Discovering artsy Sherbrooke Street West


October 23, 2012 – Art lovers, shoppers, gastronomes, lend me your ears. Montréal’s Quartier du Musée in the Golden Square Mile is a picturesque little pocket of the city spread out over a short stretch of Sherbrooke Street West. A popular destination for those who come to visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, visitors should also save an afternoon (or a whole day) for slowly roaming and discovering the other luxurious joys in the area.

Start the day at Pâtisserie Oliver Potier whom, by the way, did a stint at Ladurée in Paris. Besides his classic cannelés or madeleines, Potier’s more sophisticated pastries are tiny works of art.  His haute version of the Snickers bar with upscale chocolate, peanuts and caramel is almost too delicate to eat (almost!). Opens at 7:30 a.m.

If your eye is on Canadian artwork (to peruse or buy), La Guilde canadienne specializes in First Nations fine crafts. Galerie Valentin offers an elite focus of Canadian Masters while Galerie NuEdge will please contemporary enthusiasts with its exhibits that include video installations, photography and sculpture. Contemporary Quebecois artists are featured at La Galerie Turenne, while more cutting-edge international works can be found at Galerie Samuel Lallouz.

Besides its collection of contemporary art, Galerie Elena Lee also sells jewellery made by Canadian artists. For “wearable art” that’s a little more permanent, brave souls can surrender their skin to the tattoo artists at Adrenalin – where, once upon a time, a little-known actress Angelina Jolie was a patron.

A misnomer, Petit Musée is actually a gallery (everything is for sale), but is a must-stop for history fanatics. Family-owned for three generations, this four-story treasure trove is filled from floor to ceiling with antiques from all over the world. I was particularly enamoured by ancient coins that were repurposed as bold cocktail rings. The present owner is a friendly linguistics buff – ask to see his cuneiform tablets.

Later in the day if you’re feeling nibbly, I’d stop by Nocochi for tea. For more girly delights, reserve a table at Le Maître Chocolatier for their high tea service. The upstairs salon is a romantic, aromatic escape. Should your palette crave organic and vegan nourishment, Crudessence is a short detour on Mackay Street.

Once you’ve been recharged, it’s time to work your shopping muscle. My boutique of choice is Trianon – it’s not on street level, so keep your chin up! Owner Luce Gayrard has a refined eye and brings all her Versailles-inspired frilly things under one roof: 18th-century French antiques, high-quality reproductions, charming accessories, as well as some of her own bespoke home furnishings. Don’t leave without buying one of her namesake candles, of which the romantic scent permeates her lady-approved ambience.

Just a few doors down is Palais de la reine, a brand new shop that features unique home décor items, jewellery and art; everything – including the owner – is imported from Madagascar. Purveyors of runway art will appreciate the carefully curated fashions by boutique owner Maria Balla at Les Créateurs , who promotes the philosophy of “investment shopping” in avant-garde collections by Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester.

If the weather is fine, the outdoor Tuscan-style courtyard at Il Cortile is a lovely spot for a late lunch tucked away from the busy thoroughfare. An old-school Italian restaurant, they serve fresh pastas, light salads and refreshing bubbly. Alternatively, Beatrice is also an Italian restaurant, albeit a little flashier (read: more $$$). The Il Giardino terrasse, which just opened last May, is a chichi place to see and be seen – and eat and drink.

Along Sherbrooke Street West my absolute coup de coeur was Landau Fine Art and Galerie Dominion where you must make an appointment to visit. One of the most influential galleries on the international art scene, these two addresses are owned and operated by the Landau family, known for their promotion of contemporary artists. I was swept away by Argentina-based Manuel Cancel’s breezy landscapes. There are also rare visual treats (available for purchase if the price is right) by Degas, Bottero, Miro, Giacometti, Matisse, Modigliani, and more. Ask to see Picasso’s 1965 painting “Les dormeurs.”

Speaking of sleep, to ensure sweet dreams after a long day on your feet, I highly recommend reserving a quiet hour at Spa Dr. Hauschka for soothing body and soul treatments (not on the menu is the “Gold Facial” – a not-to-be-missed  ”gilty” pleasure available by special request). Finally, to get the most of your escapade on Sherbrook Street West, Le Meridien Hotel is an artsy retreat where the lobby is a gallery, the doorman is a photographer and even the room keys are collectors’ items.