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Czechvar and mounted ostrich heads

by Jessica Romera April 8, 2014
Czechvar and mounted ostrich heads

Photo by Nathalie Laflamme

Tucked between a frozen yogurt shop and a driving school on Mount Royal Avenue in the heart of the Plateau area sits Bily Kun. No, this is not the name of an exotic European city, but the name of one of Montreal’s best taverns.

Walking in you are enveloped by the warmth of the bar: the space is dimly lit by individual table candles and sparse lamps hanging from the noticeably high ceilings. Often described as ‘tavern-chic’, the decor is simple yet swanky; brick walls painted white with wood paneling, artwork that was more or less limited to a large painting of a willow tree and several mounted ostrich heads scattered about the walls.

After inevitably losing a staring contest to one of the birds, I realized that each had a distinguishing quirk: some wore hats, but all had names. I took my seat below Charles, a dapper little bird unfortunately losing the feathers on the crown of his head.

“So, why the ostrich heads?” I asked my waitress.

“Well, Bily Kun is kind of hard to pronounce, so the decorator wanted to add something that would make people talk about the bar and remember the place,” she said.

Fair enough.

Photo by Nathalie Laflamme

Adding to the tavern’s atmosphere was the live music. On this particular Tuesday night jazz collective Trio Jerôme Beaulieu acted as a duo, playing the cello and the piano from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m..

When the jazz players ended their set for the evening, an eclectic playlist ranging from  alternative indie to instrumental hip hop took their place. The music was chilled out, keeping in tune with the bar’s poised, yet laid-back ambiance and catering to the nearly full crowd of 20 somethings to early 30 somethings.

While physical menus were available, I was overwhelmed by the dozens of different beer, cocktail and wine options listed, so I scanned the chalkboard menus above the bar instead, hoping the house specialties would narrow my option pool. Realizing I recognized the names of about five per cent of the drinks on the menu, I figured I should just ask my waitress what she recommended.

Drinks ranged anywhere from seven dollars to $14 depending, with cocktails at the steeper end.

At a 70 per cent alcohol level, Absinthe was the first on the list of specialty drinks. Although coming highly recommended for being surprisingly “not as strong-tasting as you’d think,” I decided I wasn’t feeling very adventurous and opted for a Czechvar beer, the recommended house beer. Czechvar is a blonde, hoppy lager with a smooth yet slightly bitter taste.

According to the waitress, Bily Kun is the largest carrier of Czechvar beer in Canada. Apparently Czech beer is extremely hard to import, which is why the majority of the beer listed on the menu are from different breweries around Quebec, like the St-Ambroise Apricot.

Food is also offered on the menu, but instead of your regular old french fries and onion rings, Bily Kun offers things like hummus and pita combinations and beef (or vegetarian) empanadas. Overwhelmed by options once again, I froze, fumbled and ultimately ordered nachos; I should definitely never be shown more than two options for anything.

Despite this unoriginal decision, I figured you could never really go wrong with beer and nachos, especially when it’s imported Czech beer and nachos with homemade salsa.

With cinq à sept far behind us, an electronic musician was gearing up for his set, as is the case most week nights after 10 p.m. Two Czechvars later, I was feeling full and deeply satisfied and called it a night. Nodding goodbye to Charles the ostrich, I made my way to St-Denis Street and into the early springtime chill.

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