Chez Justine: For a little taste of the forbidden

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In Quebec City’s Lowertown, on Saint-Paul street, Justine hides behind an intriguing black storefront. As soon as you enter and pass through a thick red curtain, you immediately understand where you are: a speakeasy transporting you directly to the middle of prohibition.

Justine opened on July 14, 2020. Its owner, Martin Vaillaincourt — who also owns the microbrewery Le Corsaire in Levis — had a very specific goal when he decided to embark on this adventure: “I found that it was missing in the area — the Old Port — a place where people from the industry can come for a drink after work, and not just a drink but quality cocktails, in an atmosphere that is out of the ordinary. Given my interest in the prohibition era, it was natural that I wanted to open something with a speakeasy theme that would also appeal to locals and visitors of the city alike,” he says.

A unique atmosphere

During prohibition, from the early 1920s to the early 1930s, when the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol in the United States was strictly forbidden, groups of people often gathered in back rooms, away from the public eye, to drink all kinds of homemade beverages. Great cocktail recipes were born during this period, and the term speakeasy — also responding to the doctrine “to live happily we live hidden” — was in order.

Justine reflects this atmosphere perfectly; the general ambience is very subdued, with candlelight scattered throughout the room as the main source of illumination. At the back of the room is a beautiful wooden bookcase, a key element of the decor, filled with books with colourful covers. The tables, also made of wood, neither too small nor too big, offer the right number of seats, including the bar, to keep the intimacy that one would like to find in a speakeasy.

It’s easy to feel really good here — with a good glass in hand — tucked away from everything and immersed in another era. It becomes easy to forget that when you step outside, you are on one of the main streets of the city. In sum, Justine is a perfect and elegant hideout.

The art of the cocktail

We can’t talk about prohibition without talking about cocktails. At Justine, they are prepared with great care, following both classic and homemade recipes and featuring a very nice selection of products. Martin particularly recommends the Old Fashioned, a great classic that has come back into fashion in the last few years. Having tasted it, we can tell you that even Don Draper would not be disappointed! We also suggest the Prohibition and, for those who like a more funky touch, the Jungle Bird. The cocktails are as good as the glasses are beautiful, yes, because every detail counts in this unique experience.

Beautiful plates

Drinking well is good, but eating well at the same time is even better. Justine offers a very nice selection of different dishes that exceeds your typical small bar menu. We particularly like the artichoke pancakes, the grilled black pudding, the elk tartar and the eggplant parmigiana. The cherry on top is the local charcuterie and cheeses served on a pedestal table and conscientiously presented one by one. Rest assured that whatever you choose, it will be good — very good indeed. For everything you taste, your plate will be made directly after the weighing (the price of the latter varies according to the weight) and served with warm bread.

That about says it all, the rest is up to you to discover. Whether you are from Quebec City or just passing through, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Justine, it will not disappoint.

Cheers and bon appétit!

Photography by Maude Chenette

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