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Ice House

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Tiny, trendy Tex-Mex eatery Ice House is a mixed bag for me. I really dig the basic aesthetic of the place: floor to ceiling wood like you're in a cozy old piano box, roll-up garage door, squat wooden tables and chairs, blackboard menu (standard for the Plateau these days), CCR-esque tunes, and a few tastefully kitschy Americana signs and bits of decor. And in my experience the staff has always been friendly and efficient. Still, the atmosphere is lacking.

I guess it's mostly the clientele that breaks the mood for me. Walking by, it always looks like the late 20s set that regards themselves as pointedly trendy, and frankly, they all just look a little bit mean. Ice House is the sort of place where you want to see a few basically-kindly but dirty and depressing old men lurking around (maybe in cowboy hats, but probably a bit much). It's also the kind of place you'd want to pop in, park at the cramped wooden bar, and knock back a couple of weak lagers (or a pitcher of the Bourbon Lemonade, which is really quite good), but their restaurant license prevents drinking without eating.

That being said, the food is good. I particularly like the biscuits, and the bucket-o-fried chicken they dump directly onto the table. But you're definitely not getting as much as your paying for. Unless you're intending to pay for the contrived trendiness, in which case you're getting it to a T.

I guess therein lies the rub (and I guess there I've fallen into the same mental trap as all of the other little Plateau urbanites...); if you set out to make a "super cool and unique" Texan-themed hole-in-the-wall with a restaurant license in a neighborhood like the Plateau, and you crank the prices (and which restaurant owner wouldn't crank the prices if they could get away with it and still have lines out the door every weekend?), you are going to get the sort of Montrealers who can and will pay for a super cool and unique little dining experience. (And I'm not totally excluding myself from this category.) Not the sort of folk (and/or caraciatures...) I see in my over-romanticizing mind's eye of what I would want out of a southwestern roadside bar. (Duh.)

So I guess how you feel about Ice House will depend on your atmospheric priorities of the night: decor or patrons? (And your monetary priorities; tasty Tex-Mex or scrimping for something else?)

To get (at least a bit) more legit, try nearby bars Bifteck and Barfly. They ain't cute (and at night there are a lot of students in the former), but you don't have to buy a sit down meal with your beer.

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