Photos by Jeremy Le Chatelier
Here’s the thing, Montréal is in Canada, but it’s not really a Canadian city.
That’s not to say that the people aren’t super nice, or that the city isn’t obsessed with ice-hockey, or that the winters aren’t wildly cold (it was minus 20 on the day we took these photos), it’s just that it doesn’t feel like Canada. More like, I dunno, a North American version of a European city. Like, if Brooklyn somehow floated away and docked itself just off the coast of France. Yeah, something like that. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak French, everyone here speaks both French and English and switches between the two freely, often mid-sentence, without any of the disdain that the French from France might show you if you asked for directions, and the menus come in both.
After spending five years in shitty old Sydney working for a surf magazine, I moved here with plans of seeing out the last 12 months of my 20s, but after a year and a half I still don’t have plans of coming home. And that’s because it rules. The girls are pretty. The houses and streets and parks are pretty, and everything else is pretty pretty pretty cheap. I pay $610 a month and live in a mansion with free wifi in a sweet area of town and people think I’m overpaying, which is insane. It’s also the sex capital of North America, so if that’s a thing you’re into, you can do that with people here too. I’ve heard it’s fun. Here’s some of my favourite places in Montréal:
LA BELLE PROVINCE
1 Rue Sainte-Catherine E, Quartier Des Specacles
Poutine. It’s a really big thing here. A bigger thing than hockey, or Celine Dion, which are Montréal religions. It’s basically chips and gravy with cheese curds. That sounds like no big deal, but have a forkful of that business when you’re drunk or hungover, or just cold, and you’ll be seeing god. Cheese curds, or “squeeky cheese”, is guarded with all these technical raw milk regulations in most parts of the world, including Australia, making it near-impossible to recreate this dish outside of Canada.
Every restaurant in the city has a poutine classique as well as their own take on the dish, and there are speciality restaurants that do nothing but poutines, but La Belle Province should be the place you have your first. Not because it’s the best, but because it’s the poutine from which all others should be judged. The other thing Belle Province is known for is their steamies, the Montréal version of a hot dog—a dog topped with mustard and fresh coleslaw, which they call choux. I love those little guys, and they’re about 70 cents each. You’re never more than walk from a La Belle Province, it is bad, trashy food that is so fucking good, and a towering symbol of the bad, trashy food that makes Québec so fucking good too.
4177 Boul St-Laurent, The Plateau
When my brother was travelling around North America he saw Mac DeMarco in a bar in Austin, and because Mac used to live in MTL and because that’s where my brother was heading to next, he asked him the best place for food in the city. “Patati Patata,” he said. It’s a tiny corner restaurant with two tables, a window seat, and stools at the bar that look over the little kitchen where the dudes who work there put together the sickest little burgers in town. Oh, god, those mini-burgers. Fuck. Their poutine is the best in the city too because their chips are unbelievable and they use just the right amount of poutine sauce and cheese. A burger with a poutine and salad will set you back a measly ten bucks. Plus, they have beer on tap, and the fellas who work there are legends. A window seat here with a view of snow falling and people falling on the icy sidewalks is my favourite place in the city, perhaps the world. For serious.
DRAWN & QUARTERLY
211 Rue Bernard O, Mile End
Drawn & Quarterly is the most prominent alternative comic publisher in the world, I think, maybe; it’s a world I don’t really know. What I do know is that they have this sick little bookshop in a neighbourhood called the Mile End, which got called the most hipster neighbourhood in North America the other day, probably because it’s where Arcade Fire come from. Their graphic novel range (graphic novel as in Ghost World, not manga), of course, is the best you’ll find anywhere, but it’s their selection of novels and creative non-fiction here, all killer no filler, that makes this book shop special. The sort of place you get books you haven’t been able to find elsewhere, and the kind of shop you walk in to kill some time and accidentally walk out an hour later with three novels you had no intention of buying and a big dumb smile on your big dumb face. The jerks.
2600 Av Pierre-Dupuy, Cité du Havre
Habitat 67 means two things. The first being the apartment complex designed and built for Expo 67, a sprawling organised mess of brutalist architecture meant to redesign modern urban living. It’s made up of 354 identical blocks arranged to make up 150 apartments of which no two are alike, all of them integrating elements of suburban life like private gardens, fresh air, and two storey living. And it’s a cool place to ride a bike to and look at. The other Habitat 67 is the name given to the surf spot sitting below the architectural landmark. In the St Lawrence River there is a standing wave that has its own little surf scene. Walk down the path and sit on the rocks, wait your turn, and then paddle out and ride the never-ending, freshwater wave. A thousand kilometres from the nearest ocean, it’s weird.
Pretty much every corner, Montréal
That classic milk bar/convenience store from our childhoods that has been bought up and franchised in almost every other city is hanging on in Montréal. They’re called Depanneurs, or Deps, which comes from a French verb meaning to help out of difficulty. They’re all mum and pop run little stores full of hand put together bags of lollies. Most importantly, they sell beer and bad wine till 11pm. This is the closest one to my house. It’s helped me out of difficulty a lot.
PARC LA FONTAINE
Rue Rachel, The Plateau
I forgot to mention in the intro that Montréal in winter and Montréal in summer are two completely different cities, and this is probably most evident in the city’s parks. And the best park is Parc La Fontaine. It’s 34 hectares. I’m not sure how big a hectare is, but 34 of them is no doubt pretty big. Bigger than 33 anyway. It has two massive connected ponds and a dickload of trees to lie under and escape the heat during summer. They say you’re allowed to drink in parks in Montréal if you have food with you, which I’m not sure is officially true, but the police are not going to stop you. They don’t seem to care about weed either, and the place reeks of it in summer when everyone hangs out here all day making the most of the sun. In winter the ponds become an ice rink you can skate for free (you can hire skates for about $10 too) that’s lit up at night and blasts “Les Champs Élysées” over the PA. Skating outdoors at night in a park in the middle of the city, trees blanketed with snow all around you, sipping a flask of something as you glide around. It’s rad.
Av du Parc, Outremont
Mount Royal hovers over the city, and at night a giant cross is illuminated at its highest point. You can walk up it through a series of tree-canopied paths and stairs to a big look-out over the city in half an hour with a hangover, no problems. In autumn, it’s a spectacular firey red, yellow, and orange. In winter, people better equipped for the cold use the paths for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. At the bottom of one side of the mini-mountain is a park where hundreds of people go in summer on Sundays to watch a drum circle, sell home-made bracelets, slack line, drink, vape, and smoke weed. It’s called Tam Tams and people are always messaging you on Sunday morning the one word question, “Tams?” I don’t want to say it’s awful and hate on people doing what they need to have a good time… but it’s awful, and I hate them.
3699 Boul St-Laurent, The Plateau
No, I don’t want to try your craft beer. No, I get that it’s better than mine, I don’t care. Just let me enjoy my cheap, not weird hoppy stomach filling beer, and get drunk. That’s what Trashies is good for. Drinking cheap beer and getting drunk. The skate bar has a plywood bowl right in the middle of it that is shared by pros and kooks alike that you can watch while you smash cans, a sleazy, sweaty dance floor at the front, and a pretty good beer garden out the back. There’s also a second bar on the floor above with a halfpipe, but I’ve only seen it open once. Who knows how they got insurance for the place, but thank god they did.
CASA DEL POPOLO
4873 Boul St-Laurent, Mile End
Casa Del Popolo is actually part of a network of three venues—sister bars La Vitriol and the bigger church hall of a room in Sala Rosa are just across the street. But Casa is the one you can walk in after midday on any day or night of the week, pull up at the bar, and get yourself a drink, so that’s the one we’ll put here. The main bar is a small and friendly room with a killer sandwich menu and a generous range of beers, cocktails and all that stuff, and there’s a band room to the side that local and underground out-of-town bands play regularly, a safe bet for a good gig. Plus the terrace out back is one of the best in the city… in summer. I watched the US election at an event here. It was grim.