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I need specific travel advice for a trip to Montreal: lodging, money, bars, parking.
May 4, 2004 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm an American planning a trip to Montreal. I'll be there in the next few weeks, and I'm looking for some specific advice.

Having never traveled to Canada, forgive me if some of these questions seem ignorant.

I'd like to stay in Montreal, get drunk and stoned and be able to get back to where I'm staying without driving (obviously). Where should I look to stay? Are there certain districts I should pay most attention to? Conversely, are there areas I should avoid?

How late are bars open? Do I need to change my money? I'll be by myself -- 24/male -- any good singles hot-spots?

How big is the city compared to, say, Boston V. NYC -- the two cities I'm most familier with. How much should I expect to spend on hotel/motel accomodations? What's parking like? Is there anything else I'm overlooking. And, finally, does anyone want to hang out?
posted by TurkishGolds to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
What kind of music/arts/food/etc are you into?
posted by Jairus at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2004


I'll say this, TG. If you still smoke cigarettes, bring your own and a bunch of spares. When I was in BC a few years back I discovered two things: Canadian ciagarettes are incredibly expensive and extremely gross, and henceforth, you can pretty much trade smoke for beer if you make it known you've got USian smokes. (caveat: This was nearly three years ago, YMMV).
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:00 AM on May 4, 2004


I like hip-hop, rock and roll, and jazz. I'm into all kinds of food: asian, barbeque, and just about anything in between. I do smoke cigarettes -- I'll pick up a cheap carton in New Hampshire on my drive up -- will there be any problem bringing that in?
posted by TurkishGolds at 9:09 AM on May 4, 2004


smoke for beer if you make it known you've got USian smokes

Except that most Canadian smokers I know think USian smokes are disgusting and only appreciate them for the unusual and unavailable brands. I would never touch a Marlboro or Winston. Blecch! The easy answer for Montreal is St. Laurent St from St Catherines North. Plenty of bars and clubs and restaurants, plenty of English speaking, plenty of music. Pick up one of the free papers to see who's playing. It's where the McGill crowd usually hangs out, and you get a range from relatively upscale to trashy dive. Great food too. Try Schwartz's deli near Mont Royal. It's cliche, but they do have great smoked meat. St Catherines is the main drag, with the malls, strip clubs and really touristy places. For more of a francophone experience, Mont Royal East of St Laurent has some nice places. Sorry this is a little vague, haven't been there in a while.

As for the cigarettes, I think you're ok with less than 200, which is a carton I think. Have fun!
posted by loquax at 9:34 AM on May 4, 2004


Do you speak French? It isn't necessary, but it does affect where you will spend most of your time—the further east you go, the likelier it is that people will pretend not to speak English or actually not speak it.

Yes, you need to change your money. It's a different country. But just take your ATM card and get money there.

As for not driving, cabs aren't bad, the metro closes early, night busses are passable, and walking is easy enough (though I live in Brooklyn & have recently discovered my definition of a short walk may not match others).

On preview: St. Laurent and Ste. Catherine are fine, if cheesy. Prince-Arthur east of St. Laurent is a pedestrian mall with nice outdoor drinking, but again kind of cheesy. The Plateau, esp. Mont-Royal and that end of St. Denis are less so. Once drunk, have poutine. Excellent drunk food. The best place is on Rachel, I think; I'll see if I can find more.
posted by dame at 9:43 AM on May 4, 2004


St. Laurent and Ste. Catherine are fine, if cheesy.

Yeah, sorry, forgot to mention that. Although I did say it was the McGill crowd. Still, can't do much better for easy singles hot spots (*cough* Angels *cough*) Not that I'd know or anything. Seriously.
posted by loquax at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2004


Half of your answers mean little if nothing to me, but I suppose they'll be more handy when I read more / get there -- so, thanks a lot -- keep it coming. I don't speak French, but it sounds like I can make do.
posted by TurkishGolds at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2004


Okay, here goes:

I'd like to stay in Montreal, get drunk and stoned

We should be able to take care of you for that. (A word on pot: Obviously, bringing it over the border is dodgy; you can buy $10 bags of crappy dope from a street dealer in the area around Berri Metro. There is better-quality dope, I hear, from telephone services.)

and be able to get back to where I'm staying without driving (obviously). Where should I look to stay?

Montreal is a nicely compact little place -- islands in rivers will do that -- and you can happily do all the smoking and drinking you require within an area bounded by the St-Lawrence River to the south, the mountain to the north and west, and rue Papineau to the east. This area is eminently walkable and deluged with cabs; at most you'd pay $12 to traverse this area. (And that's Canadian money, too!)

Are there certain districts I should pay most attention to? Conversely, are there areas I should avoid?

It sounds like you'd be best sticking to the downtown/ Ville Marie/ le Plateau area. English is widely spoken, there is a wide range of accomodation available, and a huge amount of bars, cafés, restos, etc.

There is no real area of danger in Montreal, although you might not want to wander too much around certain 'hoods in the East End (although the North End has more gang activity.) Check out the two weeklies -- hour.ca and montrealmirror.com -- and montrealplus.ca for comprehensive listings on bars, hotels, cafés, etc.

How late are bars open? Do I need to change my money? I'll be by myself -- 24/male -- any good singles hot-spots?

Bars stay open until 3 am, although "after hours" clubs -- dance clubs -- stay open much later, but don't serve booze. You will likely find illegal booze cans that do serve liquor after 3 am with little effort. You will need to change your money. We have the Queen and pretty colours on ours. You'll like it.

As for singles spots, the best places in the Gay Village is likely Sky Pub, and the best het pick-up joint is Angels' on Saint-Laurent or Funky Town -- shudder -- on Peel.

How much should I expect to spend on hotel/motel accomodations?

There's a pretty wide range, with prolly $60 cdn at the low end.

What's parking like?

It's a legalised scam to make money for the (bankrupt) City of Montreal. If you can avoid bringing your car -- unless you stay in a big hotel where you can leave it parked. There's really no reason to bring a car to get around town -- Montreal is the kind of place best enjoyed on foot, and there is a decent subway system, too.

Is there anything else I'm overlooking.

Off the top of my head, here's 10 things to do to experience Montreal:
1. Walk up St Denis street, grab a beer/coffee on a sunny terasse (patio) and people-watch;
2. Go to the Olympic Stadium and marvel at the biggest waste of public funds in the history of man or woman;
3. Have a meal at a bring-you-own-wine place on Duluth or Prince-Arthur;
4. Get drunk at a bar on St-Laurent (I recommend Copacabana for the real good-time dive-y feel); have poutine at 3 am at Mamma's at Pine and St-Laurent (although there is fine poutine to be had on Rachel, too)
5. Go to Marché Atwater or Marché Jean-Talon and buy cheese, paté, baguettes, etc, and
6. Have a picnic on the mountain;
7. Take in the sights at Wanda's, Chez Parée or l'X;
8. Eat a smoked-meat sandwich (medium-fat) with fries and a black cherry at Schwartz's
9. Go to the Old Forum and pay your respects;
10. Take a caleche ride through the old port.

And, finally, does anyone want to hang out?

I would, but these words are being typed from memory in Ontario... In any event, have fun; Montreal is the greatest city in North America.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2004 [3 favorites]


I love this place. It has been a few years since I've stayed there but they have excellent prices, great service, and beautiful rooms. Great location too.
posted by anathema at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2004


you need to "enable pop-ups" to view the site.
posted by anathema at 10:09 AM on May 4, 2004


Boris Bistro. Best tartare, duck terrine, fries deep-fried in duck fat, beer, cool french hip jazz bands on the terrace. Cheap too. My favorite restaurant in the old city. Good sweetbreads appetizer special some days too. Borisbistro.com
posted by luriete at 10:13 AM on May 4, 2004


As for size, I think it's quite like Boston. Nowhere close to New York. At all. You can, if motivated, walk pretty much everywhere you need to go, and will have no problem covering all areas of interest in a few days if so inclined. The centre of the city, pretty much, is around Ste. Catherine and Peel. So I would stay around there and use the subway to get around. Here's a map, which also has some of the street names used in the thread. Anywhere you'd want to go, basically, is within the box made by the blue and orange lines. But you probably want to stay south of Mont-Royal, and may want to make a trip to the waterfront (or even the casino on the island). You should also walk to the top of Mont Royal, the big hill in the middle of the city. Great view, and a pleasant enough day. Also, compared to New York, you'll find an abundance of good and cheap pizza places.

If you don't speak any french, some people will sneer and mock you or ignore you. Especially at gas stations or banks or things like that. You pretty much have to put up with it. I can speak French with an accent and would still get dirty looks all over the place.

On preview: Looks like Ontarians have pretty much the same memories of la belle provence, eh lupus?
posted by loquax at 10:19 AM on May 4, 2004


Actually, you might be able to stay in McGill's dorms if they've already let out for the summer....very cheap (30-40 canadian?) and safe, and convenient (but up a steep hill). Do the museums (especiall the Museum of Architecture), search online for street fairs and festivals (they have them all the time). I like the Plateau neighborhood the best (besides the village, of course)--good restaurants, bars, people watching, etc. St. Catherine's (the main drag) is scummy in some parts, and cool in others. Think about a day trip or two--Quebec City maybe?
posted by amberglow at 10:37 AM on May 4, 2004


You will need to change your money

DO NOT change your money. Money-changing stations like Wossname Cook's or whatever will rip you off eight ways from Sunday.

Just use an ATM. Almost all American cards will work in Canada.* You end up paying a buck or two (Canadian) to withdraw CAD200 and you generally get a better exchange rate than from a money-changer.

At least in Ontario, many businesses near the border (or into Toronto for that matter) will exchange with a purchase, often at very favorable exchange rates.

Changing money ahead of time is a pure waste of money.

*On the off-chance that yours didn't, you could still go to a bank and get a cash on a credit card.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:40 AM on May 4, 2004


DO NOT change your money.

For what it's worth, you get charged a foreign currency conversion charge on foreign ATM withdrawals, so the bank is still making money off you with their rate. Plus most take some more off the top for the privilege. When I go to the states, I go to my home bank beforehand and change Canadian into American. Going to my branch means no service charges and a decent rate. That's what I'd suggest. The ATM's are such a ripoff.

Also, being American, you may not have as much experience with debit purchases. You can conduct most business without credit or cash, if your debit card can handle it. Some restaurants don't take it, but most other places do. (Sorry if you already know this, but my friends from NYC always are amazed by the debit practices up here).
posted by loquax at 10:53 AM on May 4, 2004


> friends from NYC always are amazed by the debit >practices up here

I debit everything all the time -- live just west of Boston. Good to know it'll be the same.
posted by TurkishGolds at 10:56 AM on May 4, 2004


Good, I may just have very stupid friends.
posted by loquax at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2004


bagels. montreal bagels are *the* best bagels in the world. fairmount bagels are open 24 hours and you can buy one fresh from the oven. they are a small piece of heaven on earth and one of the things i miss most about montreal.

poutine is another. i'd also second a walk up on mount royal.
posted by heather at 11:02 AM on May 4, 2004


No! Give me St-Viateur Bagels or give me death!

(Actually, come to think of it, a very pleasant afternoon could be had buying some on Fairmount and some on St-V and comparing...)

Oh, and to confuse things further:
Town of Mont-Royal: Ugly suburb north of downtown (Avoid!)
Avenue Mont-Royal: Great street running along the northern part of the Plateau with second-hand shops, cafés, etc (Don't avoid!)
Mont-Royal: The big hill ("You call that a mountain?" my GF said upon moving from Vancouver) in the middle of the city, also the park that surrounds it (designed by the same dude as Central Park)

Finally: Damn you, turkishgold... you've made me really miss my old home!

(Sound familiar, loquax? :) )
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2004


I still can't get your mentioning of Chez Paree out of my head. Don't forget SuperSex!
posted by loquax at 12:15 PM on May 4, 2004


Ok, i'll bite since no one has said it: If you are heterosexual, you gotta hit at least a couple strip clubs. Run, don't walk. The only one whose name I remember is club supersex, but there are plenty more around st. catharine's street that are less expensive and still quality. They'll make you order drinks - get beer because everything else is water - but there is a lot to be said for a $10 canadian private dance where touching is not only expected but encouraged. I'm certainly not a connoisseur of strip clubs, but i've been to enough to know that the ones in Montreal are way better and a hell of a lot cheaper than a lot of what's in the states. I can't believe no one else mentioned that.

[on preview: i guess loquax has mentioned it, but he didn't sell it enough]
posted by rorycberger at 12:31 PM on May 4, 2004


I second the bagels. Skip the Marchee Atwater---just grab some bagels, cheese and orangina on Prince-Arthur or Ste. Dennis and head up the mountain for a picknic.
posted by bonehead at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2004


oh, and definitely find the time to do some people watching. without making a sweeping generalization, oh hell, i will, montreal has by far the most beautiful women and men per capita.
posted by heather at 12:41 PM on May 4, 2004


Thanks a lot for everything, guys. I was on the fence about this whole thing, but I'm I'm excited.

Anathema, I'm getting ready to book chateau de l'argoat -- is it within walking distance of all the places people are talking about. At around $55 USD / night how can I go wrong!

I'm not a huge fan of strip clubs. I'd rather have a great chat with a girl at a "regular" bar with the possibility of perhaps seeing her naked someday, than taking the easy route -- you know what I mean?
posted by TurkishGolds at 1:00 PM on May 4, 2004


For what it's worth, you get charged a foreign currency conversion charge on foreign ATM withdrawals, so the bank is still making money off you with their rate. Plus most take some more off the top for the privilege

I assure you from many personal experiences that this is NOT universal. At least not in the relevant direction. Maybe your bank is just crazy for the fees.

I have used my ATM card (from a local credit union hooked into the usual networks) to get CAD lots and lots of times since 2000, from a variety of Canadian banks. I have never once been charged any "currency conversion" fee. Only the standard fees for not having the bank's card at their end, and for using another bank's ATM at my end; same as I would if I were getting money in Albuquerque.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:45 PM on May 4, 2004


Maybe you're right ROU. My bank is very very evil and has a bad case of sticky fingers.
posted by loquax at 2:05 PM on May 4, 2004


I'm not a huge fan of strip clubs. I'd rather have a great chat with a girl at a "regular" bar with the possibility of perhaps seeing her naked someday, than taking the easy route -- you know what I mean?

I know what you mean, and I'm not really crazy about strip clubs either, but if you even remotely enjoy them, the ones in montreal are definitely worth a look. You actually can have real conversations with the girls, and they'll often give you free dances, etc. if you do. It sounds cheesy, but it seems like the girls there actually enjoy what they do and genuinely want to talk to you, rather than here where they pretend to want to talk to you but really just want to separate you from as much of your money as possible. A subtle difference, I know, but a noteworthy one. If, on the other hand, you absolutely hate strip clubs, then you probably won't see the difference, and that's fine - to each their own. Either way, there's certainly lots of other fun stuff to do there, so have a blast!
posted by rorycberger at 2:56 PM on May 4, 2004


I'm not a huge fan of strip clubs. I'd rather have a great chat with a girl at a "regular" bar with the possibility of perhaps seeing her naked someday, than taking the easy route -- you know what I mean?

I thought the same thing until I went to Montreal for a wedding and its associated batchelor party. Combine heather's comment with rorycberger's and...um...yeah.
posted by LionIndex at 2:59 PM on May 4, 2004


Ok rorycberger, that's enough. Didn't you see the MeTa thread about the moratorium on agendafilter posts? Grind your axe somewhere else.

Just kidding

By the way, the supersex t-shirts are awesome (I have a friend who works there, I also am not a huge fan of the genre of establishment). I would advise wowing your pals with one of those beauties upon your return to the staid old USA. It's the word "Supersex" but in the Superman lettering. Not that original I know, but one of the best trademark infringements I've seen!
posted by loquax at 3:02 PM on May 4, 2004


Sort of off-topic, but if you are driving, you should know a few things: border crossings can be quick going over to Canada but are slow as hell coming back. Bring your passport, leave the weed at home, don't try to import porn. If you have the option, go for one of the smaller border crossings like at 120 or 105 and they'll take much less time. Also, fwiw, there is a seemingly permanent road block on I-91 southbound just a bit north of I-89. Looking for drugs, I guess. They've always waved me through when I went by, but it's easy to avoid IF you know it's there.
posted by jessamyn at 3:44 PM on May 4, 2004


I was intrigued, so I looked up the McGill dorms. They are available from mid-May. All the details are here.

Remember the prices are in CAN$. So it's cheaper than you think.
posted by smackfu at 8:07 PM on May 4, 2004


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