Brownstein: Old Momesso's site will house an unlikely, folksy new tenant

What was once among the most frenetic spots in Montreal will shift into mellow mode March 1.

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The old Momesso’s site on Upper Lachine Rd. won’t stay empty long, but few could have anticipated that the sub-sandwich palace would soon become the new home of the folk club Café Mariposa.

Momesso’s closed five days prematurely, on Jan. 22, largely because 68-year-old boss Paolo Momesso was exhausted and overwhelmed by lineups after announcing he was closing shop and retiring.

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There will be a different vibe, to be sure. What was once among the most frenetic spots in town, with patrons lined up to chow down on Momesso’s famed carnivorous fare, will shift into mellow mode March 1.

The sustenance to be dished out by Mariposa owner/chef Victor Labelle will include items that would never have got past a doorman at Momesso’s: grilled tofu salads and veggie burgers.

Smells of sizzling pepperoni could soon be replaced by patchouli oil.

The decor will be altogether different as well: tie-dye drapes and posters, paintings and photos of rock stars from the wild-and-crazy ‘60s era, plus Labelle’s own vintage guitars lining the walls.

And in lieu of the World Cup soccer and hockey fare on the Momesso’s tube, Mariposa will be dishing out another kind of entertainment for its regulars. As it has done since opening 14 years ago on Côte-St-Luc Rd. near Décarie Blvd., Mariposa will serve up laid-back folk music along with smatterings of blues, bluegrass, pop-rock and jazz, five nights a week. And can’t forget Mariposa’s weekly book club encounters — another new twist from the old site.

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Vive la différence!

A guitar hangs between a painting of Cafe Mariposa and a painting of owner Victor Labelle
Victor Labelle’s own vintage guitars will line the walls alongside other art making the move from Café Mariposa’s old location. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Labelle may be enmeshed in the style and culture of a bygone era, but he relishes the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience in a larger space in an equally accessible location.

Like Paolo Momesso — a friend of his — Labelle is pretty much a one-man show. He has some staff and will soon need more, but he does almost everything, from cooking to booking. And at 72, he has the energy of someone half his age, which will come in handy when he takes over his new digs.

“With our lease up, I had spent the last year looking for a new home, but it was really difficult looking for the right, affordable spot,” Labelle says at the club’s Côte-St-Luc Rd. location.

“It was also difficult here, because I was stuck in a residential zone, and I had to deal with a noise factor with my upstairs apartment-building neighbours, who I had to respect. They had been here longer than me. We used to do our music from 8 to 11, then from 7 to 10. Now we’re doing 6:30 to 9, and we had to go from doing five days to only a couple of days a week. It was becoming too much.”

In his new space, Labelle will again be able to have music during the original hours, five days a week, Tuesdays to Saturdays. Sundays will be devoted to his book club and private events.  

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Better still, the new location will have the capacity to hold 85 customers — up from the current 38 — and Labelle will be able to cook in a more accommodating commercial kitchen. Plus, he is hopeful about acquiring a liquor licence for the first time, always a revenue booster.

“But the whole Mariposa concept will remain the same, with the same bohemian touch, although everyone keeps asking me if I’m going to make subs now.”

So, is he?

“Not subs per se, but maybe later something to serve as a tribute to Paolo.”

Wild guess: It won’t be tofu.

“Momesso’s was great. I used to go there often when I was younger,” Labelle says. “I may get some of the old Momesso clientele, who will be more than welcome, but I’m not expecting to get a lot of them. But the fact is that much of my current clientele doesn’t live near our current location, and many live closer to the new place. They loved the intimacy of this location, and I will strive to maintain that at the new place.”

It’s really all about the music at Mariposa. Since opening, the club has been a mainstay for up-and-coming as well as established folkies and rockers — like Danny (Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues) O’Keefe, J.B. and the Playboys and The Haunted — from in town and beyond. It has also provided a showcase for Labelle’s own ‘60s-driven band, Posa Blue.

The name is a tribute to Ontario’s famed Mariposa Folk Festival.

“I went to the festival in 1970, saw James Taylor and Joni Mitchell and haven’t been the same since,” Labelle quips.

Prior to starting his folk café, Labelle owned and operated the Tartan Pub in Deux-Montagnes for 10 years. And before that, he did time as a bartender at numerous spots downtown.

Oh yeah, and Labelle will be bringing a few items from his current wall that will be right at home in the old Momesso’s: autographed photos of Habs players Juraj Slafkovsky and Brendan Gallagher, and of former coach/player Bob Gainey, a Mariposa regular when in town.

“Now I’ll have to get a signed photo of former Hab and Paolo’s bro Sergio Momesso to make the move complete,” Labelle cracks.


Café Mariposa is at 5434 Côte-St-Luc Rd. (514-699-5951) until Feb. 29. The new location, as of March 1, is 5562 Upper Lachine Rd.

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