By Sergio Martinez –mtltimes.ca
With the arrival of the good weather another of Montreal’s typical features makes its appearance: terraces in front of many restaurants in the downtown area and other neighbourhoods such as the Plateau Mont-Royal, Westmount, Little Italy, Park Avenue, and Outremont. Of course this is not a unique feature of Montreal: all major cities around the world present this charming element that allows customers to enjoy a coffee, a drink, or a full meal right in the middle of the urban setting. Paris seems to have set the pattern of this kind of arrangement in which the sidewalk is then shared by café and restaurant patrons with local and visiting striders. In fact the cafés along the Champs Elysées have their seats arranged in such a way that customers seat facing the street so they can watch the beautiful Parisian ladies walking by (well, I guess the ladies can enjoy too the sight of some handsome Parisian men passing by).
However Montreal is not Paris, as a local brasserie owner just realized this past week when city workers forced him to remove his tables and chairs from the sidewalk just outside his establishment. Chez Alexandre on Peel St. fell victim to a new regulation enacted by the City of Montreal stating that a distance of 1.5 meter should be left between the façade of the restaurant and the terrace so pedestrians can circulate without problem especially those who move on a wheelchair. Alain Creton, the owner of Chez Alexandre protested that his restaurant has been placing chairs in that Parisian-style fashion for 38 years without ever having any problem, but the City didn’t change its position and now the traditional setting right outside the brasserie is gone. Well, perhaps a little flexibility on certain streets could have been used. In any case restaurants during spring and summer can install terraces that occupy part of the sidewalk and part of the street, usually one or two parking spots (which of course doesn’t make motorists very happy: many parking spaces downtown are already eliminated for the season because Bixi stations are placed in those spots; but then you can’t please everybody anyway).
Overall however, the terrace phenomenon is a great addition to the urban landscape of the city, restaurant owners complain about the high cost of the permits but the truth is that they also make good money out of these devices that attract customers to their establishments. If the food is good chances are that customers will come back inside in the winter months too, so these temporary extensions of their places operate as a kind of living advertisements for their food and service.
In the downtown area I appreciate places like the Station des Sports, even though I am not a sports fan, but precisely since its terrace is not equipped with TV sets like the room inside, eating and having a drink there is a pleasant experience. The same can be said of other terraces installed in the western part of Sainte Catherine, a gourmet burger place in front of the Faubourg Ste. Catherine, the Three Amigos offering Mexican food adapted to the taste-buds of Canadians (but which my Mexican friends don’t recognize), and for those looking for a sweet treat, Pekarna has a small terrace just outside the Old Forum and Juliette & Chocolate another one outside the Faubourg.
If these terraces can me mentioned as quite successful, on the other hand there are places where the concept has suffered a decline. That’s the case of Prince Arthur St., a first in the 1980s with a collection of Greek-food restaurants that pioneered the concept of Bring-Your-Own Wine. Since then however, the place has fallen into disrepair with many restaurants closed and very little life. That declining area however may revive some of its former glory: the City has approved $2 million to renovate the now declining street: works would be done in 2016 to have them ready for Montreal’s 375th anniversary.