Terrace troubles in the Plateau

When Projet Montreal was elected in the Plateau Mont Royal last winter, the candidates promised active, animated, and human-centered streets. Sidewalk cafés and terraces are a much beloved part of the summer scene, but this year, rather than forcing pedestrians dance around dining tables placed willy nilly on the sidewalk, the borough is asking restaurants to put their terraces out in the street.

The borough insists on maintaining a 1.8 meter clearance on the sidewalk. Seems reasonable when you consider how much foot traffic you get on Mount Royal avenue and The Main during the summer, not to mention those who travel with strollers or wheelchairs.

So the borough is banning the practice of crowding either side of the sidewalk with tables. Instead, they are offering restaurants the option to set up semi-permanent terraces on the outer strip of sidewalk and spill over into the parking spots in front of their business.

Saint-Laurent restaurateurs are all in a sulk about the new regulations and associated costs and are threatening that there will be no terraces at all on the Main this summer if things don’t go back to business as usual. The co-owner of Globe and Buena Notte is spearheading the protest. As I see it, there are 4 distinct complaints:

1) Costs: The permit for a terrace occupying the street parking spot w0uld cost about $10,000 per season, an amount that doesn’t quite compensate for the loss of income from parking meters, according to borough counselor Alexander Norris. The Plateau newspaper suggests that restaurants would have to invest an additional $15-20,000 in building and furnishing terraces, as well as storing the structures in the winter.

The costs might sound forbidding until you get a hint of how much money some of the bars and restaurants are actually making from their terraces: the owner of McKibbons pub told CJAD they’d lose $2000 a night from closing their terrace, which they plan to do to protest the new regulations.

One Mount Royal avenue restaurateur went so far as to complain that summer is a slow time for business and, with no guarantee of nice weather, restaurants shouldn’t be forced take this kind of financial risk. Plus, they complain, Prince Arthur street restaurants get away with much vaster terraces without the costs.

A more legitimate complaint about the new system is the application and inspection process which can delay the opening of terraces for weeks despite unseasonably beautiful weather.

2) Parking: Some restaurateurs fear that losing the parking in front of their door would be catastrophic. Where would their clients from the South shore park, they beg? I guess if your customer base can fit in the two parking spots that border your restaurant, business must indeed be tenuous.

3) Comfort and Safety: The thing that seems to be infuriating Saint-Laurent restaurants the most is that they can no longer have terraces adjacent to their restaurants. They say they fear for the safety of their clients, having out eat out in the street and, more legitimately, worry about serving staff crossing the busy sidewalk with hot plates.

4) Closing Time: Terraces on Mount Royal Avenue a must close at 11pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends, a regulation that doesn’t exist in any other borough. The borough mayor says this rule is in response to complaints from the area’s residents.

Which complaints are legit?

I love the idea of spilling sidewalk life into the street, and I don’t take the no-terraces threat very seriously. My bet is that some forward thinking place will go ahead and build an amazing terrace and immediately be inundated with clients. Their neighbours won’t be able to contain their jealousy and soon everyone will be coughing up for the permits and reaping the profits.

Yet I also understand why the bars and restaurants are uneasy about opening satellite terraces across the sidewalk from their business, and I wouldn’t want to wait those tables. At the same time, when walking down the sidewalk feels like setting foot in a fancy restaurant, pedestrians often end up in the street anyways.

The Ville-Marie borough has a similar regulation which allows restaurants to occupy the parking spots in front of their business. However, they do insist on a continuous right of way for pedestrians. The image below shows a terrace on Amherst, where the café has taken over the entire sidewalk and built a boardwalk for pedestrians in the parking spot:

Personally, it seems acceptable to me. I don’t mind a bit of sidewalk-variety, although I’m not sure how easy it would be to maneuver in a wheelchair. I might go a bit crazy if I were in a rush to get somewhere and I had to weave around dozens of such terraces. But if I were in a rush to get somewhere, I suppose I wouldn’t take the Main.

Top image by François Hogue cc flickr


  1. We have a similar problem here on St-Laurent in la Petite Italie. Love having a cappuccino on the sidewalk, but some of the restaurants take over so much of the sidewalk that it is hard for me to walk while pushing my bicycle along. It would be impossible for someone in a wheelchair, with a walker or pushing a stroller or pram.

    On the north side of Jean-Talon, the lovely Petit Alep has a purpose-built (permanent) terrasse, raised off the sidewalk and not taking over any sidewalk space. There are some cafés on rue de Castelnau (one short block north of Jean-Talon) that put out some tables, but it is fairly low-key. Idem on St-Zotique and Beaubien.

    I think the St-Laurent case is a matter of abuse – trying to push capacity and earnings too much.

  2. It seems not all business are participating in this boycott idea- a bar on St Laurent / Marie-Anne has a terrace (when the weather is nice).

    The sidewalks are so crowed on St Laurent that I avoid shopping there. With terraces now moved aside, I might just return to the street. So there could be an upside for businesses if others feel like me.

  3. Although the idea of taking over parking spots seems appealing at first, I have an issue with the way Montreal approaches a “good terrasse”. All around the city it has become “Welcome to my suburbia-pressure-treated-lumber-enclosure”. It seems, most of the rest of the civilized world copes rather well with cafés, restaurants and terrasses spilling onto the sidewalks, loosely defined by the colours of their chairs, adapting to the sidewalk and paving quite well. Here in Montreal, we somehow feel a need to build a deck, and enclose everything in a pen-like structures made out of plants, and treated lumber. The best-worst example is the stretch of Ste-Catherine in the Village. Pressure treated decks, fences, all decked out with some Labatt Blue advertising. Quite depressing actually when one looks down the street, it is reminiscent of freshly appointed backyards somewhere in the depths of 450 land. It doesn’t look like an urban street anymore.
    In all of Europe, restaurants and bars spill out in some controlled way (in London painted lines on the pavement delineate ones usable outdoor “space”) allowing for a true “street” experience… not a suburbanized and pressure treated version of it.
    I say this city can use a bit of authenticity in the way it treats it’s terraces and outdoor spaces… and if that means a single file of chairs (all facing out) with tiny café tables, à la Paris, then so be it! That is way better than the suburbian structures being built throughout the city right now.

  4. I love this article (and I especially think point 2 re: parking is very good)!

    And wow, I never realized the city was making so much money off meters – no wonder “we” still tolerate street parking on overcrowded streets like the Main, Mont-Royal and downtown Ste-Catherine (the latter being the most absurd example, in my opinion).

  5. A clear passage must always be required. There are people with wheelchairs who need access and blocking the sidewalk isn’t acceptable. But shouldn’t businesses that spill out on to the sidewalk or street also pay city taxes that are pro-rated for the land that they occupy? So if you are using a space that is 2m wide by 10m long, then the appropriate property taxes for the months that the land is being used should be paid or an appropriate rent to the city.

    And while we are discussing it, shouldn’t Bixi be paying the city for those spots on the road that Bixi is occupying? How about the buses, shouldn’t they be paying for the space that they need? If they paid, wouldn’t they be a lot more conservative with the amount of space they really need? In fact, shouldn’t the road repair department pay for the spots that aren’t usable because they haven’t repaired the road? Maybe then they will fix the roads quicker. If the parking spaces have a value then let’s value them in the city’s financial statements.

  6. Ever since Pizzadelic on Mt Royal avenue (at the bike path) put its terrace on the sidewalk and this caused the removal of the very useful bike parking stand that previously occupied the location, I have been against anything any restauranteur ever wants in terms of terraces. Put the terrace in the back yard of the resto, or no terrace. Anyway who in their right mind wants to eat a meal on a street with cars noisily roaring by and dirt all around? The street terrace is vastly over-rated, and the backyard resto terrace is one of the best things about Montreal.

  7. I have to say I prefer backyard terraces too.

    I don’t have a problem with tables on the street, I mean if you can find a way to make business better, go for it.

    However when they take it too far and it is hard to walk on the sidewalk, then it is too much. I am sorry but they have no right to complain about that, we all pay taxes and we have a right to use the sidewalk. The example of Maisonneuve at Drummond is perfect. I walk through that almost everyday and it is just too uncomfortable, and I don’t have any special space needs.

    Putting the terraces on public space is not a RIGHT it is a benefit that they are given. That benefit which is given to them ends when the people who have the right to use the side walk (aka pedestrians) are affected.

    Anyway I am too tired to rant.

  8. hey guys! Aren’t we supposed to call these things “patios” ??

  9. Actually that pic of the terrasse on Amherst, just to clarify, is not a café but rather a bar, the Gotha bar.

  10. It is quite normal that the restauranteurs protest; they are used to getting their way. I agree with previous posts that many will eventually come around to the new rules if the borough holds its ground, which I hope it will. There is just too much money to be made (and too much ‘frime’ to be done). I get the impression after talking to a few of the smaller retaurant and cafe managers or owners that they are afraid of breaking the protest refusal to set up terrasses imposed by Buena Notte-Globe because of who their backers/friends are. Maybe this is why the file is with Mr. Norris after-all he ran on the platform of anti-collusion/corruption. The connection between Tremblay’s party, the construction industry, and the mafia is nothing to be scoffed at and few people who are very familiar with that part of St-Laurent or are investigative journalists don’t doubt the connection between the mafia and the expensive restaurants/nightclubs between Pine and Sherbrooke. The age old saying that money makes the world go round should read “money AND fear make the world go round.” I do hope that cafes and restaurants further up the main don’t succumb to the intimidation of the lower St-Laurent crowd, and do invest in a street terrace, if only to help their business; the Main has such a rich history of public life and it would be a shame if that was hijacked.
    About the parking: if you can afford to drop 400$ on a less than spectacular meal and 100 000$ on a car, you can afford to take a taxi to dinner and back home again, taxi drivers deserve to make a living too, and that way you won’t be driving home drunk !

  11. I much prefer when I can walk in a straight line on the sidewalk, rather than having to navigate around terraces.
    I love having terraces in my neighborhood (St-Laurent), but I believe the right way to do it is between the pathway and the car (and possibly extending over the parking spots) – isn’t that why the city made the sidewalks larger on St-Laurent? So that pedestrians could walk and restaurants/bars could use the additional space?

  12. this discussion is a 3/10. down here in sf (same size as the pre-amalgamtion montreal), this sort of terrasse is coming in gradually and businesses are tripping over themselves to get in line to apply. given montreal’s pedestrian advantage viz other cities of the size (pre-amalgamation, since the suburbs don’t matter), this ought to have happened years and years ago. on some of these streets, the parking lanes ought no longer to exist at all – if the restaurants won’t lease the space for additional terrasse seating, then it goes back to the sidewalk. this is so elementary. but then, this is in a town where the boroughs/city zone streets like st laurent, st denis and st catherine for low rise and arterial circulation. we shouldn’t accept it, if it’s a question of money, the revenues will pop up elsewhere (um, highway/bridge tolls for these suburbans? those would also increase the value of core montreal development, which would increase the extractable development fees and amenities – ie. no brainer). it’s time to stop building our cities and neighborhoods for people who don’t live there. fuck them. really.

  13. That terrasse on Amherst is a perfect example of why they need to be built on the street.

    Amherst has a few of these sidewalk-vandalizing terrasses, and they kill pedestrian traffic for everyone on that street.

    The sidewalks on Amherst are too skinny to begin with, and those boardwalk detours make them unpleasant.

  14. Seating in the street is simply crazy and should be banned. Imagine the carnage if one of our older citizen had a stroke and dashed thru the tables with his vehicle.

    What’s the appeal to sit there and smell the fumes and be bothered by the traffic ??

    If all gave a terraces, where is the edge that a restaurant might have against his competition? Doesn’t this bring them all at case one. Good food and good vibe makes hood buisiness not the amount of chairs or tables you spill on the street.

    At the same time I’m not really surprised that projet Montreal is simply pushing forward with their anti car agenda whatever the costs may be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *