What to do in Montreal?
January 3, 2005 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Dearest AskMe, my boyfriend and I are going to Montreal for a weekend. We would like to explore Old Montreal, laugh at the penguins in the BioDome, and find fun little shops, restaurants, and interesting attractions. Also: good places for drinking without having to yell over la musique? Please advise us, lest we foolishly miss all the best parts! Merci!
posted by heatherann to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if you like smoked meat or not, but I'd highly recommend Schwartz's if you do. They don't accept Interac or Visa (or MC) though so you've gotta be prepared. (There is an automated teller in the place.) The line is usually pretty long to get in but it's well worth the wait.
posted by aedra at 7:39 PM on January 3, 2005

I'd recommend walking up the length of St. Denis from Sherbrooke north. It's really good for used music and books and fun little random shops. Also Chinatown, in the area of St. Lawrence south of Maisonneuve. The Westmount district around Atwater street has some nice upscale trendy shopping.

Restaurants: Schwartz's (the line's intimidating, yes, but it moves pretty fast), Santropol for overpriced but yummy vegetarian sandwiches, Chinatown (I always go to Hong Kong restaurant, but that's family tradition more than personal preference; there are some good Vietnamese places there too). Make sure you try out poutine; I think La Belle Province's poutine is pretty good. Montreal bagels rock; you might try St. Viateur Bagels... Alas, I was a starving student when last I lived there.
posted by Jeanne at 8:19 PM on January 3, 2005

Da Emma is one of my favorite Italian restaurants, in any city.
posted by cribcage at 8:23 PM on January 3, 2005

mmmmmmmm. smoked meat.

check out Ex Centris on St. Lauent, usually some good stuff.
posted by clubfoote at 8:43 PM on January 3, 2005

I love Montreal. Boris Bistro is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, and one of the best values in North America. If the weather is decent, sit outside, great mod jazz bands, steak tartare and fries cooked in duckfat, foie gras appetizer and a beer/lemonade concoction that was just delicious. I can't recommend it highly enough. And the teahouse at the botanic garden was great, as were the snacks served there; the bug museum at the biodome was cool too.
posted by luriete at 8:46 PM on January 3, 2005

I go to Montreal a lot, and last month I ate the best meal I've ever had there, at Au Pied de Cochon, a dressed-up Quebecois comfort food bistro, if that makes sense. The signature dish -- poutine au foie gras -- sounds like a joke, but its greatness cannot be denied. Finish with the pudding chameur. We paid about C$80 a person.

For a cheaper treat, Frite Alors has first-rate Belgian-style frites, said to be fried in horse fat for an otherwise unattainable crispiness.

Schwartz's and other Montreal smoked meat are fine, but -- not to start any fights here -- no comparison with corned beef or pastrami in New York.
posted by escabeche at 9:00 PM on January 3, 2005

Even Montrealers won't sit on a café-terrasse in January.

In Old Montreal: for views, you can climb to the top of the Clock Tower, which you will see out on a pier at the east end of the Old Port. Or pay six bucks in Bonsecours Church and climb up to look the bronze angels right in the eye. Notre Dame is practically obligatory, as is the tourist ride in a calèche, available all year unless we've just had a big blizzard.

If you're out at the Biodome, and especially if it's cold, you can usually get a ticket allowing you to walk up the hill and go inside the Botanical Garden's greenhouses. There's an outstanding collection of bonsai, plus plants from all over the world. It isn't Kew but it's nice. The Insectarium's also there, but I've never been in it.

Schwartz's is on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, aka the Main, which is the zero point of all addresses, among other things. If you walk north on Saint-Denis from Sherbrooke, you can turn west (left), walk seven short blocks, and walk back down the Main, stopping at Schwartz's, or for a combination sandwich at the Slovenia if you're a serious carnivore. Laïka on the Main (in the green building, corner Duluth) is a nice bistro, with wi-fi (sign on for a free account at ile sans fil first) and quietish electronica in the background.

Depending on the weather, you may find the Underground City (pdf file) appealing. It's a large complex of underground malls, basically, linked by passages, poking its head aboveground here, diving well below street level there. Lots of food courts and boutiques, and you can see a movie or go ice skating without going outside.
posted by zadcat at 9:22 PM on January 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Someone posted this [madeinmtl.com] on MeFi a while ago. I just got back from a visit. Montreal is just too cool.
posted by ori at 9:25 PM on January 3, 2005

The easy one day walking tour of shops, bookstores, and CD/Movie trading stores.

Utilizing the Metro: Take any line to Berri-UQAM and walk St. Denis north to Mont-Royal. Take Mont-Royal east until you see Pizzadelic. Cross the street and head back the Mont-Royal station. Go home.

Stop at stores as interested.

The bookstores will be 95% french language with small English sections. The CDs are mixed English/French depending on the store. The DVDs are Region 1 and are mostly American films.

If you want English used bookstores try St. Catherine at the Peel Station (On Stanley). There are two good ones on Stanley between St. Catherine and Maisonnuve.

The best English used bookstore in town however is S. W. Welch on St. Laurent.

If you miss the penguins you can catch the show later.
posted by ?! at 9:53 PM on January 3, 2005

I was all set to come in and recommend Au Pied De Cochon, only to find out that escabeche beat me to it. Make no mistake - it will be one of the best meals you will ever eat. Have the Foie Gras poutine and the venison tartare. On the slightly more expensive end of the scale, La Chronique is also a culinary goldmine, and I always like Le P'tit Plateau.

(I might get shot for saying this, but smoked meat is terrible.)

For drinks, my favorite bar in the world is Else's, just off of St. Laurent at 156 Roy. It's tremendously cute.
posted by painquale at 10:02 PM on January 3, 2005

if you love art, le Musee des Beaux Arts and le Musee d'Art Contemporain are both musts.

and for cinema, food and just people-watching, Ex Centris on the Main (St Laurent) is an excellent suggestion.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:06 PM on January 3, 2005

> The DVDs are Region 1 and are mostly American films

if you are looking for Quebecois or French films, books and music, you will do no wrong by visiting Archambault They are easy to find - there is one at Place des Arts metro, another further down the street on Ste Catherine and Berri.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:12 PM on January 3, 2005

I was in Montreal over the summer and saw an Expos game. I guess that's out of the question now though. There is a ride up to the top observation deck, which I got a kick out of, plus a decent shot of the city proper.

But what's the deal with those penguins? Not knowing anything about anything, we went to the Biodome and saw them. All the penguins faced the wall, away from passersby. And all of them had his or her left wing up, like they were signaling a left turn.

I asked a curator what the penguins' problem was, he thought "maybe they're hot." Asked why they wouldn't raise both arms, or their right arm at all, he said (I swear), "well, they're not THAT hot, look at all the ice." Can anyone answer this who isn't a moron?

Montreal was a pretty cool town overall, but asked from the walk-around-and-gawk, which is one of my favorite things to do, anywhere, I can't offer much advice...
posted by sdrawkcab at 11:57 PM on January 3, 2005

Anyone tried the poutine at Chez Claudette? It looks like this.

I am new to Montreal myself, but I would recommend waiting until the summer to visit. It's cold and ugly right now. But if you do come up here, I'd recommend a nice dinner (w/ brought wine) at one of the lively Plateau restaurants, which are worth visiting for the neighbourhood alone. It's sort of the Place To Be in Montreal these days. Also, for your hung-over Sunday morning, you must visit La Belle Province for some Quebec-style fast food. I recommened the steamie.
posted by Succa at 4:55 AM on January 4, 2005

The Insectarium's also there, but I've never been in it.

If you like bugs, the Insectarium is awesome. It is one of my fave things in Montreal. Overall, it's small, but the walls are covered in pinned up bugs.
posted by dame at 7:51 AM on January 4, 2005

to ask a question in a question - any one have good recommendations for Spas in Montreal? A friend was recently transferred there for her job and I wanted to give her a gift certificate for when she arrived. I've googled - but haven't been able to find much.
posted by Wolfie at 8:53 AM on January 4, 2005

bagels >> fairmont bagel, 74 fairmont west.

best. bagels. ever.
posted by heather at 10:50 AM on January 4, 2005

bagels >> st-viateur bagel, 263 st-viateur west, one block north of fairmont.

best. bagels. ever.

(Come on, someone had to. Man, do I miss midnight bagel runs.)
posted by mendel at 11:02 AM on January 4, 2005

If you're at all interested in the linguistic aspect of the city, there are a lot of good comments in a couple of threads I devoted to my trip there last summer: 1, 2.

As for English used bookstores, I highly recommend The Word on Milton just east of McGill.
posted by languagehat at 11:19 AM on January 4, 2005

Bagels. They're almost all good. And smoked meat--if you like it, you'll love it. It's one of those "either you like it or not" things like oysters or caviar. It's not corned beef, it's not pastrami--it's its own thing, with a lingering taste of allspice and clove.

I really really liked Molivos, which was a modest little Greek seafood restaurant we went to on a whim.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:36 AM on January 4, 2005

I grew up there, but haven't lived in Montreal for a few years, so some of this info might be a little out of date.

For quiet drinks with good tunes, I quite liked Laika, on St. Laurent. Also the Copacabana, on St Laurent again has a "dive filled with cool people" vibe.
St viateur bagels are the best.
Faimont bagels are just as good.
posted by sauril at 1:05 PM on January 4, 2005

The Word, mentioned above, is wonderful; it's run by some old family friends, and is the sort of store you can't help but fall in love with. I'd say avoid Laika unless you're looking for wifi; but if you cross duluth and sit up against the wall, you can probably pick up my WAP. For the best coffee in the city, make your way up st laurent to st viater and head east for two blocks... Cafe Olympico, on the south side of Viater/?wavery? has maybe the best cafe au lait in the city. If you're feeling a more sit-down coffee, check out... wow I feel bad, is it esplanade? which is at the corner of st viater and st laurent... also a good cafe au lait.

and has anyone mentioned spirit lounge? It's in the Village, on ontario just east of st denis, I think; great vegan food. Reservations only; wonderful, relatively cheap food.

there are no menus; there will generally be a soup and an entree or two each evening. They have a neat little gimmick that some people don't really like; you tell them if you want a full serving, a half serving or a child's serving, and if you don't eat what you're given, you're not allowed to order desert; if you order desert and don't finish it, they won't accept another reservation from you. The food is wonderful, they offer a decent house wine, but the atmosphere is terrific. Most fun I've had eating in a long time. Dinner for two with wine can be around 50-60cdn, depending on the meal.

and santropol has great beans (that's coffee, on review), but I'm not particularly fond of the food; YMMV.

Have fun, and come back in the summer.
posted by cmyr at 2:10 PM on January 4, 2005

oh, for reservations at spirit lounge, call 514 522 5353.
posted by cmyr at 2:12 PM on January 4, 2005

I can't claim to know the 'best' of Montreal by any means, but I really liked the vegetarian restauraunt Chu Chia (4088 Saint Denis Street) - you must get the deep fried seaweed. No, really. Wherever you go, check if it's one of the many places you can BYOB (AVV en francais?) because that totally rules.

And for a funky place to drink, the Jardain Tiki is quite close to the BioDome and a pretty decent Tiki bar (at least for Canada) - pufferfish lamps and all.
posted by Gortuk at 2:59 PM on January 4, 2005

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