Student Life

Dive into an 1830s opium bar

Bar Datcha switches vibes with jazz and tarot every Thursday

Walking through the doors of Bar Kabinet on Laurier Ave. W., adjacent is Bar Datcha. The warm yellow light in the entrance dances off the walls and drink glasses at the bar, creating a magical atmosphere. Patrons sit drinking and chatting with the bartenders, while a low hum of jazz music emanates from within the walls.

To the right of the bar, black curtains lead the way to the main event: a jazz band performance, and tarot card reading. Opposite to the entrance, the room has pitch-black walls with dim lighting and cloud-like smoke, setting an “1830s Parisian opium bar” vibe.
At the table across from the band sits Samuel Bonneau Varfalvy, organizer and tarot reader, waiting for his next client. He’s lively and interactive, making it feel like those who speak with him already know him. Varfalvy is an artist, manager and musician, who also teaches music. With his partner, Isaac Larose, a nightclub promoter, he brought to life the idea of jazz and tarot in a nightclub. “This whole [tarot reading] thing started a couple of years ago,” said Varfalvy. “I became a little obsessed with tarot after reading about it and learning.”

“He went crazy and started bringing his taxi drivers in the apartment for readings,” Larose said with a laugh. “We’re roommates and I was just like ‘that’s not okay.’ My girlfriend then suggested we look for somewhere to do this in.”

The duo started the concept of jazz and tarot last year, at The Emerald on Park Ave. That only lasted about five months partly due to, according to Valvarfy, misconceptions about the nature of tarot. “There’s a very strong Jewish community [there], and a lot of Hasidic people associate tarot with dark magic and witchcraft,” Valfarvy said. “They thought I was a sorcerer or something.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

After the Emerald, the pair found Bar Datcha and thought it was the exact embodiment of their vision. “I think a lot of people would not necessarily go see a tarot reader,” said Larose. “If you put it in a different context where it’s really easy to just try it, people might end up liking it.” The aim of this unusual pairing was also to encourage people who would perhaps not go on their own to have a fun and unorthodox experience.

As for choosing Datcha, Larose, who has worked with other clubs such as Tokyo Bar, wanted to take the already popular vibe and see what else could be added to it. “We wanted this little bar where there’s tarot, and we feel like we’re in an opium bar in 1830s Paris,” said Varfalvy. “And Isaac said, ‘Oh we should add in some jazz,’ and we were like ‘Let’s call it Jazz and Tarot.’”

Varfalvy’s main influence in the world of tarot reading is Alejandro Jodorowsky, a mystic, healer and cult filmmaker who has studied tarot reading in depth. “He’s a psychedelic movie director,” Varfalvy said with a smile. “[Jodorowsky] found the old Tarot de Marseilles from the 16th century, technically the original cards, and he reprinted [them] using this old tarot card printer in France.”

To Varfalvy, tarot is a performance art in a way. “There’s nothing magical or mystical about tarot to me,” said Varfalvy. “It was a sort of card game, and for some reason, people started using them for like 16th century psychology.”

Varfalvy has a methodology he follows when reading cards. His technique revolves around two foundations. The first is accepting that it is not magic, but psychology. The second is accepting that the future cannot be known, simply anticipated. “The cards point to a relationship with the future that you have,” said Varfalvy. “It’s one of two things: you either desire it or fear it.”

Varfalvy gives the deck of cards to his client and asks them to think of a question while shuffling it—for orientation and direction. He then takes the cards and spreads them in a semicircle on the table, and asks the client to pick three cards out of the pool. According to him, the first one to his right is past, the middle is present, and the last one is future.

“I’ve never done tarot reading before, so there was some apprehension and skepticism going in,” said Cameron Begin, an event attendee. “My friend told me to try it for experience, and often there are people who are good at connecting. Immediately, I felt that I connected to Sam, and kind of surrendered to him and what he had to say. As the cards began to fall and he read them, it felt like he did have a strong intuition. It gave me food for thought.”

At 11:30 p.m., Datcha switches to techno and becomes a full-blown nightclub. In the meantime, Varfalvy continues doing readings for those Larose brings him.

“Bring me my next victim,” Varfalvy said with a laugh, welcoming the next person to the chair across from him.

Bar Datcha (98 Laurier Ave. W.) hosts Jazz and Tarot nights every Thursday.

Feature image by Fatima Dia.

Student Life

Dancing our way to safety with PLURI

Nightclubs are beginning to address the sexual harassment marginalized groups experience

Suppose you want to have a fun night out with a group of friends, but you’re not a cisgender, heterosexual male. Of course, bartenders are usually apt to thwarting suspicious behaviour, and venues often have bouncers or security for when dodgy situations escalate. Nonetheless, for marginalized groups—namely the LGBTQ+ community, women of colour (WoC) and cisgender women—a night out typically entails a mixture of catcalling, verbal harassment, non-consensual physical interactions, and, in too many cases, sexual assault.

In 2017, just under 30,000 sexual assault cases in Canada were reported to the police, according to a StatsCan report released in July. Of those cases, almost 4,000 were deemed unfounded, meaning “police determined that no crime had taken place,” reads the same report. The Conseil des Montréalaises released an opinion paper titled “Montreal, a Festive City for all Women: Security of Trans Women and Girls at Outdoor Events in Montreal.” It cites studies indicating that, in 2011, 47 per cent of women felt twice as nervous as men walking through their neighbourhoods at night, and 45 per cent of women avoid certain areas at night. These, and many other reports, cannot even begin to quantify the degree of sexualized violence marginalized communities experience and the number of unreported sexual assault cases.

Christopher Roberts, a Concordia student who enjoys Montreal’s nightlife, said they spent a lot of time at Bar Datcha, a popular cocktail nightclub on Avenue Laurier W., one block west of St-Laurent Blvd., one of Montreal’s popular nightlife strips. Datcha is a nightclub that recently partnered with PLURI, a non-profit organization aiming to reduce harassment on dance floors. Through integrated safety monitors visible by the yellow ‘Party Support’ label on their backs, or staff shirts from respective venues, PLURI volunteers are trying to make dance floors more enjoyable for everyone by intervening in harassment situations before they escalate.

PLURI, which stands for Peace Love Unity Respect Initiative, was co-founded by Éliane Thivierge and Celeste Pimm, alongside a small team of other volunteers, in August 2016. The non-profit offers a range of workshops for event organizers, bar staff, and aspiring volunteers that provide “training on how to recognize harassment, how certain systemic oppressions interact with party spaces and bystander intervention,” according to an interview with PLURI.

Party Support volunteers have been present at music festivals such as MUTEK, POP Montreal, Red Bull Music Festival, and Slut Island. PLURI explained that Party Support volunteers are the “middle [ground] between the event patron and security… They are points of contact that are more accessible and less intimidating than security.”

Bar Datcha, a popular cocktail nightclub on Avenue Laurier W., one block west of St-Laurent Blvd., one of Montreal’s popular nightlife strips. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Patrick Gregoire has been the manager of Datcha for the past four years. He said the venue has been working with PLURI’s dance floor safety monitors for over six months, despite only announcing their partnership just over a month ago. Gregoire explained that, at first, the Party Support volunteers were inconspicuous, and didn’t wear any labels that indicated their position. “But we felt that their work is best when people see someone on the dance floor with authority that isn’t security,” said Gregoire.

Roberts explained two instances, both occurring the same night at Datcha, which involved their friends experiencing sexual harassment to the point where bar staff and security intervened. “The wrong people found [their] way to [some] queer people […] and one was grabbing people, including my friend,” said Roberts. “I found a bartender to let them know the situation and, immediately, a bouncer kicked the guy out.” Roberts said the second incident involved a cis male harassing two of their queer friends and, when the situation escalated, Roberts “made eye contact with a bouncer who immediately dissolved the situation.”

Carla, a bartender at Datcha, said she’s very happy about the bar’s collaboration with PLURI. “It’s a plus having that extra team around,” she said. “And the fact that they’re all women—I love.”

Chris, another bartender at Datcha, said he’s been fortunate enough to “work [at] places where [they’ve] always had someone to deal with those issues.” Carla added that the Party Support volunteers try to educate people and deconstruct instances of harassment. “At the end of the night, the girls all sit down with security and the bouncers and go over what happened that night,” said Carla. “It’s really cool.”

Gregoire, as well as PLURI, emphasized the benefit of having initiatives like Party Support. “Before, these things wouldn’t get flagged until it was a problem,” said Gregoire. “[Volunteers] often end up checking in with people who are being harassed before they decide to reach out for help,” explained PLURI. The non-profit organization added that most patrons facing harassment will accept the support offered instead of tolerating these behaviours or removing themselves from the space.

Concordia journalism student and techno music enthusiast Erika Morris said that an initiative like PLURI “makes [her] feel better about these places recognizing an issue and trying to do something about it.” Security has been helpful at times by keeping their eyes on men who harass her, explained Morris. “Sure, it made me feel a bit safer that night, but the next time I went out, I had just as many chances of being harassed again,” she said. Marginalized communities—particularly queer folk—who experience harassment in public spaces, thus creating the need for these programs, “just reflects a higher societal problem,” added Morris.

“I think it’s cool that these people who are volunteers stay sober to try and help people,” said Morris. Roberts agreed that they feel PLURI and the Party Support initiative is an important step towards helping marginalized communities feel safe when they go out at night. “But in the end,” said Roberts, “there’s an overwash of sorrow that reminds our communities that we are being pushed into corners of spaces […]. [We] need more help than ever just to feel comfortable being with each other and ourselves for a night.”

Feature image by Alex Hutchins.

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