Le 9e: A 93–year–old Art Deco Haunt Reopens Its Doors


The elevator button for the ninth floor of the Centre Eaton de Montreal is now aglow with the revival of Le 9e, an institution known as “le neuvième.”

Nearly a quarter–century after closing its doors, Le 9e, a venue designed by renowned French architect Jacques Carlu and inspired by the transatlantic ocean liner SS Île de France, has reopened in its full, 1930s–era glory.

On the ground floor, a calling card in the form of a café by Melk coffee roasters will soon signal the way up. When the elevator doors open, a long corridor leads you across terrazzo floors to Le French Line cocktail bar, tended by Andrew Whibley (Cloakroom Bar), and restaurant Île de France, led by Derek Dammann (Maison Publique, McKiernan) and Liam Hopkins (Bistro La Franquette).

May 17, 2024
The grand hallway leading to the elevators at Le 9e in the Centre Eaton de Montréal
   Photo: Ivanhoé Cambridge

Along the arcade hall, glints of the department store’s heyday are in abundance. Ensconced in marble from Belgium and the Pyrenees, round and square display cases once used to showcase the latest fashions offer a window into the mind of Lady Flora Eaton, the family matriarch and visionary force behind Le 9e’s opening on January 26, 1931. It was Eaton who enlisted Carlu, designer of the Trocadéro and the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, to fulfill her dream of a paquebot–inspired space where clientele could indulge in chicken pot pie or roast beef while regaining their appetites for more retail therapy.

In the walls behind the display windows, team members from property owner Ivanhoé Cambridge and EVOQ Architecture — the principal architecture firm behind the 20–year restoration of the heritage site — uncovered old recipes, Polaroids of plated dishes and glass liquor bottles. Art deco artifacts like these now appear as window–case exhibitions curated by the McCord Stewart Museum. Tucked among them, old phone booths remind us of life before smartphones.

An intricate multicoloured zigzag of wooden planks decorate the floor of Le 9e at the Centre Eaton de Montreal
   Photo: Ivanhoé Cambridge
A grand piano sits tucked in a corner of Le 9e in the Centre Eaton de Montreal
A restored artwork depicting women with deer and cherubs hangs just believe the ceiling of Le 9e in the Centre Eaton de Montreal
   Photos: Teresa Ste–Marie Photography

These finds were also gold for the restaurant team, backed by investor and philanthropist Jeffrey Baikowitz and operations director Marco Gucciardi. The team poured over long–lost order forms and menus found in storage and on eBay to develop the culinary program. “We’re trying to observe the original format of the Eaton’s menu, along with menus on transatlantic ocean liners, then take a more contemporary approach to the food, with nods to Montreal and a focus on accessibility,” says Hopkins.

Some gastronomic relics are unlikely to reappear on the menu, like the ham–wrapped banana with peanut butter or the 1950s–era diet plate for women that consisted of “tasteless raw vegetables and cottage cheese” served on a leaf of iceberg lettuce, recalls Dammann. When the restaurant first opened, menus featured an hors d’oeuvres section focused on proteins and garnishes, and a selection of vegetables and sides, allowing guests to assemble their own dishes.

With decades of references to draw from, the chefs ultimately honed in on restaurant classics. “Of course, the food is going to be good and the place is beautiful, but at the end of the day, it’s about what people feel when they come here,” says Dammann. “We want to recreate the theatrical and romantic experience of the ninth floor.” Part of the theatrical revival will eventually include a martini and dessert cart service, with sweets supplied by pastry chef Bertrand Bazin alongside jello, ice cream and butterscotch pudding. On the martini carts: “A handful of flavours, tinctures and bitters so we can build them at the table,” says Whibley.

With nearly every seat offering a view of the downtown skyline, romance is easy to come by. The best view in the house? It could be any stool in Le French Line cocktail bar, which overlooks the Philips Square from its prime corner space. But a comparable view from the pink terrazzo–tiled ladies’ room, complete with two makeup retouching stations, offers the casual glamour of a secret between friends.

A black and white photo of the original dining room of Le 9e in the Centre Eaton de Montreal
A black and white photo of the original Le 9e in the Centre Eaton de Montreal
   Photos: Ivanhoé Cambridge

The dining room seats themselves, made by Saint–Laurent–based furniture maker Pavar, are something to behold. With only grainy black and white photos to base them on, it took four to five prototypes and countless alterations to replicate the restaurant's original two–tone black and ivory streamline moderne dining chairs, similar in heft and style to tub chairs, named and made to feel like you’re reclining at the rounded end of a slipper bathtub. “You can picture someone smoking a cigar on it quite comfortably,” says Michael Di Paolo, Pavar’s president.

Gold and silver private event rooms were painstakingly restored to their former glory by DL Heritage, specialists in the conservation, repair and maintenance of heritage architecture. In each room, 1,800 individual sheets of aluminum leaf adorn the ceilings — the result of around 10 hours of continuous arms–up work shared between a few trained artisans. “It’s a very delicate process that requires a lot of experience to master,” says DL Heritage president Laurence Gagné. “Just breathing next to the sheet can blow it away.”

Light reflecting off of the walls in the lounge of Le 9e at the Centre Eaton de Montreal
   Photo: Ivanhoé Cambridge
The fully restored Grand Hall in Le 9e at the Centre Eaton de Montreal
   Photo: Ivanhoé Cambridge

Restoration of the Grand Hall, soon to play host to Candlelight Concerts and other events curated by Just for Laughs co–founder Andy Nulman (along with Madeleine Kojakian and the 7 Doigts creative collective), was comparably daunting. At either end of the 10,000–square–foot room, 19–foot–tall murals by artist Natacha Carlu, the architect’s wife, had to be cleaned from top to bottom after accumulating nearly a century’s buildup of grease and cigarette soot. Called Dans un parc and Amazones, the murals depict elegant women in an idyllic natural setting and a hunt scene and still bear the artist’s signature. See if you can spot the gazelle with a hidden nail for an eye.

The promise of many returns to Le 9e lies in details like these. Here are a few more for your bingo card: four white alabaster urns, 14 moulage en stuc bas–reliefs sculpted by Denis Gélin, and a ceramic squirrel by Charles Lemanceau — procured by Baikowitz to replace the artist’s once–photographed but never–again–seen peacock sculpture. It’s one of very few departures from the way things once were in this legendary landmark. We’ll gleefully allow it: The squirrel is more Montreal, anyway.