After spending the better part of 18 months cooped up in my 660 square foot condo and having my many shopping needs confined to the tap of an “Add to Cart” button, I leapt at the first opportunity to get out of town. When the provincial border between Ontario and Quebec reopened in late June, I knew I had to get the hell out of Dodge (or Ottawa, to be more accurate).
Montreal seemed like the obvious destination given it’s only a 2-hour drive from the nation’s capital but feels like you took a trans-Atlantic flight to the cobblestone streets of Europe. My girlfriend and I went for a two-night stay and crammed in as much eating, drinking, and revelling as we could in our 48-hour stay. Because I’m invested in leading a life in good taste, and helping others do the same, I wanted to share my top picks for where to lay your head, fill your belly, and pickle your liver in Montreal.
Where to Stay
Montreal is a sprawling city with plenty of interesting and unique neighbourhoods to explore. Since shopping is always near the top of my priority list when I’m booking a hotel in the city – I prefer to stay in either Downtown or Old Montreal. Sainte-Catherine Street bisects downtown from east to west and is currently closed off to car traffic – permitting a more pedestrian-friendly experience as you bop from Holt Renfrew to Mackage and all the stores in between. Old Montreal hosts an array of brilliantly curated boutiques and independently-owned shops for clothing, art, home decor, and more.
The recently updated Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth is ideally located at the border between downtown and Old Montreal. It’s just a couple of blocks from Sainte-Catherine and a 10-minute walk to the cobblestone streets and galleries of Old Montreal.
As you can see, the newly renovated rooms boast a bold, artistic interior that also incorporates the form and function needed for a truly fantastic guest experience. It might seem like an obvious consideration but the nightstands feature electrical outlets – so you don’t have to unplug a lamp or move a dresser out of the way to charge your phone, and subsequently forget your charger upon check-out.
We had the pleasure of staying in one of the Junior Suites that featured two FULL bathrooms. I cannot tell you how streamlined our getting ready process was when we each had our own vanities to work off of and mirrors with integrated lighting so we could actually see what our make-up looked like before venturing out. Too many hotels have awful overhead fluorescent lighting in the bathrooms that make everyone look like an extra from The Walking Dead.
In addition, all Fairmont hotels have implemented new standards of safety and enhanced operational protocols and procedures during the pandemic which are among the most stringent in the hospitality industry. The Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth and all its wonderful staff treated our health and safety as the top priority throughout our stay.
Disclosure: we received a discounted media rate for our stay.
Where to Eat
This industrial chic snack bar in Old Montreal offers small plates that fuse Peruvian and Japanese cuisines. The portions are fairly generous as small plates go and I’d recommend 2-3 plates per person, depending on your appetite. We sampled the ceviche, crispy shrimp, chicken dumplings, and a chicarron and mango salad that featured an impossibly tender pork shank.
The cocktails were as noteworthy as the dishes with a range of drinks starring Peruvian Pisco (an unaged grape brandy) amongst other spirits. The Maracuya Sour is a must-order – made with Pisco, passionfruit, lime, and egg white.
I’ve enjoyed several meals at this upscale Griffintown bistro. Best known for it’s charcoal-grilled seafood and wood-fired steaks, Foxy serves up a carefully curated menu of seasonal flavours, flawlessly executed.
The interior is a sensuous blend of textures and perfectly balanced lighting that creates a warm and intimate dining experience.
Joe Beef is a culinary landmark in Montreal – a favourite of the late Anthony Bourdain, this Little Burgundy establishment has received more screen time than most restaurants. Usually this renowned gastronomic destination requires a reservation booked months in advance. When I looked for a last-minute reservation just a week before I was slated to arrive, I didn’t have much hope but was delighted to discover an opening for the Saturday night of my trip.
The space at Joe Beef feels like the warm embrace of an old friend. It’s intimate, lived in, and has great character. Our server was wonderful and pointed us to a beautiful bottle of Burgundy. My only complaint is that I wish they’d advised us to order a single main and share it between the two us.
The mains are generous slabs of protein with delectable sauce – in my case, half-chicken with saffron sauce with scallops and mussels. My girlfriend ordered duck magret with cherry sauce. Both were as delicious as they were generous. Neither of us were able to finish our respective mains – I’d definitely recommend ordering an appetizer, a main to share, and starchy side to mop up all that delectable jus. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll save room for dessert.
This place has tons of capacity indoors and large street front patio – meaning you likely won’t be waiting in line for long, if at all. I think we can all appreciate the benefit of a quick seating when you’re fighting a hangover and in desperate need of some starchy goodness to soak up the sins of the night before.
This Old Port brunch spot is a perennial favourite of mine. Their assortment of eggs Benedict dishes is well worth the visit. Each Benedict draws inspiration from a different culinary tradition. On my latest visit I enjoyed the Nordique Benedict with smoked salmon on country bread with goat cheese pesto, capers, and red onion, accompanied by perfectly crispy potatoes.
If you’re craving classic Montreal-style bagels, St-Viateur Bagel in the Mile End neighbourhood is a must-visit. This spot has been making bagels for more than 60 years and boasts famous clientele like Celine Dion and Leonard Cohen, amongst others.
For a world-class sandwich, pastry, or sweet orange-currant brioche slathered in labneh, maple syrup, blueberries and mint, head to local favourite Olive + Gourmando, brace yourself for a bit of a line, but it will be worth it.
The Salad Sisters, Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe, first opened a build-your-own salad bar in the back of a women’s clothing store in 2004. Since then, they’ve spawned an eat-your-greens revolution with eight locations throughout Montreal and a best-selling cookbook. If you’re over the age of 30 and a hangover now consists of a headache and full body revolt, consider hitting the reset button with a toothsome and flavourful salad from Mandy’s.
Where to Drink
Tucked away behind a false wall in a historic 19th century building in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, you’ll find the moody and intimate Cloakroom Bar. The 25-seat space is attached to a bespoke menswear destination and the cocktails are as custom as the suits. The Cloakroom Bar has no menu, instead the very capable bartenders will ask you about your preferred spirit and flavour profile and develop a drink suited to your palate. The main section of the bar features a long banquette that faces the bar, allowing patrons to witness the magic of mixology first-hand. I always say that cocktailing is theatre for the senses and the folks at Cloakroom Bar know how to put on a show.
The Bar Nacarat Terrace located in the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth overlooks the stunning architecture of the heart of Montreal. It is a fantastic destination to see and be seen.
This urban oasis is stylishly appointed and features a rotating cast of local DJs to set the tone for a perfect summer evening. The menu is comprised of a selection of grilled mains and sharing boards, ideal for grazing with friends.
Seasoned mixologists have created a selection of seasonally appropriate cocktails from an Aperol Spritz to a sparkling Tom Collins to a tropical frozen bourbon cocktail. I definitely recommend making a reservation at the Bar Nacarat Terrace for your next visit to MTL.
Disclosure: our experience at Bar Nacarat Terrace was gifted.
No, I didn’t forget to put in the street address. This speakeasy is meant to be hard to find. As their website says, “follow the duck,” look for the door beside the bar at El Pequeño at 401a Rue Saint-Vincent in Old Montreal.
This underground haunt features an impressive wall of spirits that can be shaken or stirred into your favourite classic cocktails or pick one of the original creations from their ever-changing menu.
Other Cocktail Spots
There are a few cocktail spots I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting but come highly recommended from my bartender friends and fellow cocktail enthusiasts that are high on my list for my next visit to Montreal:
- Atwater Cocktail Club | 512 Atwater Ave.
- Snowbird Tiki Bar | 6388 Rue St-Hubert
- Milky Way Cocktail Bar | 1886 Centre St.
What To Do
Score Some Fabulous Home Decor Finds
Montreal has some incredible, carefully curated home goods stores that feature truly unique pieces guaranteed to make a statement. In Old Montreal, you must stop by Boutique Edition at 361 Saint-Paul W for everything from sculptural flatware to abstract clocks and everything in between. It’s essentially a gallery of beautiful objects with brilliant product design. Then head across the street to Maison Pepin at 378 Saint-Paul W to eye their selection of home furnishings, art, lighting and more. Pop into the myriad galleries of Old Port as you make your way to one of my all-time favourite stores, L’Affichiste at 461 rue Saint-Francois-Xavier to flip through their fabulous collection of vintage posters.
If you find yourself in the Mile End neighbourhood, stop by Style Labo Antiquités at 5595 St Laurent Blvd for some very cool vintage industrial furniture, light fixtures, and decor. If you’re looking to upgrade or add to your home bar kit, you’ll want to head farther down St Laurent to arrive at Alambika at 6486 St Laurent Blvd for a massive selection of bitters, barware, Tiki mugs, and much more.
Unwind in the St. Lawrence
If you’re looking for a little pampering and unparalleled views of Old Port, head to Bota Bota – a historic river ferry turned upscale “floating spa.” This multi-level boat and attached grounds features a water circuit of hot, warm, and cold pools, steam rooms, saunas, and relaxation areas. Silence is golden on the ferry but walk the plank to the gardens if you want to chat with your friends and enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine. The floating spa also offers massage services, body, hand, feet, and facial treatments. If you get peckish, there’s also a restaurant on board.
Appreciate the Arts
I pay a visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts at 1380 Sherbrooke St W on nearly every visit to the city. The sprawling museum is a sprawling complex of five pavilions with unique collections and exhibits exploring various artistic disciplines.
The Decorative Arts and Design collection is my personal favourite as it comprises 4,150 objects, including silverware, glass, ceramics, metal, textiles, enamels and furniture. It illustrates the evolution of the decorative arts between 1400 and 1900.
Find the Beat
If you find yourself without a plan for Sunday afternoon, head to the base of Mont Royal for Les Tam-tams du mont Royal where drummers, dancers, and vendors gather to entertain park goers. It’s a free activity and a great way to connect with locals.
What are your favourite places to visit and things to do in Montreal? Let me know in the comments below!