Addendum: Café Cleo’s John Zoumboulakis

café Cleopatre

On Saturday I wrote about Café Cleopatra’s last stand on the lower Main. After refusing to sell his property to the Société de Développement Angus, the owner, John Zoumboulakis, is being threatened with expropriation to make way for the Quadrilatère Saint-Laurent.

I was finally able to reach the showbusiness-man past midnight on Sunday in order to get his perspective of the story.

For Zoumboulakis, Café Cleopatra is the last vestige of a long tradition of wild nights on the Main. “This is a historic part of our city. It should be restored, revitalized, not just bulldozed. History, once you break it down, you don’t bring it back with an office tower. What we have now is the real thing. Its our heritage, it’s part of our history,” he says. “I hope there is a way to preserve it.”

Over the phone, he spoke nostalgically of  a time when the lower Main was lively and diverse. “It was the first entertainment centre of our city. It was the nightlife and the downtown of Montreal,” he says “…every building, it was owned by a different people with different ideas. And each operator or owner, they used to have their own types.”

“The objective is to continue to offer what I’ve been offering and what this location has been offering to Montreal for a hundred or so years,” Zoumboulakis says.

When I mentioned the possibility of relocating, he only said that he hadn’t put any energy into thinking about that but he did quote that old adage, the show must go on.

Zoumboulakis says that he never got involved in negotiations with the SDA. “No offer was put on the table. The reality is that they never put anything on paper. Maybe because they are of the opinion that if the city can throw you out, why make you an offer,” he says.

In this case, is legal for the city to expropriate because the property is within the Quartier des Spectacles, defined by a Plan Particulier d’Urbanisme.

Yet Zoumboulakis is skeptical of the QDS, an entertainment district, putting office towers and retail space – all owned by a single developer – where independent venues once stood.

“What the city’s doing, what they’re trying to do, it’s not the right thing for the Main,” he says.

“This is a historic part of our city. It should be restored, revitalized, not just bulldozed. History, once you break it down, you don’t bring it back with an office tower. What we have now is the real thing. Its our heritage, it’s part of our history… I hope there is a way to preserve it.”


  1. Completely agree, Café Cléo is even part of my own history, being only 29 years old, and seeing an office tower instead of the enigmatic Café as you stumble out of Club Soda at midnight, your ears still ringing from a great concert, will simply not be the same.

    Why replace diversity with homogeneity? Is this what our culture has become?

    I always expected more from Montreal…

  2. There are plenty of other vacant swaths of land within the QDS.

  3. sure, expropriate for a private developer, no problem crushing the little guy, when tons o’money are involved.

    Expropriation should not be for private development, but only for public development like roads bridges. But hey, money talks, and it’s talking loud and clear here.

    who cares if the project, in the quartier des spectacles, is for business offices for hydro quebec.

    who cares? People with a sense of decency and a notion of democracy that doesn’t seem to ever exist in government.

  4. Which reminds me… I still owe the douche-bag who decided to tear down the Spectrum a swift kick to the nuts.


  5. The Societe de developpement Angus which is “promoting” the project was set up years ago to put non-profit activities ont he CPR’s Angus Yards in Rosemount. That done, they are looking for activities to keep them alive. They have no shareholders and are accountable only to themselves. They have been in bed with various city administrations for years. Their director is impatient and arrogant and creates the impression that if procedures get in his way, he will find a lack of patriotism int he background.

  6. Hmmm, time for somebody to do a piece on The Societé de developpement Angus. Alannah?

  7. Aren’t there any laws in this country to protect the weak? All this QDS project smells fishy? What has Hydro to do with culture? Sometimes I am really ashamed to be a Montrealer.

  8. There are so many other place and opportunities for fruitful development here in Montreal. Instead, they go for the prime locations, rich in history, and replace them with quick builds. It’s disgusting. This city is still in the grip of mid-20th century corruption and power politics.

  9. Its crazy how people on this board love stagnation. The area of town is dead in the morning, dead during the day and dead at night. Its so far of its prime that. Any reference to the glory days of the street to frame the loss of the current businesses is a farce.

    Let’s not forget that every other owner on the street has come to terms, and considering the size of the project and the number of owners, this was done relatively quickly. Should one hold out be allowed to scrap a whole project that went through public consultation and that is part of the city’s master plan? Expropriation is a last resort and let’s be clear, starting the procedure for expropriation doesn’t mean it will come to that. There is plenty of time for a settlement to be reached. If it does come to expropriation, I think saying that all other options were tried will be a fair statement. We can’t after all have another Jacques-Cartier bridge situation.

    More people in the area during the day will allow the street to regain some of its vibrancy. There will also be a higher number of people as such then that will be staying during the evening that will allow existing venues to do better as well.

    No matter what, everyone here is advocating status quo and letting cleo’s stay. It has been left to individuals over the last two decades to initiate projects on St.Laurent and the only tangible project has been Club Soda which has been a total failure that is hemmoraging money monthly. Considering what has been done in the recent past and what is there now, I can’t see the harm in letting a large scale development try.

  10. It is fine to build mixed use projects but this will KILL the charm, character, and life of the area. The plan is to build a building that looks like it belongs on the side of the T-Can in Pointe-Claire. If Hydro needs more space -and let’s be frank, Angus is building this with Hydro offices as objective Number 1 – why not build on the lot behind the Hydro Building? This “Green-washing” of the proposal is nothing but marketing schtick.

  11. I totally agree with GDS.

    Each time I go on the Main, I feel ashamed! Buildings in disrepair state, questionable businesses, worn out architecture, everything there seems out of time, as if it was stuck in the 60s. Montreal changed a lot, it’s time for this area too to change.

    As GDS says, “Any reference to the glory days of the street to frame the loss of the current businesses is a farce.” and I couldn’t agree more. I think the SDA project is great, maybe not exploited to its full potential, but still a great improvement for the decaying area.

    I think it will consolidate tourism in Downtown as the link between Crescent and St-Laurent will be complete.I see Downtown as a big O, starting from Chinatown in the East, Old Montreal, International District, Crescent, Ste-Catherine, QDS being the missing link between Ste-Catherine and Chinatown.

    Although the road to seeing QSL see the light of day will be long, I look forward for the revitalisation of the neighboorhood!

  12. The issue is not resistance to change, but how the change is done. There are so many other ways the old values of the neighbourhood good be incorporated into a project that would revitalize it. Instead, they are going to build a big office tower. Take a look at the northwest corner of Rachel and St. Laurent for an example of how well that works. Talk about stagnation. That dead block of concrete does nothing for the neighbourhood, which is otherwise one of the liveliest and diverse in the city.

    How about putting a plaza on the lower main, which allows people to cross over to Clark and then also have shops and restaurants open on Clark (which is currently a dead alley between St. Catherine’s and Rene-levesque.

    Another cubic office tower is just going to block the flow of human traffic and continue the stagnation that already exists in that part of the main.

    Furthermore, talking about stagnation as an excuse for the bulldozer reminds me very much of the rhetoric the Major League used with the Expos. They claimed the team had no fans and so they needed to move. Well they had no fans because the league effectively strangled them. It’s the same with the Lower Main. There was no support from the city, nothing to spur small business investment or public interaction, so it was left to stagnate. And now the big developers can swoop in and build something that maximizes their bottom line (and lines the pockets of all the corrupt contractors and bureaucrats that basically run this city).

    This big project thinking (like the quartier des spectacles) is so ’60s. It’s the kind of thinking that brought us the Metropolitan and the Olympic Stadium and we are still dealing with their failures today.

    This is not about resisting change. This is about the right kind of change.

  13. walkerp : How about putting a plaza on the lower main, which allows people to cross over to Clark and then also have shops and restaurants open on Clark (which is currently a dead alley between St. Catherine’s and Rene-levesque.

    That’s funny, shows you just complain to complain because that is exactly what is proposed.

  14. A plaza, in my world, means an open space, not a closed mall, like we see on Gauchetierre just west of Chinatown, which has effectively become a dead space. In the drawings I saw, there doesn’t appear to be any storefronts on the street itself, just flat glass panels. The lack of diversity is another huge problem. The thing is a big office tower, better suited for the business district, not a shopping, entertainment and semi-residential area.

  15. Wow… how sad….
    I say let’s start to call Montreal “Toronto” and now everyone will be happy. Clean pragmatic boring buildings for eveyone, everywhere.


  16. Any reason they couldn’t put something on that dead lot at St-Laurent metro instead? It’s been like that for, what, two decades? Having a more lively space surrounding a public transit node would be a benefit to the area and would knit the lower Main better with the Plateau.

  17. @JohnW – Actually, they are putting a building on the empty lot at St-Laurent metro as well. In fact the same developer is in charge of 3 buildings on the Main (the third one on the south-east corner of Ste-Catherine and St-Laurent). Fortunately, the other two at least have a more artistic vocation…

  18. Resistant to change? Place empty at night?…I think that it is agreed that the street needed some change/help but not what they are proposing (A tower>>>) This area was so vibrant at night before the expropriations so I don’t know what you are talking about (the businesses were viable and very open; Opera, Romance, hot dog places, Katacombes, lebanese bakery,cleos… I heard that some of these buildings were purchased and left idle on purpose by HQ…based on the whole process of the project I really would not doubt this…

    Hope this project dies…

  19. I won’t miss Café Cleopatra, the prostitutes out front, the loitering welfare tenants and the bums. I never feel safe walking home alone from Old Montreal. Especially near Café Cleopatra. It’s creepy. I don’t understand those who fight to keep this area as is.
    I moved in this neighbourhood 3 years ago expecting a developing boom in the area. I hope for gentrification soon.

  20. I was in front of Mr. Zoumboulakis’s Cafe Cleopatre recently. All I saw was beggers, bums, alcoholics, perverts, and drug addicts stumbling around. I did not see the “reputable clientele” that Mr. Zoumboulakis is talking about , diverse yes, reputable no.
    If we want to be a world class cultural city we cannot let people like Mr.Zoumboulakis keep the progress of this wonderful city and it’s people hostage to his closed minded ways. I think all Montrealer’s should protest this eyesore on the main, known as Cafe Cleopatre. Why can’t Montreal do something right for once and create a world class venue such as the Quartier des Spectacles without being held hostage by “advancement phobia”, “modern culture hating” people like Mr. Zoumboulakis and his followers. Every time I see people backing Mr. Zoumboulakis, they are usually burlesque workers or men dressing as women who lipsing songs and dance around immitating women, also known as Drag Queens. Are we going to let “Tootsie” decied montreal’s cultural future? I mean I love Dustin Hoffman as much as the next guy, but I would not want to have a monument to “Tootsie” in the middle of one of Montreal’s greatest redevelopment projects. This is definitly not good for Montreal’s future, the fact that Mr. Zoumboulakis can halt progress so easily, and we are forced to build around him in order to be politically correct. I’m fed up of political correctness. Does’nt anyone have guts anymore, why do we let the people who SCREAM the loudest get their way, its time to rock the boat and fight for our city’s future development. I get all those people siding for Mr. Zoumboulakis, I mean who does’nt like a good old David and Goliath fight to the death. Most Montrealers are sick of being overtaxed, overfined, and having a general feeling of being taken by our city’s politicians. So they kind of feel for this guy whos beating up on the city and its developers. I understand this viceral feeling , but on the other hand I wish that people would see the good in the end project. The politicians will still throw our money to the wind no matter what. This project has further implications than a means for revenge against the city, or the fight for the little guy. Lets be serious people and do the right thing, this project is as important as it was getting back the Grand-Prix.
    Since when is a strip club, slash, tranvestite showbar, considered a venue for “cultural events”, please! This is just BULL. We would all be better off without this place, lets let Montrealers vote on its destiny, I’m sure people would put down hard earned tax dollars to see this place go. Lets give Mr. Zoumboulakis a bag full of cash (tax free) and see him off. In the long run it will be worth it.
    Just a side note,
    The city was able to destroy the church of St. Sauveur on Viger street to make room for the CHUM, but can’t get rid of this true eyesore WTF…

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