Once upon a time, Bernard was the end of the line- literally. Mile End was once a pastoral suburb where families of newly-arrived Greek immigrants mixed with the the second-largest population of Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. Those populations still inhabit the area, but now Mile End is a major artery of the city’s cultural life and Bernard is the main vein…
Our street profile series has already visited Bleury, Parc, Maisonneuve, Saint-Paul, Saint-Zotique, Crescent, Greene Avenue, Sainte-Catherine, Amherst, Saint-Denis and Ontario, but back to the business of Bernard…
Bernard is an east-west street that connects tony, traditionally French Outremont with the more bohemian (though upwardly-mobile) neighbourhood of Mile End. On both sides of Parc Avenue, Bernard’s sidewalks have been widened to accommodate wanderers, window-shoppers, dog-walkers and strollers, as well as the slow traffic past three (count ‘em, three) of the city’s best ice-cream purveyors. There’s no better place to see and be seen in all of Montreal.
Let’s use Bilboquet, the westernmost of said ice-cream parlours, as our starting point on a leisurely walk down Bernard. Nine months out of the year, you’ll notice Bilboquet long before you reach the door, from the lineup around the block- that’s how popular they are. This most name-brand of Montreal creameries specializes in craaazy mishmash flavours, a bit like a Quebecois version of Ben and Jerry’s- Cacaophonie or Bric-a-brac, anyone?
If it’s a sunny spring day, the sheer numbers of brunchers on Bernard can barely be believed. My friends and I sometimes call it “brunch row”: Café Souvenir, Le Petit Italien and mighty upstart Brasserie Les Enfants Terribles are places to people-watch your hangover away on a sunny spring Sunday (at Les Enfants Terribles, the smart money’s on the classic, baked beans with a duck drumstick). The clean, modern look of their walls paneled with repurposed wood is a hit with the design-snobs, too.
Across the street is La Moulerie (motto: “Mussels, fries and fantasies”), another great place to hang out on the terrasse and flex your, well, mussels. Across from there is Theatre Outrement, a grande dame of an old dancehall palace- the kind of place where the floorboards can tell stories about the acts that have taken the stage over many years. I have personally been there to see Emmylou Harris, The Dears, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and a Steve Earle show where the power went out and he did the whole show acoustic.
After breakfast, walk off your meal with a quick tour of Parc Outremont, a small but atmospheric tree-lined square where summer sees kids’ art activities and the occasional band. Stop fight though for a cup of artisanal icecream at Leo le Glacier, an upstart creamery across from the park that’s my favourite in the neighbourthood, though the lines are getting long!
You’ll soon cross Parc Avenue into Mile End, where on your left is the Nouveau Palais Bernard, a newly reopened classic diner run by a young luminary of the Montreal restaurant scene, Gita Seaton.
The hipster quotient soon gets stepped up by the one-two punch of Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, the bookstore flagship of D+Q, the world’s foremost publisher of serious graphic novels. They have an amazing schedule of authors events, too— like Chester Brown on May 14. Next door, Phonopolis is a great place to not only buy records, but also concert tickets in many of the happening venues in the ‘hood.
Finally, some shopping. L’Arterie is a collective of local designers and artists and a spot that also happens to have Montreal’s best collection of “vegetarian shoes”. And further down the block, custom silkscreeners Montrealite come up with Montreal-specific t-shirt designs that play like inside jokes (and perfect souvenirs).
By this time, you should have spent a whole afternoon browsing, drinking and hanging out on Bernard. Maybe it’s time for another snack, followed by another drink? L’Assomoir is a happening bar/dining room that’s hopping on the weekends- their big communal table can seat you and 20 of your friends, or grab a barstool and make some new ones. Nearby Restaurant Thailande is a neighbourhood favourite for authentic thai food and pillow talk, as one side of the large dining room is devoted to traditional thai groundlevel tables where diners sit, cross-legged, propped up by pillows
Let’s wind this tour down, as all things should wind down, with a stiff drink. Walk into the Whisky Café, at the corner of Bernard and St. Laurent, and sample from over 150 scotch whiskeys, a vast wine and port list, and, for the truly deserving, a well-stocked humidor.
Guest Blogger: Melora Koepke