Jack Saloon’s opening night was touted as a not to be missed event. We received invites from two different sources welcoming us to Montreal’s next big eatery. A few weeks ago the restaurant, located in the heart of Old Montreal, rolled out the black carpet for a western inspired event like we’ve never experienced before. I’ve been to many pleasant restaurant openings where the owners are proud to show off all their hard work. From the minute I was handed a reversible black and white rubber Jack Saloon bracelet and ushered quickly into the venue, I had my suspicions that this wouldn’t be one of those openings. I met one of the four owners (and the PR manager) in the doorway so briefly that I didn’t get to ask a single question. When I asked the other of the two PR people about more information I was told everything I needed was in the press release and she had only been hired to fill the place with pretty girls. I walked away from her feeling the “strike one” of the evening.
She did her job, I suppose, because there were plenty of pretty girls. There were people crammed into every corner and onto just about every surface available. Service was consequently glacially slow and there was no real direction to the event. Lining up to get a drink was near impossible since the crowd that had gotten there first laid claim to the bar and didn’t move all evening. A restaurant can’t help how people congregate this but the gaggle of people at the bar also blocked circulation, keeping the room stagnant, without flow. Some direction here would have been appreciated; strike two. The restaurant’s décor is blatantly American with only a few redeeming touches. A lacquered blue and white print racing down one wall and across the floor to the bathroom was the only original element I saw. There’s nothing really unique in Jack Saloon’s decor, which is sad because they are housed in an exquisite space with large windows letting unfiltered, natural light pour in. A large Besty Ross American flag is stamped on the wall behind the bar with pictures of ex-Presidents on the walls subtly letting us know the place is an American eatery. I love American food but the Americana screaming from every possible corner is probably even too much for our Southern cousins. Exposed wooden posts and large wooden tables, which seem too big to fit, easily make the restaurant feel like a Montana’s. It feels like a Disney-fied version of what a saloon could look like in a comedic Wild-West film; Strike three.
Jack Saloon is the type of place you go where you don’t want to make tough choices about where and what to eat. I admit the food was good but only in the sense that it’s a no brainer; you can’t mess up saloon grub. Greasy ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and wings made their way past the kitchen but only once another swarm of people who had been camped out in front of the kitchen got their fill. Jack Saloon is not reinventing the wheel with their food but it works in their favor, choosing instead to stick to a menu that will not take too much time to prepare and make it easier for customers to choose. In consequence it will also turn over tables quicker, making them more money. Where so many people dream of opening their own restaurant and do so modestly, they don’t necessarily do it to be the biggest or the best, but every drop of blood, sweat and tears poured into a dream translates into heart and soul. Jack Saloon, as big as it is, lacks heart and soul. It is a machine that will pump out onion rings and pulled pork and pour pints quicker for the people who don’t know any better but are content to sit and eat in their comfort zone.
Jack Saloon will probably do well due to the location and the 1000’s of tourists that flow into our city on a daily basis. People will come for miles around and eat here because of its familiarity. They will have their quick 5a7 in the evening and take to the streets, the tunnels and bridges to be home by dinnertime. I’m a fan of giving restaurants the benefit of the doubt and giving them a second shot but after the opening I experienced at Jack Saloon I will gladly take my time and my money elsewhere.
Photo Credit: David Major-Lapierre