The Mastermind Behind Montreal’s Coolest Bar, The Coldroom

By Marie-Ève Venne

They were born more than 200 hundred years ago and gained popularity during the prohibition era, but speakeasy bars are definitely trending these days. Once described as “illicit establishments selling alcoholic beverages,” their modern take is legal but still exciting. One of them, located in the Old Montreal, has been getting a lot of attention around the city, thanks to its creative take on cocktails and secret access. 

To get inside The Coldroom, which has a funky drunk duck as a mascot, you have to ring a bell and stand in front of a black door with no sign on. Once the wait is over, someone guides you through the stairs and all the way inside the coveted spot. One look at the place and you know you are in for an unforgettable night filled with delicious cocktails.

But to truly get the essence of the place, you have to meet the owner, Kevin Demers. With more than a decade in the industry as one of the top mixologists in the country, he is now making it his mission to introduce new and unique cocktail styles.

After working in the bar industry for 14 years, at Clébard and Flyjin, he got tired of the nightclub surrounding. Kevin started thinking about opening a speakeasy with a lounge-vibe, and at the same time, Montreal was starting to be aware of the cocktail trend, opening up a market for a new kind of bar.

“It took me 12 months to open the space. Since it was originally a real cold room, I wanted to keep some elements of the spot and to play around its history. Any problem I could had, I had it. I am actually now in the process of writing a book about it called How to Open a Bar: The Unorthodox Way, because it wasn’t really a normal way to open a bar,” says Kevin.

Located at a very touristic corner in the Old Port, The Coldroom doesn’t necessarily aim to attract that kind of crowd, even if they are more than welcome in the bar, explains Kevin.

“All the thrill of the place is to have the bar completely hidden for the people that walk by everyday and wouldn’t guess that it’s there. It was even more important when we opened the place, while we were trying to keep the location as secret as possible. It wasn’t easy, especially since we are living in a modern world where you can learn everything in a minute thanks to social media. But we made it happen, and I think it had a lot to play into the success of The Coldroom,” declares Kevin.

Speaking about cocktail trends, he feels like Montreal is quickly catching up with more cocktail-oriented cities, like New York. “Right now, you can feel that vermouths, like Martini Rossoare making a comeback, thanks to many different factors. Montreal and Canada are a little bit behind as far as following the New York’s trend. We are just catching up now but we can see a big spike in the sales in the bar. It’s been around for a while, but now you have a variety and that shows that there is really a trend going on and that is what is making it fun,” affirms Kevin.

That is exactly the type of knowledge, shared by every bartender working at The Coldroom, that makes the place so popular. Whatever the reason for being there, you will leave more knowledgeable about cocktails and your own personal taste.

“People have their taste, but it’s up to us to teach clients as well. Let’s say if you like a Negroni, why not trying to flip it around and make something else a little bit more interesting like a Sbagliato.  If there is a kind of vermouth that you particularly like, we are going to try to match your cocktail to it depending on your flavor profiles.”

“We try to be welcoming.  As soon as you ring the doorbell, we make sure that we know who you are as a person and that you know who we are. It’s all about building the trust. Our ultimate goal is to make sure that you are comfortable with us and that you enjoy the moment. After all, we are selling pleasure,” Kevin concludes.