is a medley of rum, mint, ginger syrup, tonic soda and lime. The drink tasted like summertime with a zesty ginger kick. The Abbé was definitely tequila-heavy, with a nuance of the other ingredients, being Benedictine, rhubarb and lemon.
The bar, which sits behind a glass semi-partition, also mixes up all the regular crowd-pleasers like whiskey sours and gin and tonic, although with such an interesting cocktail list, it would be foolish to get something so pedestrian.
Big in Japan offers some of the same Japanese snacks as the restaurant does, though it’s infinitely more wallet-friendly to satiate your hunger at one of the burger joints next door.
Cocktails range in price from $10 to $14 and the whiskeys and wines are available at just about every price point, to suit both the students and high-rollers who drink at this trendy watering hole.
Big in Japan is located on 4175 St-Laurent Blvd.