August 1st, 2012 ─ Often referred to as "Canada's Cultural Capital", Montréal is a hub for all things creative—past, present, and future—with a contemporary scene that ranks among the very best in the world.
The Mile End trend
One of the most unique neighbourhoods in North America, Mile End is draped with an urban fabric of creativity and friendliness. Its reputation as a fabulous place to live in has been validated by many inspired minds, including those of the band, Arcade Fire. Its creative heritage continues to grow as not only musicians, but also photographers, painters, filmmakers, animators, and other artists migrate to the district.
Since 1919, Fairmount Bagel Bakery (74 Fairmount Avenue West) has been treating customers to traditional bagels baked in a wood-fired oven. This is a must-eat-at venue for breakfast delights.
For some cool Montréal-made garb, the independent design and print shop, Montréalité (51 Bernard Street West), provides t-shirts designed with the goal of representing Montréal’s unique beauty.
Graphic novel, literature, and art book fanatics will love Drawn and Quarterly (211 Bernard Street West), a shop for the publications of its parent publishing house, the most successful and prominent comics publisher in Canada. The venue is a dynamic presence in Montréal's book scene and hosts launches, readings, and workshops.
Another unique neighbourhood establishment is the independent boutique, Arterie (176 Bernard Street West), which sells a variety of goods, among which are ethically made vegan shoes, clothing, fashion accessories, indie literature, vintage bar ware, and handmade organic soaps.
If you would like to peruse a huge selection of silk-screen prints, small press and zines, paper ephemera, and much more, then head to Galerie Monastiraki (5478 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), a hybrid shop/art space that also hosts openings, book launches and micro-concerts. Supporting a myriad of local and international artists, Monastiraki does a fine job of enchanting the curious who drop in.
Now, to further get a sense of what Mile End is all about, head to the one of the neighbourhood’s staples, Le Cagibi (5490 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), for lunch, and enjoy a healthy choice of home-cooked vegetarian and vegan creations in a comfortable and cozy atmosphere. A full wall of magazines, comics, and art books, along with friendly, down-to-earth service, makes this place extra special. You might even want to come back later in the evening for cocktails, a live show, or a DJ performance.
Established in Montreal in 1991, Yves Laroche Galerie d’art (6355 Saint-Laurent Blvd.) provides contemporary art lovers with a showcase of avant-garde contemporary works from Canadian artists, as well as internationally established creators and those still on the rise. The gallery is rooted in the underground world of tattooing and graffiti, comics, cartoons, pop art, illustration, and surrealist artists, and is a strong voice in the dialogue between current creative energies and the emergence of sub-culture onto a contemporary platform.
Also worth visiting in the area is Eastern Bloc (7240 Clark Street), an exhibition and arts production centre dedicated to new media and interdisciplinary art. Founded in 2007 by Eliane Ellbogen and Sandor Poloskei, Eastern Bloc’s mission is, among other things, to explore and push the creative boundaries in digital and electronic arts, audio/video installation, multimedia performance, and other promising practices.
Other centres to check out are Battat Contemporary (7245 Alexandra Street), a privately run contemporary space that showcases the work of local artists, and Off Interarts, a multi-use, non-profit, creative space consisting of an open-concept studio and a store front exhibition window.
For some good eats, head to Le Dépanneur Le Pick-Up (7032 Waverly Street), a prime meeting place for area residents and artists, which offers diner faves like burgers, fries, and deli sandwiches, as well as inspired creations like a vegetarian pulled “pork” sandwich and a grilled Halloumi sandwich. All this and more is accompanied by a constant slew of art exhibitions, concerts, special events, and performance art.
For night-time fun, take in a concert at Il Motore (179 Jean-Talon Street), a music performance hall that features a variety of indie musicians, or hop on over to the Royal Phoenix Bar (5788 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), an all-in-one entertainment spot that is stylish, yet unpretentious, and offers live music, video projections, dancing, karaoke, and all sorts of unique performances.
Walkable wangering on the Plateau Mont-Royal
The Plateau Mont-Royal, a.k.a. the "Plateau," is another fantastic Montréal neighbourhood, just south of Mile End, whose architecture showcases charming exterior wrought-iron staircases and stone masonry dwellings and shops. This district provides for many photo opportunities, so bring a camera along on this winsome promenade.
If you are feeling a bit peckish, consider heading to Laïka (4040 Saint-Laurent Blvd.) for some good breakfast food set in a funky décor with electro-chill music playing in the background. This restaurant/Wi-Fi café/bar/lounge is frequented by trendy locals and visitors like you! Other first meal options include Café Santropol (3990 Saint-Urbain Street), another local hotspot where Montrealers flock to in large numbers to enjoy legendary sandwiches (double or triple-decker!), fresh salads, freshly-squeezed juice, and certified organic coffee, all served in a relaxed ambiance, both inside the restaurant and outside on the beautifully serene terrace, complete with fountain.
Batteries charged, head to Oboro (4001 Berri Street), a well-established artist centre, founded in 1982, which favours the development of art practices locally, nationally, and internationally. Oboro’s sphere of activity encompasses visual and media arts, performing arts, and new technologies and developments.
If you are feeling a bit adventurous, in a personal expression kind of way, you can head to Coupe Bizarre (3770 Saint-Laurent Blvd.) for a hair makeover. Known for their innovative cuts and colourings, the salon bring hair to level of fine art with a reputation as sharp as the scissors used there to create individual style.
Next, proceed to Ctrllab (3634 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), an art gallery and event space dedicated to disseminating the work of emerging and established artists, while providing the Montréal arts community with a unique venue for a variety of events. Having established itself as a vibrant venue for video, photography, sculpture, painting, dance, and theatre, the gallery welcomes young artists and curators seeking to present professional solo or group shows.
For a pluri-disciplinary presentation of contemporary art, head to the Montréal, arts interculturels (MAI) (3680 Jeanne-Mance Street). The only cultural organization in Canada invested with the mandate to promote intercultural artists, the MAI presents professional contemporary art (dance, theatre, music, interdisciplinary, visual and media arts) and is a nucleus of creative exchange, reflection, and research.
There is a lot to do at night in the Plateau, suitable for all inclinations. You can watch an indie music concert at one of a number of popular and colourful local venues like La Sala Rossa (4848 Saint-Laurent Blvd.) or Divan Orange (4234 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), or dance to techno beats at Blizzarts (3956 Saint-Laurent Blvd.). Nightlife…à la Montréal is as diverse as the citizens of this vibrant, exceptional city. Enjoy!