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From an old website, Alien in Montreal

I generally pass by Grumpys Bar, as I always think it looks too suspicious to be cool – dark, hidden away underground, and with a ridiculous name. But, today I decide to try my luck as I wander by. It is snowing, and this is all the excuse I need.

It's empty.

My first reaction is to run, but I've been spotted by the barmaid who has risen and is floating towards the centre of the bar. I'm sucked in and walk up to her.

I dither about what to buy, having only $14 in my pocket, and so scan the pumps (which are on the wrong side of the counter, if you know what I mean), and fill the silence with 'uuummm's and 'aaaahhh's.

I settle on a Keith's for $6 and take one of the myriad of unclaimed barstools at the end of the bar.

Gangster hip-hop is playing loudly.

The barmaid brings me some peanuts and then returns to the other end of the bar, as far from me as is possible.

I fiddle with my fingers and then get out my notebook to look busy. After I've written a few headings and dates the barmaid appears with peanuts and a smile, breaking open the smalltalk.

'Terrible weather.' She hazards.

'Yes, but not too cold.' I say.

Silence for a few moments, and then we start to talk properly about life as an ex-pat in Canada (She's Irish), working, holidays, home-towns and so on.

I order another pint, of Ale Quebecoise this time, for $5 a shot.

Still no one comes in and we watch Coronation Street on the big sports screen. I have another pint after establishing that they accept interac.

Now I know that I should have left after two pints, but there's a snowstorm outside now, and I'm warm and beginning to drunken nicely.

I say to the barmaid, 'I should really go.'

I'm waiting for her to say, 'Gosh no, stay a while longer, drink more!' I would then be able to blame her for my prolonged stay. But she's clever and says nothing. I order another pint and take the blame upon my own shoulders.

When the phone rings she waits a while before picking it up, even though it's at her elbow. This is because the phone is near the TV, and so to pick it up instantly implies that you're leaning on the bar, watching TV, which she is, of course.

Now that is clever, I think.

So I learn that they have live bands on most of the week, but not Saturdays. These bands range from jazz and bluegrass to cum-by-ar strumming. There is also an ominous sounding 'open mic' night on Tuesdays.

I stagger off to the toilet and stare at the graffiti. You can often learn a lot about the absent clientele of a pub by its bathroom graffiti.

There isn't much.

There is a symbol that looks like a pound sign (£) with the top of it chopped off. It's also a bit like 'su' in Japanese Hiragana, or 'ra' in Indian Devangari script.

Both seem equally unlikely.

There is also the cryptic slogan 'zorazorazora', which I suppose could be magical, or could be an ode to a Joe Millionaire girl (link:

I leave, none the wiser, and order another pint that I know I can't afford.

Ah well.

Other people finally arrive and settle at the other end of the bar, with the barmaid. It would be easy to feel paranoid now, as they laugh and shout and point in your direction. But I know that they're looking at the TV, or window, and I also know that I'm drunk.

I pay with VISA and struggle to work out the tip. The fresh air is good, a few minutes later.