Montreal: Rumble on St. Laurent

Wikipedia describes the Montreal neighbourhood of Mile-End as follows:

In 2005, Mile End was described in several music magazines, notably Spin and Pitchfork, as the heart of the independent music scene in Montreal. Several venues on Saint-Laurent Boulevard have contributed to the development of the local scene, including Casa del Popolo, the Sala Rossa, El Salon (now closed), and The Green Room (Le Salon Vert).

In the past year, local residents – who basically moved into the newly renovated apartments and condos knowing they were moving into a hip, cultural hotbed – have been complaining about the culture. One resident who lives near a new (now closed) venue called Main Hall on St. Laurent basically had it shut down by the city because the muffled noise of bands playing shows bothered him. Now others are trying to take away and challenge liquor licenses of places on St. Laurent Blvd that have become staples to the city’s music, art and literary scene. I’ve heard stories of Le Caigibi’s liquor license being challenged because the city was somehow convinced that vegetarian food was not “substantial” and therefore not a real restaurant. Absurd!

And now Casa de Popolo, one of the pioneering venues that brought attention to the area, the house that Godspeed built, is fighting to keep it’s doors open. A letter from the owners:

” This is Kiva and Mauro from Casa del Popolo, we just wanted to officially tell you all what’s going on. We have suspended all shows pending a court case with the Régie des alcools des courses et des jeux. So here’s the story: we currently have a restaurant liquor license which allows us to sell alcohol only when someone is eating (the quantity of food is determined arbitrarily by the inspector’s judgement, which varies with each inspector). We also currently have a bar certificat d’occupation from the Ville de Montreal, this allows us to operate a bar but still does not allow us to sell alcohol without someone eating. In order to sell alcohol we need to obtain a bar liquor permit from the RACJ. This is one of the things we are waiting to be determined at our court case.
Most importantly for us though is the issue regarding Spectacles. In order to have live music performances with a cover charge in a venue which sells alcohol you must obtain a Spectacle liquor liscense from the RACJ. We do not currently have this and up until recently there was no way for us to get one. In order to obtain this the casa cannot touch any residential property, which the casa still legally does. In the next few months we will be making the necessary renovations to transform our new offices to commercially zoned property as well as a few other minor changes.
We have been attempting in the past few months to make these transformations without stopping shows but this is just not possible. We are VERY SORRY for this but we will be following the law. Things have worked for us for 9 years now but the recent crackdown on restaurant liquor licenses has seriously affected us and we are attempting to do the right thing. Please bear with us. There is no reason to panic or storm city hall.
WE ARE NOT CLOSING. We will still be open for food with drinks and will be upgrading our menu to hopefully entice you to come in for some swell veggie eats…daytime…nighttime…latetime too…
We will continue to have our weekly free dj nights as well as some other fun events which aren’t spectacles….check out our website for more info in the upcoming weeks…
Suffice it to say, the casa will remain and return stronger than ever…it will just take a little time…If you have any questions feel free to call the office at 514-284-0122 or email us at info@casadelpopolo.com ….

Love…kiva & mauro”

Sometimes the bureaucracy is maddening. It is so arbitrary and selective, city officials can choose to care or not, randomly decide whether or not to enforce the law. It’s borderline gangsterism. And all it takes is one busybody, some loser with too much time on their hands, to rock the foundation of an entire sub-culture. Never mind the small businesses and economy it supports.

I know there are bigger problems in the world, and more pressing human / life-or-death issues even in this very city. But our culture makes us human, defines who we are, and informs our existence. This whole rumble on St. Laurent is depressing. And maybe the slow beginning to the end of the Montreal era. But it wouldn’t be the first time…Montreal’s music “scene” has an 8-year cycle, it seems. The city will peak and crest again…in 2013.

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