When spending a long weekend in Canada's most European city, Montréal, there's no shortage of cultural to-dos. Out editors Dennis Hinzmann and Jesse Steinbach play Canadian tour guides for your 72 hours in The City of Saints.
Start your Montréal adventure with dinner at one of the coolest restaurants in town — Montréal Plaza (MontrealPlaza.com). Chef Charles-Antoine Crête and partner Cheryl Johnson serve adventurous sharing plates in a spacious dining room adorned with old clocks, unrefined woodwork, and flower bouquets. The offbeat-but-homey ambiance complements the whimsical dishes, like cubed salmon tartar with puffed rice and nori, and a tangy smoked mackerel cream.
Think of today as your culinary tour of Montréal. After last night’s complex cuisine, keep your morning eats simple and classic.
The hipster hood of Mile End boasts strong, freshly brewed espresso at Café Olimpico (CafeOlimpico.com), conveniently located across the street from St-Viateur (StViateurBagel.com), Montréal’s 24-hour bagel institution. For all you bacon-egg-and-cheese eaters accustomed to the boiled New York bagel, prepare yourselves for a different kind of doughy treat: St-Viateur’s bread rings are half-boiled in honey water and then oven-baked to perfection (see page 85). Opt for the classic sesame or try the savory thyme — both are so delicious you won’t even need cream cheese.
Walk off those carbs with a leisurely stroll through Little Italy toward Marché Jean-Talon (MarchesPublics-mtl.com). The open-air market is a daily destination for locals buying garden-fresh vegetables and pantry staples. Most stands have small sample plates; make sure to try the greenhouse-grown tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt. Toward the back of Jean-Talon you’ll find Atkins et Frères (AtkinsEtFreres.com), a small fish counter selling maple-smoked salmon, an addictive snack that hits all the right high notes like ’90s Mariah.
Venture across town to boulevard St-Laurent near the famous Schwartz’s (SchwartzsDeli.com) — Montréal’s equivalent of New York’s Katz’s Delicatessen. After sampling some of the city’s signature smoked meat, wander the street in search of secondhand threads at Citizen Vintage (CitizenVintage.com), Annex Vintage (AnnexVintage.com), and CUL-DE-SAC (CulDeSacMontreal.blogspot.com), located just blocks from each other and all reasonably priced (you’re not in Brooklyn anymore!). You can score an ’80s Levi’s jacket and leather pants with enough money left over for a late-afternoon cocktail.
Shopping bags in hand, enter Le Majestique (RestobarMajestique.com) a few blocks west on St-Laurent. This neighborhood seafood bar has killer oyster deals during happy hour and boasts one of the best cocktails in the city: the Québec 22. It’s a twist on the French 75, subbing sugar with local honey for an added touch of earthiness and texture. You’ll definitely order two.
Take a break from all of the eating and drinking, and enjoy an iconic drag performance at the famed Cabaret Mado (Mado.qc.ca) in the Gay Village. Tacky posters of musical divas adorn this veritable house of kitsch, where resident queen Mado Lamotte and her made-up minions command the stage with ridiculing humor — all in good jest, of course.
Work up an appetite laughing, and then book it to Agrikol (Agrikol.ca), a Haitian-inspired eatery co-owned by Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, located in Le Village. Get a forkful of the conch with plantains and the oxtail with pea sauce. The Dark and Stormy — crafted with homemade ginger syrup — washes everything down smoothly. Agrikol’s menu playfully reads “on boit jusqu’à tard” (we drink until late). Feel free to do the same.
Set a leisurely pace for exploring the city’s Vieux Port district, which transports the senses back to Europe with old stone architecture and French savoir faire. First, step into Crew Collective & Café (Collective.Crew.co) on rue St-Jacques. Yes, you’re in the right place — this palatial bank from the 1920s has been renovated into a coffee shop and creative meeting space, offering fresh-brewed lattes and pastries best enjoyed in the open lounge, at private desks, or in the conference rooms, which can be rented by the hour.
Use your caffeine high to buzz along rue Notre-Dame Ouest, and wade deeper through the oldest parts of the city toward the Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal (BasiliqueNotreDame.ca). Originally the site of a small chapel, the church flaunts a prismatic interior that houses ornate, gilded carvings and lavishly colored wooden pillars.
Round out the educational portion of your trip with a visit to The Phi Centre (Phi-Centre.com), a renovated, high-tech 19th century building that houses visual and interactive exhibits and events. The space unites a community interested in multidisciplinary arts, engaging conversation about innovation and collaboration. Make sure you browse Phi’s eccentric boutique, which sells offbeat trinkets and crass T-shirts any creative would appreciate.
No trip is complete without a dinner and a show. Start the evening at Liverpool House (JoeBeef.ca), the baby sister of gastronomic powerhouse Joe Beef. Located right next door, and about half as decadent, the restaurant provides an impressive selection of elevated comfort food — signature dishes include lobster spaghetti and foie gras. Start with the oysters, and then mix and match entrées with friends to optimize tasting options.
Combining the Spanish words for “light” and “rain,” Luzia is the current resident show in Montréal by imagineers Cirque du Soleil (CirqueDuSoleil.com). Like the view through a kaleidoscope, the performance melds the striking, vibrant colors of the jungle with the life-giving majesty of water. Set in an imaginary version of Mexico, the story follows dancers dressed like iridescent hummingbirds as they tumble through hoops and glide across a giant treadmill; a monarch butterfly’s stage-spanning vermilion wings carry her across her migratory path from one end of the country to the other. From a clumsy clown to complex, multi-manned animal apparatuses, all life is elebrated through Cirque’s signature acrobatics and touched by Luzia’s magic.
Have an early, hearty brunch at the lively Le Cartet (LeCartet.com), where you can choose from a variety of savory and sweet options while mingling with new friends at the long wooden tables. Go for a mimosa and the “brunch de l’Atlantique,” a dish that features salmon two ways: smoked and in croquettes.
The final stop on your trip is one of the most important, a buffer between the end of your long weekend and the return to the rigors of everyday life. Once a ferryboat in the 1950s and ’60s, Bota Bota (BotaBota.ca) is now Montréal’s premier spa, still afloat and moored on the St. Lawrence River. The soft sound of flowing water from hot– and cold-water therapy pools and the gentle hiss of steam are the only sounds that permeate the entirety of this floating paradise. The strict no-talking policy is lifted only in the garden on the dock below, where a waterfall cascades into a cooling pool.
Relax on the surrounding lounge furniture and take in the view of Moshe Safdie’s iconic building-block Habitat 67 (Habitat67.com), a housing complex constructed for the World’s Fair.
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