I recently met Marc Bolay the owner/operator of L’Auberge Saint Gabriel, constructed in 1688 by a retired French soldier who operated the business when the city limits extended to what we now call Old Montreal. The restaurant has seen many vocations and owners, and today it continues to be an anchor and leader of Old Montreal commerce. Originally from Switzerland where he trained as a restaurateur, Marc Bolay is justifiably proud of his stewardship of this Montreal institution.

His route to becoming the owner was circuitous – in part because Marc, his father and brother were enjoying enormous success with Le Vieux Munich, a restaurant and show bar patterned after a German beer hall. Every night was Oktoberfest!

“My father had worked at the German Pavilion during Expo ’67, and he believed that Montreal had a great future. So in 1984, the three of us came here and after doing our research, we bought Le Vieux Munich. We had many excellent years with this club.” The family was doing so well that they bought L’Auberge Saint Gabriel in 1987. “This was before Old Montreal was popular, before the condo boom and companies moving into the area. We kept the Saint Gabriel closed for a year.

L’Auberge Saint Gabriel

L’Auberge Saint Gabriel with its trademark
thick stone walls and beamed ceilings

The family separated the real estate portion of the business from the restaurant operations and leased the restaurant to a well-known operator with previous experience in the Montreal scene. Unfortunately – the business was not successful and lasted only two years. “We owned the building, and we had to pay the debts so that we could continue to operate. Even then, we had to pay C.O.D before the delivery people would unload into our kitchens.”

“We found some Swiss investors who took on the restaurant. It’s a big place; with our various rooms for private functions and our dining rooms, we can accommodate 600 people.”

With L’Auberge Saint Gabriel taken care of, Marc was able to focus his attention on La Vieux Munich. By 1994, discotheques were in and Bavarian beer halls were out. Marc had a sense of the changing preferences and he transformed the large club to a licensed concert venue called Le Medley. Another sixteen profitable years followed while showcasing live entertainment. The immensely popular singer Garou was a regular at Le Medley, and he would eventually become a partner in L’Auberge Saint Gabriel.

Marc Bolay is the convivial owner of the historic L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel

In 2001, L’Auberge Saint Gabriel restaurant business was again for sale. “The previous owners operated it like a tourist trap. True – we have this magnificent historic building, but the food was not up to expectations. But they didn’t care, another busload of tourists would pull up and the place would be full again. But it couldn’t and didn’t last.” And so in 2001, Marc Bolay faced going back to operate Montreal’s most historic restaurant again.

“The gentleman who owned the vacant lot behind the Auberge contacted me with an excellent offer. If I came back to run the restaurant, he would build a hotel on his property and his guests would have direct access from the hotel lobby to our restaurant.” This would guarantee a solid cash flow and provide the hotel with a unique turn-key dining room. It was a classic ‘win-win’ situation. Today there is a direct entry from the lobby of the Marriott Springhill Suites on neighbouring Rue St-lean.

Marc had to replace himself at Le Medley and at the same time make improvements at the Saint Gabriel. By 2020 he was back full time the Saint Gabriel and the neighbouring Marriott was in operation. “I had produced a lot of shows with Garou at le Medley and we knew each other well. He agreed to come in as a partner, and this helped to create a ‘buzz’ about L’Auberge Saint Gabriel. “We steadily improved the quality of our food and service. With this historic building, our objective was to provide an extraordinary dining experience.”

In 2009, Marc Bolay and Garou welcomed a third partner – none other than Guy Laliberté, founder of the world renowned Cirque du Soleil. “Guy brought some really fresh ideas to the operation. He showed us how to give a more contemporary feel to our building without compromising its historic character. With stone walls that are more than three hundred years old – we didn’t need old skis and snowshoes hanging on the walls to show that we’re authentic. Guy’s influence has been terrific, from new wall hangings to a huge sculpture and unique ‘turntable’ lighting in our bar.”

L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel

Guy Laliberté’s decor influences with modern art, and
turntable lighting in the bar

“We have a great following in Montreal with business events, wedding receptions, family reunions and of course – couples out for a special night out. When people from the U.S. or Ontario walk in the door – they literally stop and stare! From our whale backbone sculpture in the foyer to the stone walls and beamed ceilings – it’s history coming alive. For them, L’Auberge Saint Gabriel is like stepping back in time. It’s a truly unique experience. I’m especially proud that during the Grand Prix, we are the focal point for the teams and their fans.”

“We have worked hard to combine an excellent gastronomic experience within our historic building. Every night there is a lot of happy and positive energy here. Our rooms are so large that social distancing is easy to achieve – although it has reduced our capacity.”

L’Auberge Saint Gabriel is located at 426 St-Gabriel, Montréal. For reservations please call: 514.878.3561, or by email: [email protected] The informative website includes the menu: www.aubergesaint-gabriel.com