Taking a flight from the Toronto Island airport and landing in Montreal in just over an hour is a real treat. I’m always amazed at how instant the cultural shift is. Even though we are just a province away, it truly feels exotic, romantic and foreign. That feeling grabs hold of you from the first minute a cabbie hollers, “Ou voudriez-vous aller Madame?”
A sojourn in Montreal is a sensuous pleasure. Whether you are seeking an adventure, a romantic interlude, burst of culture or, like me, just hoping to slow things down for a few days, consider cheating on Toronto with the sexy neighbour. Here’s how to do it:
1. Take time for yourself at Bota Bota Spa Sur L’Eau
Design-loving spa babies, this is for you. We DO NOT have anything like this in Toronto. Constructed by ad agency Sid Lee, this is the coolest new destination in Montreal that will have you mistaking it for Reykjavik. Imagine an old boat restored into a four-level spa on the water. Better yet, imagine lying on the second level of a sauna, on the third floor deck, and staring out onto Montreal’s Vieux Port. You can book a massage, reserve a table for a healthy meal, or just wander from steam room to hot tub to sauna to bean bag. Bota Bota opened in January 2011, and it’s sure to become a mainstay in any design catalogue worth its weight in fancy stock.
2. Shop Westmount
Usually, this conservative, Anglo and uber wealthy neighbourhood isn’t on our weekend itinerary of debauchery but if you are a discerning shopper who enjoys delightful, well curated boutiques, then it really should be. I am specifically referring to the strip called Victoria Village. Grab a David’s Tea (Montreal company!) and zig-zag Sherbrooke St. Ouest to check out homegrown brands like Mimi & Coco, or great imports we wish we had, like James Perse..
• Mimi and Coco
Contemporary luxury knitwear made by two local Montreal girls, Mimi and Coco has delicate tanks and sundresses that make you feel like you should perpetually be running through a field of daisies. Soft and pretty clothes plus a tiki juice bar at the back.
4927 rue Sherbrook Ouest
• Pretty Ballerinas
Pastel pink, polka-dot, leopard print, Miro inspired or plain jane, Pretty Ballerinas is where Montreal women go to get ballet flats. And just that. I especially like the pink shoe boxes that line the store floor to ceiling.
392 Victoria Ave
• Lola & Emily
This is the boutique of my dreams. I want everything. From feathered earrings to Free People floral dresses Lola and Emily is whimsical femininity that makes you want to twirl. I like the St. Laurent store but imagine moving into this fancy location for a summer filled of fantasy. All I need is a canopy bed, endless supply of macaroons, Edith Piaf on repeat and a well-behaved, well-groomed Pomeranian named Zizi to dance while I gracefully fling a Ritmika ribbon to and fro.
4920 Sherbrooke St. Ouest
• Want Apothecary
This boutique opened in late May, is modeled after a 19th century pharmacy and brings together fashion and beauty care for the San Pellegrino set. It’s a store that presents a sort of lifestyle to aspire to, and you will want what they have. Fillipa K, Acne, Maison Kitsune are the clothes you’ll try on and following, lather Aesop cream on and find out why you the candles at Want are the best ever. *like* *want*
4960 Sherbrooke St. Ouest
• James Perse
Why don’t we have this in Toronto? This California import is the best for basics. If you are seeking the PERFECT v-neck, toss-on sweater that goes with everything or heather gray maxi that feels so good on, then you ought to visit James Perse. WHY, WHY DON”T WE HAVE IT HERE?? Bring it, I’ll manage it. Check out the website and get angry with me. Or just go to Montreal and shop.
486 Sherbrooke St. West
3. Slow down in Mile End
Is Toronto driving you crazy? Are you cursing at the streetcar and trying to run shoppers down at Metro cause they are pushing their grocery cart too slowly? Yep, you need a dose of Mile End. Chill. Relax. Do nothing. Drink beer, drink coffee and eat a croissant, while you do nothing. People watch, shuffle, slow down, eat a bagel. Ahh yes, nothing! Pretend you are a student again and nothing matters except where you are drinking beer in 2 hours. After walking around the Plateau (Saint Laurent north of Avenue des Pins) keep walking north all the way up, until it starts to feel like no-man’s land. North of Saint Joseph, you will start seeing a train of coffee shops, bars, head west on St. Viateur and explore.
Some stores that you’ll want to stop into on your walk to this neighbourhood from the Plateau:
5330 Boul Saint Laurent
5135 St. Laurent Blvd
5233 St. Laurent Blvd
4. Make out in Square Saint-Louis
It was romantic when I was nineteen and it remains as one of my favourite places to sit and smooch. After dinner, take a walk around this square, sit by the fountain, wander around the neighbouring streets and pretend you live in Montreal.
5. Dance, hang and people watch at Piknic Electronik or TamTams
On Sundays, when you are hungover and in a daze, either wander to TamTams on Mount Royal to dance around barefoot or go to Piknic Electronik at Parc Jean-Drapeau from 2-9pm. When it comes to mixing people watching with music and park flopping, Montreal knows how to do it better. Bring some cheese, baguette and berries and feed yourself while rolling around.
6. Musee D’Art Contemporain de Montreal
If you travel to Montreal before September 4, DO DO DO go to Deja, The Collection on Display at Musee D’Art Contemporain in Place des Arts. This exhibition highlights the gallery’s permanent collection with works produced between 1964 and 2010. Photography by Sam Taylor Wood, Jeff Wall, Alan Paiment and, my fave, Spencer Tunick’s Naked, Montreal 3 or thousands of naked Quebecers flanked like beached walruses. Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s We were in Kyoto sculptural concept space that will have you shaking confetti from your head and Robert Racine’s Lettrines, that will have you shaking your head in sheer amazement, “How, why?” It’s a truly magnificent exhibit that will leave you bubbling with creative energy.
7. Be a tourist in Old Montreal
Yeah sure, the Distillery District is nice, but it just doesn’t compare to being pulled in a horse drawn carriage, under the stars through narrow cobblestone streets. You can feel history and practically hear it. It’s magical and it makes you a little more proud to be Canadian…like, oh yeah, we have roots, we are kind of old. Be a tourist, spend the extra bucks and get a horse. OR, sip wine in one of the many wonderful bars and restaurants on St. Paul street and pretend to be a horse as you click-klak onto the quiet streets at 2am. *Special*
8. Eat, savour, mmmmmmm.
Don’t fuck this up. Reserve a restaurant ahead of time and SAVOUR every bite. I’m having a food orgasm just thinking about how many awesome places there are to choose from.
Without stating the obvious, Au Pied du Cochon, here are some recommendations:
Do you love picky charcuterie? Cured meets, cheeses, wine and rotisserie? Mmmm. Buvette Chez Simone.
Classic french fare with a contemporary twist? This wooden den faces St. Denis, garage window opens right onto street. Fries come in paper bags and cotton candy with a cappucino. Perfect for a warm night with a breeze. Bistro La Fabrique.
A mediterranean cafe/bistro in Mile End. A sort of mix of Italian, Moroccan and Spanish. Food is delicious, well priced and this is a lovely setting to relax in. Voro on Fairmount Ouest. ($4 mimosas for brunch!)
Seeking a classic bavette-frites? Known for excellent tartares and classic french bistro fare, Les Enfants Terrribles is loved by the locals. (After, take a stroll to Bilboquet for dessert, but be warned, there will be a line.)
Close to Les Enfant Terribles, and also in Outremont, Cafe Souvenir has a great terrace for people watching in this trendy and upscale neighbourhood. Great brunch too.
South in St. Henri, the Tuck Shop is all about a market fresh menu with an emphasis on local ingredients. St. Henri has been billed as the “Next Plateau” ever since I was a uni student at Concordia, but it’s still pretty rough. A change from the usual touristy areas.
9. Drink like you have no plans the next day.
• Ice House is the newest terrace in town getting buzz. Pitchers of beer, heavy on the bourbon…try the beer-bloody Ceaser mix. 51 Roy E.
• Reservoir has two floors, is always busy and is a perfect place to meet friends for a drink when you don’t feel like dealing with the usual suspects on St. Laurent (Tokyo, Blizzarts, Korova, Sparrow – all our faves for the past ten years, and where you can count on the party. Oh yeah, and Tokyo’s patio is still the best.) 9 Duluth E
• Else’s is a romantic spot on the plateau where you can actually hear what you are saying. Candles and red wine please. 156 Roy E
• Hotel de la Montagne is a fun summer spot. Two for one drinks in the lobby and pool cruising on the roof. Work your tan and your drunk. 1430 rue de la Montagne
• Vices & Versa in Little Italy has 33 beers on tap, all from Quebec microbreweries And a beer garden!
Everyone is doing it. There’s even Montreal Bixi rap.
11. Go wild at Jean Talon Market
THIS IS THE BEST! Quebec cheese, Quebec maple syrup everything, sea asparagus, warm croissants, freshly picked strawberries, cured meats, sausages on the grill, local ice cream. Mmmmmmmmm. I know, but calm woman, you can’t have it all!
Make the trip to Jean-Talon!
12. Indulge in a late night steamie with poutine
In order to truly cheat on Toronto, you absolutely must have une steamie at 2AM. Mustard, not ketchup. Pepsi, not Coke. That’s how you do it. Learn about the longstanding dirty tradition of the late night steamie.
If you’ve taken all twelve steps, then you have successfully cheated on Toronto. Now, will you ever return?