Sommelier Ryan Gray has truly solidified his place in the pantheon of Montreal’s top gastronomes. Following stints at two of the city’s most legendary hotspots, Joe Beef and Liverpool House, Ryan partnered up with Lisa McConnell and Chef Emma Cardarelli to open the critically acclaimed Italian restaurant, Nora Gray. When we asked him to share some of his favorite tracks from Nora Gray’s playlists, we should have anticipated that Ryan curates music like he curates his natural wine lists, which is to say the choices are wildly fun, unexpected and real gems. Ryan also included the story behind each pick, and unfortunately space won’t allow us to include everything, but here are a few of our favorites:
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott Heron
I started working at Joe Beef in the spring of 2006. Back then it was just a 28-seat neighbourhood restaurant in the ghetto. Dave McMillan used to make all the playlists. This song was track one of a playlist called, “Spring Beef.” I thought it was so cool. I’d never heard of Gil Scott Heron before. Dave told me all about him, and explained why “kill Whitey” music was the best. I loved the tone that this song set for the night. In the six years I’ve been making playlists at Nora, I’ve never made one that doesn’t include a Gil Scott Heron song.
“Baby” by Donnie & Joe Emerson
No. 2 in the “Listen to your Busboys” series. This was from Ben, aka, “Brain-trauma Ben,” after he suffered a concussion when he crashed his bike outside of Nora one night. Ben is now the frontman of an indie group called, No Aloha.
This is a staff favourite. It’s one of the only songs the staff actually asks to hear MORE OFTEN.
“Jump into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson
This is one of those songs I learned about through the backdoor. We used to play the LCD Soundsystem cover, but when James Murphy started coming to hang and drink natural wine with us we immediately 86’d the LCD tracks. This is such a great song, especially during the rush. Thematically it works very well.
“Express Yourself” by N.W.A
When I was the manager/barman/oyster shucker/wine director at Liverpool House, I hired this skinny kid from out west named Chris Morgan as my barback. He rolled his own cigarettes and dressed like a Prohibition-era chimney sweep. He had ZERO F.O.H. experience, but I liked his vibe and I was desperate for help. Late at night, after Dave McMillan’s playlists mercifully ended, we used to put on our own music and party ‘til the wee hours with whoever was left at the bar. “Express Yourself” was Chris Morgan’s favourite song. We played it every night. He’s now the manager/barman/oyster shucker at Liverpool House and recently waited on President Obama.
“It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube
Montreal is a hockey-mad city. In the fall 2009 after a big offseason team shake-up, several key members of the new-look Montreal Canadiens discovered Liverpool House. I was holding court there back then, and was more than happy to keep the kitchen open late to accommodate the ravenous players after every game. Weekly, the party would inevitably move from the dining room to the bar. Scott Gomez, aka, “D.J. No-Fade,” would take over the iPod and things would often get crazy. Current NHL stars like Carey Price and P.K. Subban would look on as the veterans swapped war stories and drank their weight in Czech beer and white Burgundy. Hal Gill was the leader in the dressing room, and the ringleader of the de-facto team bonding that transpired at my bar, often ‘til sunrise. Hal may never be confused with Bobby Orr, but is what hockey players call, “a beauty.” That year the team wasn’t the best, but it was most certainly the tightest, and they almost went all the way.
Hal and I became, and remain, good friends. This was his favourite song. It still makes my partner Emma shutter when I play it at Nora Gray as visions of grown white men dancing on the bar, rapping along to Ice Cube, flash through her mind.
“Super Rich Kids (Feat. Earl Sweatshirt)” by Frank Ocean
I’m not super rich, and likely never will be considering my career choice, but this song reminds me of the early days at Nora Gray. We used to hang out really late, dance on tables and generally felt like we were doing something really important and special. We were probably just drunk and high, but it was fun.