With rent half the price of my shoebox flat in New York, the European flair of a Frenchy smoking a Gauloises cigarette and a city that feels like one big friendly neighborhood, I’m in serious doubt why my home is not in Montréal. The streets are tree lined, every other block features a historical building or church and there's a beautiful mixture of French and English influences.
Where Canada is famous for bears catching salmon upstream, handsome bushmen chopping wood (or maybe that’s only my fantasy) and winters being evil, Montréal is a city of it’s own. Whether it was because of the timing, there’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ in the air in summer. Because of having no expectations, or because I was visiting an old friend that paraded me around like a true local, I’m in love with Montreal in more then one way. Here’s to living life like a local in Mon-réal… (pronounced the French way when you let the r roll on the back of your tongue while trying to cough up your last dinner).
Montreal is the second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. But it’s a type of French where this Dutch, conversational French speaking girl got lost in translation… (see what I did there). With a strange mixture of English slang and an odd, somewhat nasal, dialect I tried to throw in some ‘je parle un peu français’ but the essays I got as a response never made it to my linear brain. So unless you are a true Frenchie and you’re up for a little puzzling while conversing, just stick to your basic English. To order the traditional heart attack on a well decorated plate, Poutine, a mixture of French fries and gravy. Or to find your way to the closest Jazz bar and sip on a bourbon cocktail.
Since winters can be so darn long, people seem to relive their puberty every year come summer. Whether it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy that one last late night drink on a terrace. Or because they literally need more time shredding their winter fur, I’m down for any excuse that gets me to enjoy more time with good-humored people, drinks, food and music.
Most of our mornings started like a scene from the Marie Antoinette movie (or at least I’d like to believe this) where the sun peaked into our bedroom window, I was wearing a slightly see-through negligee while the birds were testing their sound system (only parts of this are true but Montreal brings the romantic out in me, so just go with it) Mornings are coolish warm and there is zero reason for them not to start with a coffee and bagel! Cause like my momma always used to say; ‘A bagel a day, keeps that very attractive doctor away…’ Staying in the Outrement district we would fall asleep and, a couple of hours later, wake up to the smell of the two most famous bagel joints in Montreal. St. Viateur and Fairmount, a battle, a duel, a great big deal in Montreal which one you choose and it’s important to stay loyal to the shop of your liking. But since I have huge commitment issues in many ways, I swayed between St.Viateur and Fairmount and found myself some mornings devouring the beautifully hand made bagels of St.Viateur. Where some nights I stumbled into Fairmount for the perfect night-cap-bagel. Because, yes, both shops are open 24 hours… I know (what are they doing to us) but God bless them, these small, light and a bit sweet bagels need to be available 24/7 for the whole world to taste. We threw on some cream cheese and wild salmon and not much could get in my way to making that day the best day of my, somewhat privileged and fairly odd, life.
But when you think it was hard to participate in the bagel battle, think again. On the same street as the St. Viateur bagel shop are two rivalling coffee shops, Club Social and Café Olympico. So when my friend asked me to choose, without indulging me in past history and neighborhood gossip, my palms started to sweat, my blood started to rush and the sounds of West Side Story started clouding my brain. It felt like a scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Where the Montegues battle the Capulets. Flashes of Leonardo DiCaprio fighting for my hand blinded me but I had to focus, choose wisely… Without manipulating your judgment too much here’s a bit of insight. Café Olympico offers a bigger indoor and outdoor space, with perhaps a younger crowd, where Club Social has more of a cozy vibe with the old neighborhood gang watching soccer inside and gossiping about the hipsters taking over their part of town. Either way you can’t really go wrong and I’m still swinging both sides…
When done with your morning routine there are several ways to go about your day before indulging in more food, which is and always will be my one true love. Some days we went to the old-port which is a bit more touristy but hard to pass up on with its beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica and many more smaller churches on Rue de Notre-Dame. Founded in 1643, the Notre-Dame has undergone some upgrades but by 1800 the church as we know it now was completed. From here you can walk to the Lawrence river, down the waterfront or go back up towards Downtown for some shopping. The mainstream shopping street, Saint Catherine is located in the ‘financial district’ or ‘Downtown Montreal’. Even in this busy, modern part of town, classic, historical buildings and little parks provide the business men and tourist with some history and an escape to nature. On one of our outings in this area we grabbed a little bite at Bar Furco and witnessed the wonderful Jeff Louch Trio. You can watch them every Tuesday from 6-9pm while you sip on your ‘Aporoll we’ve been through’ and devour some Montreal fries.
Another way to go about your day after some bagel foodporn is to drag yourself up the mountain, Mount Royal. This 200-hectare park occupies part of the mountain that lies in the middle of the island (yes, montreal is an island, who knew?!?), and includes the highest spot in the city (234m). The views are stunning, it’s a great way to shed some of your newly gained bagel-weight and on Sundays you get to enjoy great life music. The Piknic Electronic festival runs from May till September and it’s only 14 CAD… now can I get an AMEN!
On a Wednesday night we wiggled our little bagel butts into The Wiggle Room. Montreal’s home for burlesque, comedy, live music, Improv, performance workshops and of course, cocktails! And boy was I happy we did… I got to ask the ‘Love Doctor’ about boys, got to see a woman do burlesque as a lizard (who knew that was on my bucket list) and laugh some abs on with great stand-up artists. And when I was ready to call it a night (I’m an amateur drinker, fraudster smoker and once-in-a-blue-moon-party-girl) my little local lover only just got started. So we made our way down the street to Barfly, the ultimate dive bar to meet regulars and check out the latest Quebec sounds. We were lucky enough to enjoy the amazing bluegrass group ‘Colin Perry and Blind’ while having a pint or two, three...
And most of the time we just schlepped our butts from eatery to eatery enjoying some of the most magnificent foods. Because there are just so many places to choose from… So without further adiue I’d like to present you with a little list of the restaurant, café’s and coffeeshops we got to visit. With the help of my amazing friend, the real Montrealer among us, can I get a drum roll…. Carmen The Local! We now present some bestesssss:
Best Vietnamese: Pho Tay Ho, ‘a hole in the wall’ for your Asian food fix. Try their big fish dish with dill and you’ll never look at fish the same way…
Best Mexican: Mais, Get your taco shot at Mais, where tequila is poured like it’s water.
Best Place for Meatlovers: Grinder, A Montréal butcher that specializes in aging meats.
Best Pizza: Magpie, with an unique twist on a beloved classic pizza.
Best Tea Time: Cardinal, there is not a lot cuter then this little up-stairs tearoom with some of the most delicious scones, soups and offcourse tea’s…
Best Golden-Oldie: Lesters: for the old-fashioned sandwiches
Best Vegetarian Thai: Chu Chai, because faux-chicken is just like real chicken, but faux…
Best Cocktail bar: Sparrow for their use of Bourbon and the attractive barman!
Best Bakery: Cheskie with it's Chocolate Russian goodies.