Discover culinary hot spots and a lively street culture.
The eight-year-old Hôtel Le St.-James (doubles from $407), with 60 polished guest rooms and an exceptionally attentive staff, has fast become Montreal’s grande dame. Book a treatment in the underground spa, if only to see it—one side of the former bank vault was part of the original 1725 city wall. Great Value Housed in two buildings, including an old leather factory from the 19th century, the 24-room Le Petit Hôtel (doubles from $160, including breakfast) appeals to young entrepreneurs with its tech-savvy touches like free Wi-Fi and plasma TV’s outfitted with Wii Fit stations. Great Value Another new hotel with a piece of the past: Le Westin Montréal (doubles from $185), which consists of a 22-story tower and the former headquarters of the city’s Gazette newspaper. The indoor glass-bottomed pool, seemingly suspended over the hotel’s main entrance, makes an indelible first impression; a basement corridor connects to the city’s famous subterranean shopping mall.
Decadent foie gras and raw-milk cheeses are staples in every Québécois chef’s kitchen. Both are on hand at La Salle à Manger (dinner for two $90), where chef Samuel Pinard and his gang of six make almost everything in house—from pastas and bread to the cured sausages hanging in the glass meat locker. At Kitchen Galerie (dinner for two $70), just steps from the Jean-Talon farmers’ market, diners sit at a counter and watch chef-owners Mathieu Cloutier and Jean-Philippe St.-Denis cook up whatever’s freshest. (With only one other employee, the chefs are also the restaurant’s servers, sommeliers, and dishwashers.) Celebrating its 30th anniversary this December, L’Express (lunch for two $70) is still the spot for expertly prepared French classics such as the generous pot-au-feu or the citrusy octopus-and-lentil salad.
Independent bookstores thrive on downtown streets. Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, in the booming Mile-End neighborhood, specializes in underground comics and illustrated novels, including titles written and produced by the store’s own publishing house. Fans of vintage clothing shouldn’t miss the 15-year-old Friperie St.-Laurent, in the Plateau district, for its well-curated selection of designer hats, scarves, and party dresses from the 40’s to the 70’s. Stop in at the new boutique Instock to pick up cult clothing brands Supra and Elm, plus works by up-and-coming Montreal artists.
Residents take happy hour (referred to as “5 to 7”) very seriously. These days, a cheerful after-work crowd heads to La Buvette Chez Simone (drinks for two $8.50) for locally brewed McKeown cider and tasty bar snacks like grilled calamari and olives marinated with fennel.
Insider Tip: Looking for the Canadian equivalent of a 7-Eleven? Ask for a dépanneur—a word derived from the verb dépanner, or to troubleshoot. Most of montreal’s english speakers refer to them simply as “the dep.” —Stirling Kelso