Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Charlevoix Quebec the BEST KEPT SECRET of the Quebecois Biker (But not any more!) PART 2

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 By Belt Drive Betty with photos by Belt Drive Betty and Ken Aiken
La Maison du Bootlegger... all the fun you can have with your boots on!

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Ken & I pulled in to the parking area of what on the outside, appears to be just a really funky looking restaurant. As I was to soon find out, the place is far, far more that you could even begin to imagine!

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Out front of La Maison du Bootlegger is a frog pond with trees that are adorned with twinkle lights surrounding it. There are chairs and a fire pit where you can relax and listen to the frogs sing. They are apparently very tiny frogs with the most incredible music that comes from them, not the typical croaking one would expect to hear. 
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After inspecting the frog pond, I was hustled up some very winding and narrow stairs to the restaurant and our table.
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Johanne, the owner and our waiter, Yannick, introduced themselves and from there on in the evening became one that I will NEVER, EVER FORGET!
The sights, the smells, the tastes, the service – WOW, what a delight!
We started off by choosing a beverage – I had an incredible punch and I just knew if I had
more than one, I would be in real trouble! We were given these interesting menus and at first I cringed at the cost of the meals, that is until I was made to understand that they included salad, main course, dessert PLUS entertainment and a tour of the Sellar “home”.
Hmm, the $51 my meal of choice was going to cost looked pretty paltry now and once I ate, took the tour and enjoyed the entertainment, well, the price seemed hugely insignificant, but I get ahead of myself.
As we sipped at our drinks and ate some gorgeous breads, Ken began telling me some of the history of the restaurant and what a story! As he spoke, I was looking around the room, not one square inch appeared to be bare of artifacts of both significance historically or of a humorous nature!
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Ken told me all about Noire Sellar, a rich, privileged and by some accounts rather spoiled young man. This Pennsylvanian came to Charlevoix to start a business. Apparently he had been challenged to start a legitimate business or be removed from his father’s will.
Charlevoix was well known in the 30’s for its fishing and hunting. Mr Sellar bought the property La Maison du Bootlegger is on in the early thirties because of its vast number of lakes and the bountiful hunting, but it had no house for guests to stay in. Mr. Sellar found a house about 20 milesaway just north east of the Murray Bay River. Built in 1860, the Jesuit influence on the Turcotte family owned home is still visible in the building today! Mr. Sellar had to hire an interpreter in order to convince the Turcotte family to sell him the house. Once Mr. Sellar owned it the arduous task of dismantling the building and numbering every piece of board began. The dismantled home had to be transported by horse to its new location. In all it would take from 1936 to 1939 for the building to be completed.
I would learn far, far more about Mr. Sellar and the building I found myself in after my meal.
Right now though I want to talk food and customer service.
Up until now, the service in every establishment I have been in has ranged from very good to amazing, but there at La Maison du Bootlegger the words customer service took on a meaning that I LOVE – it became inspiring!
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Johanne and our waiter, Yannick
From Johanne Brassard the beguiling owner who’s Cher like dress style and appearance made me think of dominatrix, wild, carefree and yet edgy; to the serving staff, the customer service in this establishment was BRILLIANT.
Unlike the reserved perfection of the Fairmont and the casual outgoing service at L’Orange, the service here was fun – impeccable but FUN!
Every waiter, the bartender, the chef and the indomitable Ms. Johanne were tapping their feet to the music, laughing and smiling with each other and the patrons….you could just feel an electricity in the air! 
And then it began, a true feast!
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I had a wonderful salad followed by the appetizers that we ordered, mine was the most incredible French Onion soup called the Drunkards Soup, made with beer. There are no words to describe the flavour of that soup – it danced on the tongue leaving behind this incredible sweet and yet tarty flavor, not unlike honey!
Ken had the dip and oh my, what a tantalizing treat that was, sweet and picante on the tongue yet, creamyand smooth on the tummy… After the appetizers, we watched our steaks being cooked in a rather unusual BBQ pit that was built into the wall, all of the meats are grilled over maple coals and hickory chips.
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Chef du Grille and Bootlegger Steaks
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It was about 20 minutes to a half hour between the soup and the main course, and that went by so quickly watching the people, talking to our tablemates and just generally absorbing the atmosphere. The trestle tables in the restaurant make for interesting conversation between those sharing them!
Ken kept alluding that after the meal I was in for a treat and you could see that he was dying to tell me about it but was struggling, as he did not want to wreck the surprise!
When the main course came I WAS IN HEAVEN – I had the Wapiti (Elk) with shrimp, Ken had the tenderloin & shrimp if I remember right (You can tell I was far more involved with MY meal than his!)
My meal was absolute, utter perfection. The elk was grilled to an exquisite medium rare, the potato and vegetables were heavenly, aromatic and equally as flavorful, and all of this was capped off with caramelized onions.
Poor Yannick, when he came to ask how the meal was I said – “Sell my clothes, I think I died and went to heaven!”, I’m not sure he understood what I meant!
My husband has an expression that he uses when he likes the food he is eating and it is so totally appropriate for the meal I ate here – IT WAS A PARTY IN MY MOUTH – a flavorful and rich experience and the best was yet to come!
After our dinner plates were taken away, we were offered three choices for dessert, double chocolate cake, an orange boiled and filled with crème de menthe and a blow job shooter. Theminute I heard about the orange, well it was so unique – I HAD TO TRY IT!
You see they boil the orange to soften it up, then inject it with the liqueur and put this funny plastic straw/coring device into the top of the orange and then drench it with more liqueur.
Yannick had this funny line he delivered about the dessert choices but for the life of me I cannot remember it – it was something like suck bang blow, the orange was suck for obvious reasons and the blow job shooter was the blow, and the double chocolate cake was….darned if I can remember.
How can I describe the taste of the juice in the orange? It was like a creamsicle with a strong hint of mint, such contrasting flavors that went together so well and left you wanting more!
We had a few minutes after dessert and coffee before the tour was to start, so I took a few minutes and went outside to have an after dinner cigarette. As I sat on one of the deck chairs by the frog pond and listened to the frogs singing their little souls out, I thought to myself, how blessed am I to be here!
(You can listen to the frogs sing by clicking here)
I went back inside to be hustled off straight away for the tour… La Maison du Bootlegger’s story is one of the times of prohibition in the US and Temperance in Quebec. In Quebec, it was up to the parish priest as to whether or not the region was dry or wet; Charlevoix was dry until 1969!
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Mr. Sellar ran essentially two businesses, one legal, that of a lodge for hunting and fishing, meant to meet the dictates of staying on the right side of his inheritance and the other all about gambling and liquor!
This was a real story about a bootlegger and a speakeasy!
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As our tour guide spun the tale of La Maison du Bootlegger ‘s history and took us through narrow passage after narrow passage; through book cases that became doors – the rich history of the era of prohibition was laid out before us.
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Mr. Sellar was married and in his wife’s bedroom, hidden in a compartment that was a carpenter’s genius at play – the bootlegger would bring the alcohol and store it in the compartment that at first glance was just part of the wall. The bootlegger always came in the middle of the night so no one knew whom he really was.


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There was a gambling room and a living room, the cook’s quarters were also part of the tour and the room we ate in had been a speakeasy back in the day! And every room filled with memorabilia from the Sellar’s and their famous patrons!
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Cook’s Bedroom

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Living Room

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Mr. Sellar
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Priscilla Presley’s family is from the Charlevoix region and so the story goes, that the cook’s son was an Elvis Impersonator who signed one of the walls in a narrow passageway in Le Club de Mont. (That was the name of La Maison du Bootlegger during the ownership of Noire Sellar).
He signed it Elvis Presley # 2. Through an invitation to come and visit Le Club de Mont, the real Elvis not only came and enjoyed the place, he autographed one of the passage walls himself (Which is kept under glass) and became a regular at the Le Club whenever he and Priscilla visited the region!
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As our tour was coming to an end, we could hear music and laughter coming from upstairs in much higher volumes than they had been earlier and when we got back to the “speakeasy” it was to the craziest sight I have ever seen!
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There were people wearing funky hats, wild multi colored wigs, playing tambourines and singing their hearts out all to the music of the best house band I have heard in a good long while!
I found myself looking at the restaurant with informed eyes and realized that there were in fact solid wooden “blinds” that can be pulled down to cover the windows. All originally designed to foil the authorities in their attempts at catching illegal booze and those who would partake, but today they are just a part of the rich history and ambiance of the building that Johanne and her mother saved from neglect!
I had a giggle or two as I headed to the restroom, you see the main load-bearing beam of the roof cuts the “speakeasy” in half and you have to climb over it via a two step stair, this brought about the first giggle – can you imagine being really drunk here and landing on your face? OUCH! The second giggle was brought about as I saw the signs on the main restroom door.
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The band was impressive – how they could play with such wonderful rhythm and enthusiasm in the tiny alcove they called a band stand is beyond me, but the proof was in the listening!
Belting out songs everyone seemed to know no matter what language one spoke, (there was a whole host of Norwegian visitors in the place that night, on top of the locals and those of us who were English speaking).
The band had everyone jumping, laughing, singing and tapping his or her toes along to the music. They sang songs in both French and English and no matter which language; they did an amazing job of keeping everyone on their feet and having fun, never taking a break the whole time!
The bartender and the serving staff made sure that everyone’s beverage of choice was topped up and looked like they were having as much fun as the patrons were! Birthdays and special occasions were announced, appropriate songs and well wished delivered all by the most enthusiastic and efficient team of employees I have seen in a long, long time.
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The entire place, not unlike its proprietress, had this barely restrained wildness about it.
And over far too soon, but we had an 8 AM start on the bikes and so with a smile on my face and a sigh in my heart, out to the parking lot we went.
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Now the Honda and I were about to tangle and the Honda would win! You see, like a dumbass, I forgot to put the bike in neutral when I parked. Now remember at the beginning of this adventure me telling you about my clumsy braced up feet along with my chunky boots and that I had had some issues with the Honda’s shifter…well, picture this:
I get on the bike, turn on the key, and realize the bike is in first. I put my foot under the shift lever… the boot got trapped, I lost my balance as a result of the struggle in attempting to dislodge my foot and the bike and I go over in this slow, slow motion flop! Thank goodness the bike wasn’t running yet! Thank goodness I wasn’t alone as there I was with a 500-pound bike on top of meand I could not get my foot dislodged! Ken and a rider from Montreal came to my rescue – I was MORTIFIED but grateful for the cover of night! But yah know, it’s one of those stories you just have to share cause after you are over your embarrassment, you do realize how utterly hilarious the whole escapade must have looked!
We finally pulled into the hotel parking lot at about 12:30; I was exhausted but again so excited! I pulled off my gear, boots and braces – man did that feel good – I poured a hot bath, and went and sat on the balcony to wait for the tub to fill.
As I looked over the Saint Lawrence, the lights from 23 KM away dancing in the water, my mind was half writing this article and half day dreaming about what amazing adventure the morning would bring. I knew that I had to have everything packed up to be transported to a different hotel for Saturday night. I knew we had at least 3-400+ Kilometers of riding ahead of us, but what would that look like? And almost as important, what type of food was I going to get to try next?!?!!!
After a wonderful soak in the Jacuzzi tub, I settled into the extremely comfy bed and drifted off to sleep.
Three and a half short hours later I was up unplugging video cameras, clearing chips, answering emails, packing and repacking…I was told we needed to be on the bikes by 8 am. I was ready to go, and had even had breakfast by the time Ken came to collect me.
You’ll have to wait until next time to see what adventure Ken and the Charlevoix tourism team had in store for me next!

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