Our favorite hotels are clustered around Vieux-Montréal. Hotel Le St.-James (355 Rue St.-Jacques; 514/841-3111; hotellestjames.com; doubles from $400), housed in a former 19th-century bank, is a Gilded Age fantasy of Oriental carpets, antiques and paintings, and outsize four-poster beds. The fauxhawked staff at Hotel St.-Paul (355 Rue McGill; 514/ 380-2222; hotelstpaul.com; doubles from $279) might be off-putting if the rooms weren't so comfortable and stylish, with playful fabrics brightening the dark walnut floors and white walls. Although the era of the minimalist design hotel may be ending, Hotel Gault (449 Rue Ste.-Hélène; 514/ 904-1616; hotelgault.com; doubles from $209) shows no signs of losing its edge. The exposed brickwork and cast-iron columns feel as of-the-moment as when Gault opened five years ago. Set among the port's converted warehouses, Auberge du Vieux-Port (97 Rue de la Commune Est; 514/876-0081; aubergeduvieuxport.com; doubles from $280) offers water views and a lively rooftop terrace.
Old Montreal has been quietly resurrected from its tourist trappings. Yvonne and Douglas Mandel, pioneers of the new Vieux, showcase their sharply tailored menswear at Kamkyl Urban Atelier (439 Rue St.-Pierre; 514/281-8221). Nearby, Espace PEpin (350 Rue St.-Paul Ouest; 514/844-0114), a women's label, features a kimono-meets-tuxedo-shirt dress called the Écuyère. Rue St.-Denis, up in the Plateau neighborhood, is filled with charming boutiques. Couleurs Meubles et Objéts du 20e Siècle (3901 Rue St.-Denis; 514/282-4141) stocks a smart selection of Midcentury housewares, equal doses Scandinavian and Canadian. Proof that Montreal is an epicure's dream: Les Touilleurs (152 Ave. Laurier Ouest; 514/278-0008) in Mile End, where marble counters are piled with cooking implements, including Quebecer Tom Littledeer's maple spoons and spatulas. Visit the expansive Le Marché Jean-Talon (7070 Rue Henri-Julien; 514/937-7754) for regional cheeses and maple candies, and 53 kinds of sausage at William J. Walter.
At Joe Beef (2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest; 514/935-6504; dinner for two $140), the interiors (a boar's head trophy over the bar; rustic wooden tables; checkered napkins) verge on irreverent, but the food is anything but. The emphasis is decidedly Québécois—heavy on meat, with healthy doses of foie gras and boudin. Club Chasse et Pêche (423 Rue St.-Claude; 514/861-1112; dinner for two $125), on a cobblestone lane in Vieux-Montréal, is marked by an antler-and-fish crest hanging outside the door. Dishes (striped bass with asparagus and sorrel; rabbit and lobster gnocchi) pay homage to both gun and rod, but all are refreshingly light. Leméac (1045 Rue Laurier Ouest; 514/270-0999; lunch for two $60), in the fashionable Outremont neighborhood, has all the tropes of a perfect French bistro: efficient staff, a long brass bar, and a menu that ranges from a creamy blanquette de veau to a fresh salmon tartare. Part restaurant, part underground nightclub, Garde Manger (408 Rue St. -François-Xavier; 514/678-5044; dinner for two $9) offers innovative seafood (General Tao lobster), and a seat at the coolest party in town. After 9 p.m., the rock sound track comes on and the dining room fills up.
There's plenty to explore in the city, but save time for a walk through Frederick Law Olmsted's wooded Parc du Mont-Royal (lemontroyal.qc.ca)—views from the summit are spectacular. The municipal-looking Belgo Building (372 Rue Ste.-Catherine Ouest), the hub of the city's contemporary art scene, brims with more than 30 workshops and galleries. Two of the best are Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain (No. 216; 514/395-6032) and Galerie René Blouin (No. 501; 514/393-9969).For a deeper look at Canadian art, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (1380 Rue Sherbrooke; 514/285-2000; mbam.qc.ca) has contemporary Inuit sculptures, early-20th-century landscapes from Ontario's Group of Seven, and Serge Lemoyne's exuberant 1975 Dryden—a 7-by-11-foot painting of legendary goalie Ken Dryden's hockey mask. Montreal's nightlife is centered around Rue St.-Laurent, in the Plateau. Try Pop! Bar à Vin (250 Pine Ave. Est; 514/287-1648), which resembles a Danish living room circa 1966; Bílý Kun (354 Mont-Royal Est; 514/845-5392), specializing in local microbrews; and Bar Plan B (327 Mont-Royal Est; 514/845-6060), a favorite among the city's restaurateurs.