My Montreal Is Better Than Yours*
Once again, bloggers are having their way with Budget Travel: A.J. Kinik and Michelle Marek--who write a wonderful blog, "...an endless banquet"--show us all where to eat, shop, and play in the city that they obsess over better than anyone else.
*Actually, it should really be "Our Montreal"
Created by two local artists, FRAG on The Main is an ever-growing series of collage plaques mounted on buildings all along St-Laurent; it tells the story of The Main--from the Guilbault Garden to the Montreal Hunt Club--by uncovering its lost and hidden fragments.
The one tourist site that's truly central to Montrealers, both literally and figuratively, is Mount Royal Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. There's activity year-round, from jogging and cycling to skating, cross-country skiing, and tobogganing. It's also one of the best places to take a secluded path and escape from the hubbub. More serene still is the wonderfully Victorian Mount Royal Cemetery, which adjoins the park and doubles as a stunning arboretum.
Founded by Seagram's heir Phyllis Lambert, the Canadian Centre for Architecture has beautifully curated exhibitions, an internationally renowned architecture library, film screenings and lectures, and a top-notch bookstore.
The Lachine Canal, once the cradle of Canada's industrial revolution, is much quieter these days--it's been turned into a National Historic Site and green zone that stretches nine miles from the Old Port to Lake St-Louis to the west. There's certainly no better way to get from the Old Port to Atwater Market, Montreal's other celebrated farmers market, with its iconic deco market hall. Also along the canal is Papeterie Saint-Armand, a small-scale paper mill that's been producing fine papers for over 25 years. And when you're done touring the canal, the place for a refreshment is Paul Patates, where you can have an excellent all-dressed toasté (a grilled hot dog with the works), a poutine featuring the famous fries, and a bracing Bertrand spruce beer, the Quebecois soft drink extraordinaire.
On Île-Sainte-Hélène, known for the starring role it played during Expo 67, you can still see traces of Montreal's mod moment, like the Buckminster Fuller Dome, but it's also worth visiting to check out the Moorish towers that anchor the Jacques-Cartier Bridge to the island.
Cinémathèque Québécoise houses exhibitions and shows films from around the world, with provincial and Canadian works a specialty. Around the corner is the downtown home of the National Film Board of Canada, a leader in experimental, animated, documentary, and childrens' film production for almost 70 years. The main attraction there is the CinéRobothèque, where a full-fledged robot helps you watch any one of the 9,000 films made or distributed by the NFB. Aprés cinema, our top pick for a bite is a burger and a mocha shake at La Paryse.
Thankfully, the hype has died down a bit since Pitchfork, The New York Times, Spin, and others anointed Montreal the latest indie-rock "it" town, but we still have a vibrant music scene. In many ways, ground zero for this explosion of creativity was Casa del Popolo, a café, bar, and performance space that has added an annex across the street that includes a larger, more-glam venue (La Sala Rossa) and a good tapas restaurant (La Sala Rosa). Every June the owners celebrate their good fortune with Suoni Per Il Popolo, a monthlong festival pairing avant-jazz greats with local avant-rock heroes. Come autumn, Pop Montreal, our other indie music festival, rolls out plenty of good cheer, plus a film fest and an alt-crafts fair.
Two places that are all about the lazy days of summer are Le Bilboquet, where lines for the ice cream (in flavors like tire d'érable, maple-syrup taffy) stretch down the block, and Gibeau Orange Julep, where you can sample the house elixir in the shadow of a three-story orange built in 1964 (and in the company of hot rods on Wednesday nights).
Le Cheval Blanc and Bílý Kun (French and Czech for "white horse") are our two favorite Montreal watering holes. Both combine tasteful eclecticism with microbrew enthusiasm. And while the wine-bar population continues to grow rapidly, the best of the lot is still BU.
For those looking to dance, Zoobizarre's hilariously Gothic confines host rock shows and DJ nights by such local notables as Les Georges Leningrad and Ghislain Poirier, the city's reigning beatmaster.