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Bar Vivar: Spanish-inspired wine bar on Duluth

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Two veterans from Joe Beef, chef-owner Georges Greiche in the kitchen, and his friend Patrick Oakes at the front-of-house, team up at Bar Vivar, an affordable and delightful Spanish-inspired wine bar that’s quickly becoming a must-visit spot in Montreal.

“We’re fans of soccer, rugby, pubs, and wine bars. We wanted to create something that combines all of that, with the most humble and flavourful Spanish cuisine possible, and the welcoming atmosphere we enjoy when going out,” explains the chef. Mission accomplished!

Georges was born and raised in Montreal. He fell into the restaurant industry while studying to become a lawyer. It was instant love. “It clicked instantly. The place where I worked had a lot of history, and I realized that with a plate, you tell a story; I loved it! I also liked the tactile aspect and the fact that the harder you work, the better the results.” After attending The Culinary Institute of America in New York, stints at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee and Pilgrimme in British Columbia, Georges landed at Joe Beef for a while. Then, he worked as a private chef and travelled the world, always keeping the idea of opening his own place in the back of his mind. “I spent 6-7 months in Spain, and it was the trip of my life. I worked in a few restaurants there and loved it. Then I came back to Montreal and found this space; I immediately knew it was the right place,” he recounts.

Bar Vivar: Spanish Love

There is indeed something unique about the small space on Duluth Street – and it’s not its location right across from the famous restaurant Au Pied de Cochon. Perhaps it’s the fact that the space, situated on a street corner, enjoys beautiful light throughout the day. It might also be because it’s accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Or simply because it feels like home the moment you step in.

The 40-seat room is divided into two spaces: in the front, a bar section with high tables opens to the kitchen, the constant buzz of soccer a game playing in the background; at the back, a charming dining room, with a corner table and beautiful cobalt blue leather banquettes, more suitable for intimate gatherings. The walls and shelves are decorated with various pieces of artwork and memorabilia. “Martin Franco helped bring the space to life, Patrick also had his say. And my mother is an art commissioner, so there’s always a bit of art in what I do,” explains the chef. “I left the kitchen counter open because I want to be able to talk with my friends and make new ones!”

The restaurant’s name is inspired by Rodrigo Diaz, a knight and ruler of medieval Spain who inspired the famous play “Le Cid” by Corneille. He came from a small village now called Vivar del Cid, where the culture of pintxos (the Basque equivalent of tapas) is prevalent. “Rodrigo fought for both the Arabs and the Christians. I am Arab and Christian, so I liked the reference,” confides George. Cinema buffs will recognized a portrait of Charlton Heston, shot during production of the 1961 movie inspired by the famous character, hung on the wall.

Simple and affordable

Georges has always had a fondness for the Plateau: “It’s truly the heart of Montreal. I love the summer exuberance, the very European culture with all the French and Portuguese in the neighbourhood. There are many breweries, but few wine bars. I wanted to offer a place where you can have a reasonably priced drink with a little bite,” says the chef-owner.

“I wanted to do something simple, affordable,” continues Georges. “I hope people come here and have a good time. I love Spain; I love the fact that everything is simple and direct there. When you call someone, they say ‘Dígame!’ which literally means ‘Tell me.’ There’s no beating around the bush. There’s transparency, humility.”

The menu consists of light and fresh Spanish specialties, which implies that the ingredients must be of high quality. “My signature dish is the tortilla. It’s a dish of eggs, potatoes, and onions. It’s unpretentious and accessible to everyone,” says the chef. There are also croquettes of the moment, zorza (a chorizo meat recipe from northern Spain), tostas (toasts) with squid, sardines, or clams, a revisited Russian salad (ensaladilla rusa), and a decadent croissant stuffed with cheese. And, of course, the jamón (!), served in thin slices that melt in the mouth.

Wines, sherries, and vermouths

Patrick, a restaurant veteran, takes care of the front and and oversees the drink menu. “Everything is by the glass; we lean more towards traditional wines from everywhere, and a lot of sharing,” he notes. They also offer a selection of sherries and vermouths, cocktails, and beers, all served in pitchers and in caña, an 8 oz. glass. A specialty to discover: the guiri, a very refreshing cocktail based on vermouth and apple cider, whose name comes from a pejorative term used to refer to tourists in Spain.

There’s an immediate feeling of homeliness at Patrick and Georges’ restaurant; their love of food and hospitality is undeniable. There’s no ego here, just good food at a fair price and wine (and jokes!) aplenty. “I couldn’t wait to open the door!” says George. “I want to show everything I have to offer and see how our customers will transform the space and the concept.”

Bar Vivar is a true gem. We hope you’ll adopt it too!

¡Salud!


Photography by Alison Slattery





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