Montreal is on people’s mind right now. That’s because this year Canada marks 150 years of confederation and Montreal commemorates 375 years since its founding. It’s also the 50th anniversary of Expo 67, the world’s fair that was the city’s international debut. Even though Montreal is celebrating its past, the city is moving forward. The moments are being marked by the launch of a river-to-mountain walkway; the illumination of Jacques Cartier Bridge; and a 197-foot-tall observation Ferris wheel, the tallest in Canada.
A certain joie de vivre has made this bilingual metropolis a magnet for artists, musicians (like the late hometown hero Leonard Cohen), and chefs. Creativity courses through the gastronomy that ranges from foraged foods to Haitian cuisine, the boutique hotels that mix modern aesthetics with a classic French flair, and the dozens of festivals devoted to the arts.
Right now, this culture hub of Quebec is making noise.
The Hotel St. Paul’s colourful lounge. Photo Courtesy: Design Hotel
In the Golden Square Mile, a downtown neighbourhood once dominated by the 19th-century mansions of railway and fur-trading barons, the recently refreshed Ritz-Carlton has been a site of Montreal grandeur since 1912. Savour French cuisine at the hotel’s Maison Boulud, which overlooks a duck pond, or linger over afternoon tea in the lavish Palm Court (www.ritzcarlton.com). Farther down the street stands Le Mount Stephen Hotel, a neo-Renaissance former residence. The luxury hotel, which opened in May, boasts a tower with 90 rooms and sky-loft suites, and the opulent Bar George, which specialises in contemporary takes on British cuisine (www.lemountstephen.com). In Old Montreal an imposing beaux-arts landmark is home to the design-forward Hotel St. Paul. The minimalist decor is all airy spaces, exposed stone, and furniture upholstered in silks and velvets of golds, fuchsias, and greens. But the pièce de résistance? The lounge, where guests can warm up by the giant alabaster fireplace, built of backlit blocks of “ice” (hotelstpaul.com).
by Taras Grescoe, author of Sacré Blues: An Unsentimental Journey Through Quebec
Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neill
The tween heroine of O’Neill’s debut novel somehow makes her life with a junkie parent in Montreal’s red-light district—now filled with bike lanes and popular bistros—into pure poetry.
The Favourite Game, Leonard Cohen
A young Jewish man roams 1950s Montreal in search of love. This is the singer’s Catcher in the Rye and a heartfelt evocation of the districts and cafés of the city he credited with his “neurotic affiliations.”
Black Bird, Michel Basilières
Set against the backdrop of the October Crisis, the 1970 civil unrest in Montreal, Black Bird is the bitterly funny story of a working class family that symbolises the city’s mixed cultural genes.
Make your way through underground tunnels, or savour a cold brew in a refurbished bank.
Misty morning tai chi at the Parc du Mont-Royal. Photo by: Simon Roberts
In May the archaeological Pointe-à-Callière Museum unveiled an underground network that passes through a portion of the old collector sewer, now outfitted with a light installation (pacmusee.qc.ca). Apart from hosting a travelling exhibition on 19th-century photographer, William Notma, the McCord Museum will also display unpublished images by Hungarian-Canadian photographer, Gabor Szliasi from December (www.musee-mccord.qc.ca). Leonard Cohen fans should visit the Musée d’Art Contemporain for the “A Crack in Everything” exhibition (opened 9 Nov), honouring the troubadour’s life and work (macm.org).
2 . Cafés
“Third wave” coffee bar openings in the past half-decade have elevated Montreal’s java scene to new realms. At Crew Collective, in the former Royal Bank of Canada headquarters, patrons can savour a cortado or turmeric latte under 50-foot vaulted ceilings (crewcollectivecafe.com). East End’s Café Falco offers siphon coffee and Japanese eats in industrial digs (www.cafefalco.ca). And the Lebanese-inspired Café Sfouf pours café allongé, chai latte, and golden milk, which is steamed milk infused with turmeric, black pepper, and honey (cafesfouf.com).
The crown jewel of Montreal’s public parks is without doubt Parc du Mont-Royal. Designed by the landscape architect responsible for Central Park, the almost 500-acre oasis features 22 kilometres of walking and cross-country ski trails and is home to more than 145 species of birds and nearly 20 species of mammals (www.lemontroyal.qc.ca). Parc Lafontaine has a culture focus, with an outdoor theatre and Art Neuf, a cultural centre/art school (ville.montreal.qc.ca; artneuf.net). The forested reserve of Morgan Arboretum is a popular bird-watching spot (www.morganarboretum.org).
Like most culinary cities, Montreal has plenty of great food markets (www.marchespublics-mtl.com). Marché Jean Talon, a favourite among chefs and restaurateurs, is a labyrinth of stalls in Little Italy known for its gritty, energetic thrum. Just off the Lachine Canal cycling path, in the Saint Henri area, the art deco-style Atwater Market has been a Montreal institution since 1933. And when at the Old Port’s Marché des Éclusiers, an open-air farmers market that began last year, take a shopping break for the music performances (www.marche514.com).
What’s on the menu in Montreal? Tarts, creole ceviche, and lots of wine.
An artfully arranged dish of mackerel and foraged vegetables at Toqué. Photo by: Hans Laurendeau/shootstudio.ca
Chef René Redzepi, of Noma fame, became known around the world for his use of foraged foods, but Chef Normand Laprise was using foraged ingredients such as mushrooms and wild berries at Toqué a decade earlier (www.restaurant-toque.com). Menu items at Manitoba, in the hipster Mile End neighbourhood, are created using foraged fare such as cedar, rose hip, balsam fir, green alder, and white pine. The restaurant’s duck entrée seems as if it’s just a few steps away from a garden in bloom, thanks to the flowering accompaniments of trout lily, daylily, and lavender (restaurantmanitoba.com).
With the largest Haitian community in Canada, Montreal abounds in creole restaurants. Yet apart from Chez Thony in immigrant-heavy Côte des Neiges in the centre of the city, most are under-the-radar snack bars. All this changed last year with the opening of Agrikol in the Gay Village. The whimsically decorated restaurant serves creole classics like conch ceviche, maïs moulu (polenta), and accras (malanga-root fritters known as “Haitian beignets”) with pikliz (a spicy slaw), amid bottles of Barbancourt rum and the seductive rhythms of kompa music (agrikol.ca).
Wine bars are not a novelty in Montreal, but they’re really having a moment. Pullman, which is considered one of the best wine bars in the city, impresses not only with its extensive wine list but also with its chandelier made of wine glasses (pullman-mtl.com). At Le Vin Papillon patrons can nibble on vegetarian-friendly bites and order from the wide selection of organic and natural Old World wines created by small producers (vinpapillon.com). Ambitious newbie M.Mme offers an array of more than 650 wines, many of them visible through a giant, glassed-in wine cellar (www.mmme.ca).
Thanks to enterprising artisanal chefs, the city is enjoying a long-awaited pastry renaissance. At Patrice Pâtissier near Atwater Market, customers swoon over the kouign-amann, a sugary Breton marriage of cake and croissant (www.patricepatissier.ca). In the Plateau neighbourhood, Pâtisserie Rhubarbe is famous for its seasonal rhubarb tart (patisserierhubarbe.com). Master pastry chef Christian Faure’s four-story boutique and cooking school, Maison Christian Faure, in Old Montreal, serves up classics like Paris-Brest éclairs, swirled chocolate croissants, and millefeuilles (maisonchristianfaure.ca).
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