Apérochic is a Cinq à Sept (5-7pm) post-business hours meetup geared towards (aspiring) French speaking twenty-to-thirtysomethings. Location and dress code are chi-chi, attendees are warm professionals, and the atmosphere may just throw me into a bout of nostalgia as it exuded French Canadian charm.
I arrived at the venue in wonder: a somewhat seedy back street that abuts the most modern piazza in Toronto gave delightful frissons of being IN yet behind the scenes. But my heels went from a whimper to a Dang when it was revealed that the Apérochic gathering was taking place on the 3rd floor of the Jazz Bistro!
Happily, the 2nd floor was picturesque: I had time to take in the décor as I rested my pauvres pa-pattes. It was tastefully decorated; I could clearly see the red and black colour theme and the few bohemian touches since there wasn’t a soul there beyond the bar staff. It reminded me poignantly of another bar I not so wisely wandered into once upon a rainy night…
I opened the door out of pure curiosity. The windows were heavily draped and revealed nothing of the interior. Within, I found a cozy, bohemian, and utterly empty downtown Montréal bar… empty save for the charming barman and his sidekick. I could have left, could have walked right back out the way I came. But something stronger than his European French greeting drew me in. And so we got to talking, this charming barman and I. And so I was late for my date that night. And so I started seeing the barman…
He was the sort of person to have meaningful conversations with complete strangers. His bar got as packed as Apérochic by dint of his conversational skills. I enjoyed partnering him in lassoing customers into sparkling discussions, witty repartée, and multilingual antics. I never had a problem sharing him… until I realized he only spent time with me at night, at the bar. No one-on-ones over coffee in the light of day, only quality time among the multitudes, and sometimes – later – alone. I hear a sultry alto crooning the Jazz version of “Fever”: mais oui, I had that fever bad for the charming barman. But like all meetings, all too soon it was over.
Arriving on the third floor in present day Toronto, I breathed in another atmosphere altogether: Jazz music floated up from the live band, and the energy was captivating. People were fashionably late, milling about between groups, and at the far end of the room there was a huge outdoor patio. That’s where the party was at. A blazer-to-blazer press of bilinguals, air dense with sparkles coming off the cocktail of the night, and—do I dare admit?—sweet tendrils of tobacco meandering intermittently through the pure air outside. It was in the very epicentre of Toronto that I found true ‘Eau de Montréal’.
I stepped onto the patio as one steps into a favourite pair of well-worn boots. Most of the guests were smiling, open, and willing to chat in any brand of French you like. Some few people stood stiff and straight as storks in the English manner, but elsewhere, the crowd moved like a mass of electrified eels. People parted, flowed, gathered, met; and saying hi to an utter stranger wasn’t considered an affront! What a mecca for those starved for a touch of francophone culture and all it has to offer.
Not that everyone there was a perfect francophone. I confess there were some men and women with a sincere wish to learn French… from a Sleeping Dictionary. But overall the mélange of European and Québecois accents—with a few English words thrown in for good measure—was heartening. Proof positive that in a puny pocket of the GTA, bilingualism lives.
In summary: Apérochic was lovely for this lover of language. A ‘to do’ for the chi-chi professional looking for bilingual contacts, or for the more laid back francophone looking to find a place that feels like home.