Hidden behind an unmarked door and long, velvet-draped hallway is Big in Japan, a cocktail bar that we had both heard about separately and decided to make our first destination in Montréal.
The bar – not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name and same owners, on the same street – is situated on a stretch of Rue Saint-Laurent just past the booming nightclubs and throngs of 20-somethings the street appears to be famous for. If you weren’t looking for the plain red door, you’d probably just walk right by none-the-wiser. But if you do go in, the entrance has an Alice in Wonderland feeling of going down the rabbit hole, walking through a simple door and into a different world.
The inside of the bar twinkles with candlelight, and there is a line of suspended sake bottles running down the middle of the room. All of the employees are in tuxedos, all of the men have mustaches. All of the music is jazz, equal parts standards and French songs.
We found a couple of seats at the back of the bar (they only let in as many people as there are seats) and ordered some drinks. The cocktail menu is made up of vintage-type cocktails, the kind of classic drinks my grandmother drank in her youth, like negronis and gin fizzes. They also have an extensive whiskey list and a selection of sake. I’m inexperienced when it comes to sake, so for our third round we asked the bartender for a recommendation. He chose a junmai-shu, a chilled sake that tasted sweet and what I can only describe as a little grassy, which I mean in a good way. It’s also worth noting that this round was on the house, acknowledging that our service had been a little slow throughout the evening.
Considering this gesture, the drinks, the French jazz, and the overall ambience, Big in Japan was an excellent way to start off our night, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an intimate cocktail bar in Montréal.