A friend looking for best things to do recommendations in Toronto last week posted her query publicly on Facebook. Another friend responded, “go to Union Station and take the train back to Montreal”. I died of laughter.
The truth is, most of my friends would have the same get-out-of-there approach when I mention being in Old Montreal. While I agree Montreal’s best neighbourhoods are where the locals are, there are exactly that, locals, in the best spots of the historic district.
While not 100% true, the city’s east and west dividing boulevard St. Laurent also splits up the old town from touristy to non-touristy. From I LOVE MTL t-shirt shops on the cobblestone and pedestrian eastern stretch of St. Paul street to the many legit art galleries I like to hang out in on the western side. Here’s some spots worth checking out while there.
GET CAFFEINATED, LIKE A LOT
Recently there has been a Montreal third wave café boom in every hood and specifically in Old Montreal. MELK bar à café just opened up a fresh looking location outside of Place d’Armes métro. The table tops remind me of elementary school desks and I’m a sucker for the tiny bathhouse tiling. Grab a cortado on your way to the Basilica.
Paquebot also opened up a gorgeous spot strategically located next to courthouse row. You’re a pretty shitty judge if you opt for the Starbucks…just saying. The staff here is so dapper and friendly … and they serve nitro cold brew in winter! I know. I loved the mezzanine nook and the old rotary phone which played sounds of the port on loop while I visited.
On the western edge is the immaculate Structure Coffee Roasters. It’s kind of hidden next to the Five Guys. The space is beautiful, the coffee is served without any flaws, great products are for sale and these chaps roast locally in Pointe Ste-Charles with other coffee greats such as Pista.
GET YOUR FOOD ON
Each one of our Montreal tours comes with an insider’s list of best places to eat. I’m happy this year we’ll be able to add one to the cheat sheet in Old Montreal.
I had such a simple but satisfying experience at Un Po’ Di Più, which is what Italian food is all about. The name translates to a little more, which is both my motto and Achilles heel in life. I had one of the last capicollo sandwiches on the menu with what tasted like a zesty and oily antipasto, wrapped in provolone. The pistachio pesto mixed with the Corinth raisins on the beet plate reminded me oddly enough of cookies. Really good cookies. The bartender made me a Negroni I wanted by my side for the rest of the day, and maybe him too.
I popped in for post tour late lunch at Monarque with my business partner. Be prepared, it ain’t cheap, and I don’t think opening this beautiful place was either. She had a dangerously delicious easy drinking red and my Boudin was beyond yummy. Turns out the recipe is grandma’s. The restaurant is another venture by French bistro Leméac and the owner’s son runs the kitchen here.
Just passed the border of Old Montreal we stopped in for a ginger & cilantro broth based ramen the other day at the very modernly decorated Bulma. It’s an Asian inspired tapas spot with an elaborate cocktail list.
GO ON A TOUR
The best tour in Old Montreal is the one that shows you around a bit and then takes you out on a walk through the progression of our city’s hoods. Start with the Notre Dame Basilica, see the beautiful CREW Café and then make your way to Chinatown for a snack. Visit the old Red Light for the city’s coolest thrift store and end with street art in the Plateau. The Beyond the Basilica tour guarantees small groups of 10 or less.
The eastern stretch of St. Paul is loaded with beautiful commercial galleries and my personal favourite Galerie LeRoyer. There are two neighbouring locations, one smaller, mainly used for the openings and the much larger which showcases some of the 40 artists they work with. They had beautiful pieces by Mateo of spray can on massive rugs on the last visit.
Centre PHI and DHC ART are always must visit art galleries when in the area. Both are owned by Phoebe Greenberg, a local theatre professional and real estate mogul. DHC lands impressive and always free exhibitions complete with hip openings that always have me asking friends what norm core means. On the last visit there were two VR shorts at the PHI Centre displaying for Black History Month, lasting two months! PHI generally has a VR related exhibition on and locally designed gems, clothing and trinkets can be found at the Rhinocéros “gift shop”.
Other must visit spots include
SSENSE luxury shopping, brute and beautiful top floor lunch spot too
Maison Pépin home décor shop and café
AURA the light show at the Basilica, sit in the back
Cité Mémoire free projections, first catch the 20 minute Grand Tableau on the grass of Champ de Mars with a blanket and bottle of wine. Beats IMAX