The Gibeau Orange Julep is a building modeled to resemble a building sized orange, and it does. It is as much a Montreal landmark as anything I can think of…maybe more, just for its sheer recognize-ability. If you were drugged and put on an airplane and woke up when the plane was beginning its descent and looked out the window and saw a giant orange amidst the landscape, you could be sure to bet your bottom dollar you were about to arrive in Montreal. The Big Apple wishes it had such a colorful identifier.
I digress. So much more than highly visible, the Orange Julep is a standstill snapshot of Montreal‘s glory days, named for the glorious drink that made it famous. One can drink an orange julep at the Orange Julep, and one should. To do so is as Montreal as eating a smoked meat on the Main or a bagel on St Viateur.
No simple local fast food location, it is a tradition that for me began in the 70‘s. Back then the Julep was only open in the summer, and cars would pull in off the Decarie expressway day and night. The family station wagon driven by my parents felt as worthy as the Corvette Stingrays and the other hot wheels that would pull in. No matter your ride, a waitress on roller skates would come and take the order: hot dogs, burgers, fries, and of course Orange Juleps all around. She would roll away only to skate back with a tray of food that latched on to the window. The seagulls would swarm and Dave Van Horne would call the Expos game on the radio and all was right with the world.
Fast forward 30 years. The Julep is as big and orange as ever, though some things have changed along the way. The namesake beverage is of course still on tap (though bottled water is now an alternative), but you have to get out of your car and order at the counter (there was a failed but honorable roller-blading waitress stint in the 90‘s). The menu has grown to include gyro, club sandwiches, veggie dogs and burgers, one of the best poutines you can find in the city, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, grilled chicken sandwiches, sausage sandwiches, smoked meat and even salad (to eat which is as near to blasphemy at the Julep as arriving by public transit. You‘ve got to park and you‘ve got to consume calories!). If you are there before 11 AM breakfast is offered, and fret not if a craving hits in the dead of winter…the Julep is open year round. At one point, they even delivered, though that service is now predictably defunct. If you aren‘t actually AT the Julep, it defeats the purpose. Case in point: orange juleps are available bottled at grocery stores, and at Kojax counters around the city, and I‘ve tried both. It just isn‘t the same. It doesn‘t taste right. At best, it‘s Julep-ish, even if it‘s the exact same recipe as at home base. It doesn‘t cut it.
The hot dogs are toasted treats, the fries are killer and to be at the Julep is a nostalgic and 100% Montreal experience. The atmosphere is one thing, but be not led astray: it‘s all about the drink. The sumptuous orange liquid seems to magically flow from the top of the giant orange down to the cup in a massive clear plastic tube as if one of Willy Wonka‘s own brainchildren. It is sweet, creamy and refreshing and is the one of a kind taste of a Montreal summer. Some say the drink is made with more sugar than your average chocolate milkshake. Some say it is made with a less than appetizing blend of milk and eggs. I say when something tastes so orangey delicious, why ask questions? Just gulp it back as it was meant to be. A small is a joke and a medium is a tease. You have to go large and make the visit worthwhile.
The menu, hours of operation and prices have changed, but most of the rest remains the same. The cars still pull in and park in an arc facing the giant orange and people line up for a satiating sip despite desperate dive-bombing seagulls. It‘s the past in the present. In an era where Park Avenue is rename-able, and Montreal Expos are better known as Washington Nationals, the Gibeau Orange Julep remains sacred ground. There is nothing better to toast the best of Montreal with than vintage Montreal‘s best vintage. Remember, large.
97% (1 mark lost for gulls, 1 mark lost for inflation, 1 mark lost for lost car service)