TOPS' new album I Feel Alive is one of the year's most transportive listens. The Montreal dream-pop band makes vivid, groove-based, inviting songs that take the best of 70s soft rock and wrap it in a psychedelic gauze. It's the kind of album that's the perfect soundtrack for a sunny outdoor stroll; in our current situation, it's a potent dose of pop escapism to daydream away the self-isolation blues.
Like everyone releasing music this season, the band has had a pretty turbulent album cycle so far. They were playing shows in Germany as it became apparent touring was no longer a viable or safe option amid the spread of COVID-19, and they had to immediately book flights back home to Montreal. Though TOPS would much rather be on the road supporting themselves than stuck in their apartments watching movies, making curated playlists for publications, and doing press, they generously agreed to talk about one of their favorite restaurants for this edition of I Know A Place, where artists talk about their favorite bars, restaurants, and local businesses.
Read on to hear lead singer Jane Penny and guitarist David Carriere dish on their favorite neighborhood diner, Vincent Sous-Marins.
VICE: Tell me about Vincent Sous-Marins.
Jane Penny: It's a diner that's very close to Arbutus Records' headquarters and it's so close to David's apartment, which is where we are right now. It's not exceptional as far as diners go, especially Quebecois diners. The food is fine. It has a nice old-school atmosphere.
David Carriere: It has old school prices.
Penny: Because it's not very popular, you can really spend a lot of time there if you want. One thing about Quebec diner culture is that it has very specific [dishes]. Everyone knows the area for poutine, which Vincent Sous-Marins has. They also have pogos, which are corn dogs, as well as steamies and toasties, which are two other kinds of hot dogs. One version, the steamie, is the cheapest thing you can buy, food-wise. They heat the bun in a steam tray...
Carriere: Like White Castle.
Penny: Exactly. The buns are soft and hot and then they put a boiled hot dog in there. It's a very quick delivery. You can get cabbage, or choux, which is this white-vinegar-based cabbage, and some onions as well as mustard. Then, for between 20 and 60 cents extra, you can get a toastie, which is when the bun and the hot dogs are toasted on the grill. With steamies, you can eat them in two minutes. They feel like they're made for a hot dog-eating competition: they're so soft and warm and there's no friction when you eat them.
What do you typically order?
Penny: I really like breakfast there. They don't serve breakfast after 11 so you have to go early.
Carriere: Eleven is not that early, but the breakfast special is only $4.50.
Penny: I wish you could get breakfast all day. If I'm not there early, I get a submarine sandwich, a sous-marins [the French word for "submarine"].
Carriere: You can get "Le Champion Olympique," which has a bunch of meat on it, like steak and pepperoni, or "Le Bouffon," and "Le Matador," which have steak.
Penny: I really like getting "Le Végétarien" because of all the crazy toppings they put on it. There's so much on there I don't even notice that there's no meat on it. It's served open-faced on this big hoagie roll kind of thing. It's almost impossible to close it, so you sometimes have to eat it with a fork and knife.
Carriere: My meal there I call the "Triple P": a Pepsi, a poutine, and a pogo, which are those corn dogs.
It sounds like you both are true regulars.
Penny: When it's open and we're in Montreal, we go maybe four or five times a week.
Carriere: For me, it's a place to go when I'm taking a break from working on music.
Penny: They bring your food right away. You don't have to wait for anything.
Carriere: I have a scheduled meeting there once a month because my landlord is the delivery driver for the restaurant. I pay my rent in cash. He writes me a receipt and he gets my name wrong.
When we asked what spot you would pick for this interview, it seems like there wasn't any hesitation it'd be Vincent Sous-Marins.
Penny: It's such an essential part of our lives. I don't go to other restaurants.
Carriere: I moved to Montreal 10 years ago, and as more and more people are moving here and it's getting more gentrified, these places as I've been moving further and further north in the city are closing. This place, from my view, reminds me of when I first moved here. I hope it opens up again soon after all this is over.