If you’re homesick in Paris, several bars offer a taste of Canadiana
photos by chris atchison/metro toronto
Visit Paris’ Left Bank and you’ll expect to see iconic names like Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots and Brasserie Lipp. But establishments such as the Moose, the Great Canadian Pub and (on nearby Ile St. Louis) the Beaver may seem a bit out of place.
Canadians searching for the ultimate Parisian experience might be surprised to discover the Latin Quarter — Paris’ traditional centre of learning and bohemian culture — is home to a few worthy Canuck drinking establishments.
I was no different.
I was passing along the Quai des Grands Augustins, which skirts the banks of the Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral at my back and past a slew of traditional bistros when Mark Berry’s shrine to all things Canadian came into view.
You may not even notice it sitting at a quiet corner, where tourists are more interested in crepes and café than swilling our brew.
But within five minutes at a table, I understood that this pub is a hub for many a North American expat and traveller. About half of the crowd here is either English Canadian, American or Irish.
Berry, the 39-year-old son of a Canadian diplomat and sometime French bush-league hockey player, decided to open his own place after working bar to bar in Paris for almost 15 years. The Great Canadian has been serving up Moosehead, Molson Canadian and pub grub since July 2005.
“Canadians and Americans in Paris aren’t necessarily greeted with service with a smile,” the 39-year-old Berry reflects. “This reminds them of bars back home and we try to hire Canadian staff.”
Berry then points with pride to the many plasma screens around the room — one lined with memorabilia like an autographed and framed Montreal Canadiens jersey, a wooden Mountie and an Alouettes banner. This ex-Montrealer is proud of his hometown teams, not to mention the fact that he stays open to all hours showing NHL games.
Later I swing by the competition. The Moose is another Canuck-friendly watering hole just off Boulevard Saint-Germain. The vibe is similar, the memorabilia is predictable and English buzzes around the room in an inebriated flurry.
Berry is quick to point out he used to own a piece of the Moose, but had a falling out with his partner, which led to the founding of the Great Canadian. In true Canadian fashion, the partners separated peacefully.
Travellers looking for a more refined taste of home can venture in daylight to the narrow passageway known as the rue de la Parcheminerie, or street of the Parchement makers and sellers, where Abbey Bookshop owner and ex-Torontonian Brian Spence will meet visitors with a maple syrup-infused coffee.
Spence founded the chaotic store in 1989 to serve Parisians and expats looking for Canadian literature. He chose the location, just around the corner from the majestic gothic Church of Saint-Severin, because of its medieval heritage — before 1450 it was called rue des Escrivains, the street of writers and scribes, who wrote and copied manuscripts before the invention of moveable type.
I ask Spence why Canadians, or local French and Parisians for that matter (which compose two-thirds of his clientele), seek out a store catering to readers from the Great White North in a city so rich in culture, or bars for that matter in a place with a bistro on every corner.
“Like Canada itself, Canadian bars are welcoming places to people from everywhere,” Spence explains.
“Canadian society,” he continues, “has benefited from a peace dividend for some time now, and our literature, as well. The subtleties of Canadian life are matters of the heart and soul that can touch readers wherever they are.”
Back at The Great Canadian a manager named Bonnie is darting around the room on inline skates, juggling pints of Canadian beer when a cheer goes up — the Calgary Flames have just scored a goal.
The clientele seem somewhat relieved that even in Paris’ Latin Quarter, they’re never far from home.