By Ocean DeRouchie
Warm red lights spill out from the restaurant’s windows, inviting passersby inside a cozy Japanese Izakaya nestled into Notre-Dame St. West, in the heart of Old Montreal.
Marusan Comptoir Japonais is still a considerably new spot, having only opened in the spring of 2016. It offers a minimalistic design in both its atmosphere and plating, and the vibes are laid-back and comfortable, set to loungy electronic music and the smell of modern Japanese comfort food wafting through the air.
Starting in December, and in collaboration with Laced with Love, an art production company based in Montreal, Marusan began hosting weekly dining services complimented by live music and visuals. Organized between the owner, Hide Imaizumi and Didi Iglesias, the Saturday night events offer to up-and-coming djs a unique venue to play, and to patrons, a relaxing place to eat home-style cooking.
With a love for electronic music and sharing good food, Imaizumi’s story is charming, as he tells while seated in one of the short wooden booths.
“I grew up in British Columbia for about ten years,” he explains. He grew up in a small town in Victoria, and later moved to Vancouver to take a job working in Japanese food supplies. Then he had the opportunity to come to Montreal.
“I thought, ‘I wanna do my Japanese joint here,’” he says. So he quit his job and did exactly that. “I just combined the things that I love, the food, the music, and the drinks.”
On top of owning and running the place, Imaizumi cooks, serves, makes drinks, and hangs out with his customers. “Izakayas are meant to be really comforting, food that you would eat at home.”
The menu has something for everyone. By the time our appetizers come, the night’s DJ, Iridaceae, has taken up the little booth set up next to the cook’s line, and drops a funky, light beat. From delicious brie or prawn skewers, to a rich avocado salad that does the opposite of skimp on the ‘cado, the appies are the perfect treats to amp up for the mains.
Daniela Madrid takes her moniker comes from the Iris, and her music is just as vibrant as the purple flower. Iridaceae sways in the little booth on top of the bar; cooks and servers dance around her as they move through the kitchen. She is the first of many who will play at Marusan this winter as part of the initiative.
Coming from the creatively abundant Mile-End, she said that local music communities and restaurants can thrive together, even if they’re on opposite sides of the city.
“The downtown doesn’t really have that atmosphere,” she says referring to the underground, independent, and locally produced music scene the the Mile End boasts. “Bringing that here [can] build a massive community.”
She’s also a founder of Mothlight, a music collective that focuses on supporting and promoting independent electronic musicians in Montreal.
While playing at Marusan might differ from a DJs usual venues, Iridacae keeps the Izakaya’s vibe upbeat with bouncy, cheerful tunes sprinkled with technicolour disco flavours throughout the dining service. Above her, a livestream of Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing is projected, one of the world’s busiest intersections.
Along with Mollygum and Buck Murdoch, who played earlier in the month, Iridacae is followed by Honeydrip on Dec. 23, and Thomas White on Jan. 18 who collaborates with Ryan Playground.
The mixing of boroughs and music and food has already proven to be a catalyst for great things, and hopefully these local artist and businesses can can bring one and other up by working on collaborative projects.”
“It’s important to incorporate everybody…” added Iridaceae. “Community is all about connection, and since we’re so individualized in our technological world, it’s not perfect. Keeping that human connection going instead of just being in your own world is so important.”