Prohibition lasted less than a year in Montreal (it was instituted and repealed in 1919). So there likely wasn't a speakeasy culture back then, though there certainly is one now. Half a dozen hidden little bars have popped up around the city in the last decade, paying tribute to a time when the consumption of alcohol was forbidden, and therefore far sexier. The most sophisticated of the bunch is this semi-hidden one (the black door does have the word "Bar" on it in letters about an inch high). It sits next to a rowdy late night poutine joint that seems to get the entire student body of McGill University around midnight. But none of those kids come in to Big in Japan—it's too adult a place for them. Instead, 30-somethings sit along spotlit see-through plexiglass bars, under a chandelier-like array of Japanese whiskey bottles, in a long dark room. Jazz swings softly in the background, the cocktails are classics (Pimms Cups, Manhattans, and the like) and the mood is pleasingly mellow. Warning: There is sometimes a line to enter, because the bar caps the number of patrons at the number of stools. So come early if you don't want to wait.
- Pauline Frommer