Between Two Worlds
Text Ilona Marx Photos Andy Rumball Illustration Roman Klonek
Perhaps its cold winters are the reason why Montreal isn’t ranked as one of the top destinations amongst the world’s metropolises. It’s difficult to say. The fact is: the country’s over three and a half million inhabitants aren’t really shedding too many tears about their secluded existence. After all, there are quite a few urban attractions that the Montrealers might not necessarily want to share with the rest of the world.
Their fantastic restaurant scene for one: after New York, Montreal has the most restaurants per capita in North America – of which a high proportion, and this is the best bit, serves up excellent French cuisine. As we all know, it was the French out of all the European colonists who decided to settle at this pretty spot next to the St. Lawrence River. And while we’re on the topic, there’s the culture clash between the old world and the new, as one is constantly reminded of both New York and Paris when in Montreal. The skyscrapers in the banking district downtown, the grid layout of the streets, the relaxed lifestyle: so New York. The picturesque architecture dating back to the 18th century, the language, the churches and the cuisine: so Parisian.
Above and beyond that, Montreal also has its very own trump cards to play – when it comes to nature for example. The city has over 2000 hectares of green parks, and 70 percent of the inhabitants don’t own a car. 450 km worth of bike paths have been created and another 400 km are in the pipeline. That makes cycling a very attractive option, at least during the warmer months of the year: you can be in Rue Saint-Paul Ouest, checking out the best fashion stores, tucked away behind elegant stuccoed façades, and a quick cycle later you can be in amongst the skyscrapers downtown – switching between two worlds in a matter of minutes.
Also easy to get to by bike is the plateau at the foot of Mont Royal, the mountain that gives the town its name. This is where the legendary Boulevard Saint-Laurent can be found – legendary because of its high density in fashion stores and nightlife. And as if that weren’t enough: the side streets are also full of pretty boutiques and interior design shops, cosy little restaurants and delis, cool wine bars and bagel bakeries. Toronto may have more financial pulling power, but in a countrywide comparison, Montreal just can’t be topped when it comes to lifestyle and culture: with 250 theatre and dance companies, including the renowned Cirque du Soleil, with 90 festivals a year and a vibrant mixed scene in all kinds of neighbourhoods, the pearl of the province of Québec is a cultural heavyweight. It also boasts the third biggest fashion industry in North America, after New York and Los Angeles. Reason enough for J’N’C editor-in-chief Ilona Marx to take a trip and explore Montreal together with Berlin-based photographer Andy Rumball.
PLUS CHECK THESE OUT
Fairmount Bagel (Best Bagels in Town) www.fairmountbagel.com
Denis Gagnon (The Gaultier of Montreal – He is even one of his friends) www.denisgagnon.ca
Hotel Nelligan (Cosy Hotel – only a stone's throw away from the best fashion shops) www.hotelnelligan.com
Le Local (Industrial Chic Restaurant) resto-lelocal.com
Pikolo Espresso Bar (Tiny little Coffeebar – just follow the delicious smell)
Nota Bene (Beautiful oldfashioned Stationery) www.nota-bene.ca
Les Montures (Vintage Designer Glasses – in a very special environment) www.lesmontures.com
Drawn & Quaterly (Cool international books and magazines) www.drawnandquarterly.com
Phil'z (vintage furniture from the 20th century)
Style Labo (interior design and nice bric a brac) www.stylelabo-deco.com
Joe Beef (Well worth the trip if you could eat a horse) www.joebeef.ca
Beaver Hall (classic cuisine, but absolutely delicious) beaverhall.ca
Taverne Square Dominion (the most traditional tavern in town – even the hipsters agree) www.dominiontavern.com
Primitive Records (A tribute to the bubbly music scene in the city)
Le Pick-Up (the chip shop at the end of the world – insider tip) depanneurlepickup.com
Jean Tallon Markt (this is where the star cooks of the city shop)
Galerie Simon Blais (has been a fixture on the art scene for over 20 years) www.galeriesimonblais.com
Galerie René Blouin (another specialist when it comes to Canadian art) www.galeriereneblouin.com