Opened in 1996 and Licensed to Play by SOCAN from day one, bar and club Le Verre Bouteille, which can comfortably host about 80 people, has established itself as an institution for local music creators. For two decades, songwriters have headed to 2112 Mount-Royal East, assuraed that they’ll find a friendly place they can call home.
Originally opened in 1942 as Buffet de Lorimier, a restaurant, by Nathalie and Sylvie Rouleau’s grandfather, the sisters gave new life to the Plateau Mont-Royal establishment by re-christening it 20 years ago. Well-established musicians, like Daniel Boucher, Éric Goulet, Luc de Larochelière, Michel Rivard, Mountain Daisies, Damien Robitaille, Marc Déry and Vincent Vallières all saw in Verre Bouteille’s mission a kind of laboratory where one can explore, and try new songs, before an audience, while provoking unique and stimulating encounters.
“It’s all about understanding the artist’s reality,” said Nathalie Rouleau during the launch of the 20th anniversary program on Oct. 12, 2016. She was referring to the main reason that led Verre Bouteille to become licensed by SOCAN from its very beginnings. “We wanted to contribute. We never thought that the adventure would last so long, though!”
The owner’s best memories? “Monday nights with Luc de Larochelière in 2001,” she says, without skipping a beat. “He invited so many Québec artists, the likes of Roch Voisine, Laurence Jalbert and even the late, great Claude Léveillée. That was a huge hit. There’s also the Abbey Road nights that happen once or twice a year where The Ringos (Éric Goulet) and their friends play the entire Beatles classic album.”
“By being Licensed to Play by SOCAN, we wanted everything to be on the up-and-up. We want all the parts of the songwriting machine to work seamlessly.” – René Flageole, Verre Bouteille programmer.
René Flageole, himself a musician, started as a waiter before rapidly becoming Verre Bouteille’s programmer. “We’re 100% on the artists’ side,” he says, explaining the venue’s allegiance to SOCAN. “Yes, we manage a venue, but I’m very sensitive to the artists’ reality, so being a musician myself, I’m a bit between a rock and a hard place. We wanted to be Licensed to Play by SOCAN so that everything was on the up-and-up. We want all the parts of the songwriting machine to work seamlessly.”
The licence fees paid to SOCAN ensure a fairer split of copyrights, especially since covers are a common occurrence at Verre Bouteille. Arianne Ouellet and her colleague Carl Prévost, of duo Mountain Daisies, were also at the launch of the anniversary program. “In our context, we do a lot of covers,” says Ouellet. “Artists often feel like singing stuff other than their own material. They treat themselves by singing these covers, so it makes total sense that the rights holders [to the cover songs] are paid accordingly.”
Does she have a standout memory at Verre Bouteille? “We hosted a night dedicated to Michel Rivard (see main image), a regular at our Open Country nights,” says Ouellet. “He had a blast playing what he called his teachers’ music – Dylan, Neil Young, etc. – and followed up by playing country versions of his own songs. As a finale, we played our very own version of “Un trou dans les nuages” (“A Hole in the Clouds”). That version has stuck, since we now play it in the Sept Jours en mai show.”
“The stage is perfect; not too big, not too small,” says Carl Prévost. “To me, Verre Bouteille isn’t a bar, it’s a small venue. We’re on stage and in the crowd at the same time. People buy fewer records, so it’s important to us to play in venue that’s licensed by SOCAN, like Verre Bouteille is.”
When asked what Verre Bouteille means to him, Daniel Boucher doesn’t hesitate: “I can’t tell you everything (laughs). I’ve been coming here for 20 years. I played many shows here before Dix mille matins came out in 1999. We jammed with a lot of people, it quickly became the ‘Chanson Française’ spot in Montréal. It’s a place where you can try out songs. And with SOCAN, Verre Bouteille leads the way. There are more and more establishments that are Licensed to Play by SOCAN, but there are still too few, especially with the direction the music business is taking. If it’s no longer worth buying a record, we need to find alternatives. The world is evolving, technology is giving us access to everything, but it’s just as bad as it is good. While we wait to sit down with the Videotrons (Internet service providers) of the world, we still need to put food on the table.”
And drinks; Verre Bouteille has an enviable selection of Québec-brewed beers, the ideal companions to the newly-announced anniversary program, chock-full of surprises and exclusives. Pascale Picard will kick off the celebrations on Oct. 24 and 25, 2016, and mainstays such as Yann Perreau, Damien Robitaille, Daniel Boucher, Antoine Gratton, Jordan Officer and Marie-Pierre Arthur will also be featured. For the full program, visit verrebouteille.com.