Hidden storage space becomes performance venue in the heart of the Plateau

The brand new performance space opened its doors on Aug. 31 with hopes to become a part of the bustling artists' scene which has come to define the Plateau.

The Diving Bell Social Club is a brand new multi-use space which opened Aug. 31

Austin Wrinch, right, and Evan Johnston are the co-creators of the Diving Bell Social Club on St-Laurent Blvd. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

It's easy to walk right past the Diving Bell Social Club on St-Laurent Boulevard and not even notice it. In fact, someone making a concerted effort to find it might still have trouble.

Tucked on the third floor of Champs Sports Bar just below Duluth Avenue, the brand new performance space opened its doors on Aug. 31 with the hopes of becoming a part of the bustling artists' scene which has come to define the Plateau.

The Diving Bell is the brainchild of Austin Wrinch and Evan Johnston, who is one of the co-owners of Blizzarts Bar — also located beneath the new space.

The two partnered running a private-events space in Saint-Henri, and jumped at the chance to open up a proper venue — it holds about 150 people — more centrally.

The Diving Bell is located on the third floor of the Champs Sports Bar, and shares an entrance and staircase with the other business. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

"When we stumbled across this new space​, even though it was filled with weird junk, we could kind of see the potential," said Johnston.

And there was a lot of junk.

"The first main barrier to entry was the physical amount of stuff in that space, most of which was old, broken restaurant supply equipment," said Wrinch. "We pulled out 10 U-Hauls' worth of stuff."

Now the space has been updated with a bar and a multi-purpose stage.​

"We've set it up so it's available for music performances, for theatre. We built a fly-wall on the side and we designed the backstage area so it can be used for all sorts of different things," said Wrinch.

The space used to be full of restaurant equipment and junk. Now it's been updated to host a variety of performances. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

Inside the Diving Bell, a large brass diving bell helmet sits proudly atop the bar.

It's the piece for which the space was named and its origin story is about as quirky as you'd expect.

As Johnston tells it, he noticed the piece in the window of the army surplus store on St-Laurent Boulevard.

Imagine his surprise when, sometime later, his friends throw him a surprise birthday party, and there's the diving bell. 

For Johnston, it's "a representation of friendship and community," and the spirit which he hopes will find a home at the Diving Bell Social Club.

The brass diving helmet that the space was named for sits on top of the bar. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)
The timing of the grand opening may be fortuitous or foreboding depending on interpretation.
Other Plateau performance spaces like Divan Orange, Les Bobards and Psychic City have all closed down in recent months.

But the duo of Johnston and Wrinch are undaunted.

"That's definitely been something that we've thought a lot about, 'Why are all of these places, not necessarily failing but stopping, ending?'" said Johnston. "We're trying to learn a lot from those places no longer being in existence."

He's hoping that by diversifying their programming — from comedy to film screenings and concerts — their new space will be able to keep above water.

As a not-for-profit business, they say they're more concerned with growing a community than making a buck.

"We may have gallery exhibitions throughout the day. We may just have it open for coffee. We want to have family-focused events," said Johnston.

The space's inaugural event was a Labour Day weekend bazaar with some 20 vendors, and more events are scheduled for later this month.

For now, the two are hopeful about how their fledgling space will develop over the coming months and what role they can play in the fabric of the existing culture scene.

About the Author

Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.