Rough and ready

A new tavern in Montreal’s Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie– Quai No. 4 designed by La Firme– pays tribute to the neighbourhood’s industrial heyday.

Over the last century, Rosemont developed as a bedroom community for CPR Shop Angus, a locomotive manufacturing plant and expansive railyard, which produced Valentine tanks during WWII but was decommissioned in 1992. All told, it employed 12,000 Rosemont residents, including many women, first hired during Canada’s Victory campaign, making it one of the first sites of shoulder-to-shoulder workplace equality. 

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“The whole concept was to make a neighbourhood bar that would resemble Rosemont’s heyday, by including as many references and archetypes as possible,” says Louis Béliveau, principal and co-creative of La Firme, the budding design and construction company behind Quai No. 4. Winner of a Quebec Grand Prix du Design (2011), Quai No. 4 features prominent allusions to shipping pallets, conveyor belts and Port-O-Lets. Says Béliveau, “Rosemont was a crossroads of industry, with trains, factories, warehouses and loading docks.” 

Quai No. 4’s clean, sleek lines are distinctively contemporary but the colours, forms, motifs, textures, materials and found objects ooze nostalgia, harking back to the neighbourhood’s factories and workshops of the ’40s and ’50s. La Firme elevated the lowly shipping skid to new heights, using its components as the building material for Quai No. 4’s furniture. To do so, they intercepted the cut-but-unassembled, wet, low-grade (3B or 3C) local lumber from a pallet manufacturer. 

Now, the pallet’s stringers (parallel pieces of timber which act as risers) – with their iconic, downward-facing notches used by forklifts – border most of the under or outer edges of the furniture: the tables and the backs and seats of the barstools and banquettes. For the back bar, La Firme mounted a tapestry of standard 48-inch, whitewashed pallets flat against the wall and inserted shallow shelving for bottles into the horizontal spaces in between the top deck boards.

The lighting above the bar provides a moment of drama. Originating out of the kitchen a shiny, black rail hairpins over the length of the bar. Suspended from it, three recouped, matte-black propane tanks with cut-off bottoms serve as lampshades, directing a dim, defuse, yellow light on those at the bar. With the idle bar patrons directly below these dark, massive metal forms, the scene evokes a stopped assembly line with the factory workers on an extended break. 

At the far end of the main room, a large, U-shaped banquette acts as a chef’s table and an immediate focal point upon entering. Recessed under a low bulkhead, it’s hugged by walls of gilded, stamped-tin ceiling tiles in period vine and floral motifs. Says Béliveau, “Since this is the biggest table, it was my idea to make it as VIP as possible, like a gold jewel box.”   

Quai No. 4’s long, narrow washrooms are unisex, just like they would be in a gruff industrial setting. Five wooden stalls, built to resemble Port-O-Lets, line one wall, complete with corrugated roofs. The double sinks are also communal, made from the bottoms of propane tanks. To spruce things up, La Firme treated the opposite wall with glinting, black Marquina marble tiles. A full mirror on the end wall provides the illusion of great depth doubling the row of stalls. 

“Visually, the mirror effect is always nice. Granted, for the envelope we would have liked to used a match-book pattern, with 10-foot-high by five-foot-wide marble slabs,” Béliveau muses in a brief highbrow flourish, “just like Mies van der Rohe in the Barcelona Pavilion for Expo 1929.”

It’s a good thing Béliveau kept his work boots firmly planted on the ground. Quai No. 4’s decor is unabashedly blue collar, and that struck a chord of authenticity with rue Masson punters, rumored to still be a parochial bunch. They’re mostly weary of a recent outbreak of cookie-cutter establishments from the higher-rent, fully gentrified and foppish Plateau neighbourhood. “Esprit de clocher it’s still an apt description of rue Masson. It’s like being in a small village, people are really protective of their environment and surroundings,” Béliveau explains.  cI

Canadian Interiors, Sep/Oct 2012

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About mmcontentatlarge

austinmacdonald.net journalist | copywriter | producer/editor

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