A Week in Montreal: Highlights

  • Cluny ArtBar – A little out of the way, but worth the walk. Very nice room, excellent food, pleasant service. Their coffee is fantastic and the tiny Belgian chocolate mousse is a perfect dessert.
  • Papetiers Saint Armand – Hand and machine-made papers crafted in the basement of an old linoleum factory on the south side of the Lachine Canal. Open to the public on the first Saturday of every month, which, happily, coincided with our visit. Founder David Carruthers gave us a cook’s tour of the factory,  a rabbit’s warren of machines and bundles of rags and paper in various states of undress. They’ve also got a sizable letterpress shop on-site. If you’re interested in paper or printing or just fascinated by machines and the people who nurture them, you should visit.
  • Café Santropol – Went twice. Service is spotty (slow, absent-minded), but genuinely friendly. Food, centers on sandwiches, was hearty and tasty. Their house-made herbal iced tea is a nice drink, and the carrot cake is wonderful (and enough for two). Sit outside in the back patio if you can.
  • Dyad Electric Bicycles – Brand new enough not to have a website. On Saint Laurent just south of Rachel, where the Vespa shop used to be. They sell and rent Chinese electric bicycles, mopeds and scooters of various sizes and styles. Very accommodating staff – they’ll let you try out anything for free for 15 minutes. After that it’s $15/hour to rent, helmet included, and you don’t need a driver’s license. The scooters are surprisingly powerful: top speed of 50 km/h, a charge (which takes 6 hours) will get you almost 50 km. And the motor is powerful enough to pull me up hills.
  • Drawn & Quarterly Shop – Even if you’re not a graphic novel type, this is a great store full of interesting books, magazines, zines and music.
  • Style LABO – Beautiful things from the recent past reconditioned and lovingly displayed. Old store signs, lobby cards, metal type, radios, ornaments, fans. The solid stuff they don’t make any more.
  • BIXI Bicycles – An epic upgrade in Montreal’s transportation infrastructure: every few blocks – enough so that it’s everywhere – you’ll find bicycles ready for renting from a self-serve kiosk. Need to get across town in a hurry? Stick your credit card in and you’ve got a bike in 2 minutes and are on your way. I used the service half a dozen times to good end. The bikes are solid, well-designed and well-maintained. Montreal cyclists are insane (they don’t follow traffic rules at all), and you can’t rent a helmet, but there’s a healthy network of bicycle lanes, some segregated from traffic, so you can mitigate you chance of death or injury somewhat.
  • Montreal Science Centre – A nice cross between the “science as a branch of the arts” approach of Paris’s Cité des Sciences and a more traditional Exploratorium-style science museum, Montreal’s Science Centre, on the waterfront in Old Montreal, kept Oliver and me busy for 3 hours and we could have easily spent the day. The idTV exhibit, where you’re led through the process of making a TV segment on a science topic, is well-crafted and kept us both interested for 30 minutes. The glass exhibition was a little dry, but had some interesting objects. The Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition – I only read now that it was “recommended for ages 12 and up” – was titillating to the point where were if staged on Prince Edward Island there would be rioting in the street and the comments system at The Guardian would melt down from the force of collected consternation (in other words, it was terrific in all the right ways). That said, most of it was lost on Oliver (although it did get him to utter “pussy” and “cock” for the first time in his life). Upstairs there’s a more traditional set of “what happens when you spin around”-style exhibits that are well-constructed and with enough variety that even if you’re a science centre veteran you’ll be involved.
  • yeh! – One outlet on Saint Laurent and another soon to open on Saint Catherine. It’s salad bar meets frozen yogurt: self-serve yourself some yogurt (they have 8 flavours on tap), and then add toppings like fresh fruit, Oreo cookies, dates, or gummy bears. At the cash your creation gets weighed and you pay by the gram. Oliver really enjoyed this.
  • The Bay – No, not uniquely Montreal. But a novelty if you live in Charlottetown nonetheless. I’d been fruitlessly looking for trousers with a 38 inch waist at hipster places like Simons, but to no avail (I’d inevitably be shown to the one style for the hipster large man: boring, pleated, and completely unlike the dayglo pants the thin set are allowed to buy). In the basement of The Bay there’s a huge selection of clothing for men in all manner of styles and sizes, including the 38-30 trousers I was looking for. I bought two pair.
  • Bubble Tea in Le Fauborg Ste-Catherine – When I lived in Montreal in the early 1990s, Le Fauborg was shiny and new and a paradise of food, prepared and fresh. You could buy fresh bagels, fresh fruit and fresh flowers and then sit down for a glass of mint tea. Twenty years on it has, alas, fallen on hard times. The space has been carved up into offices and running shoe shops, and the selection of food places has dwindled. The anchor tenant, such as it is, is Dollarama. But on the 2nd floor down at the end is an older Taiwanese couple selling a variety of bubble tea and snacks. They speak neither English nor French, it seems, but they make great tea and have some cool imported gear to make it with.
  • Café Myriade – Coffee that’s good enough to make you weep, prepared by top-flight people in a pleasant space. Starbucks and Second Cup have polluted Montreal to a frightening degree; it’s good that there are still places like this that craft coffee rather than dispense it.
  • Public Transit – With transit routing built into Google Maps on my Nokia N95, I felt like I had transportation super-powers. It’s expensiveish – $2.75 a ride – but it’s clean, frequent, and goes everywhere. Put together with BIXI, there’s little reason to have a car in Montreal unless you need to move a bed.