Experience Old Montreal Like a Local
The vocabulary surrounding Old Montreal often includes terms such as “tourist trap” and “overpriced”. As a result, many Montreal natives avoid the Old Port like the plague. However, if you can get over the occasional wafts of excrement from the horse-drawn carriages, the caricature artists that litter the streets, and the slow walking tourists, there’s quite a few gems that should not be missed. I spent a day in Old Montreal hitting up ten key spots that locals can truly appreciate.
Olive et Gourmando
351 Rue Saint Paul Ouest
Great brunch spot to start your day off right! Open until the early evening, this café-resto is ideal for a coffee or a quick bite to eat. They offer a variety of croissants, paninis (try the breakfast one) and typical café eats. The café is often busy and bustling but without the feeling of a tourist spot and it’s the homey interior and friendly staff that make this possible.
Victoria Pier – Clock Tower Beach
Rue Quai de l’Horloge
Beaches are hard to come by in Montreal, so if you’re in the area be sure to stop by this one. Located only a short walking distance from the Place Jacques Cartier, the Victoria Pier is the perfect place to take a short break or spend an entire day. The beach is free and open until 5 pm every day, often staying open into the night. While swimming is prohibited, there’s still plenty to do at Victoria Pier, whether it’s tanning, hitting the bar, cooling off at a misting station or catching a fireworks show.
407 Rue Saint Pierre
The Phi Center is definitely a place that Montrealers need to be acquainted with if they are not already. The center screens interesting films, exhibits art and hosts concerts. Currently at the Phi Center, ephemeralphi, a boutique is set up selling prints, original clothing pieces and accessories. On the second floor, there is presently an exhibit curated by Phoebe Greenberg, Penny Mancuso and Renata Morales, showcasing work by Morales, Joe Becker, Paola Pivi, Sophie Calle, Takashi Murakami, Gianni Motti and Jack and Dinos Chapman.
Ming Tao Xuan
451 Rue St Sulpice
The perfect place for afternoon tea. Ming Tao Xuan’s classic Chinese teahouse decor instantly transports you from the busy city outside into a calming atmosphere. The tea menu might seem daunting at first but the knowledgeable staff are always helpful. Many of their teas can be served cold which makes this teahouse suitable all year round.
451 Rue St Jean
The DHC/ART is a visual arts exhibition space dedicated to providing interesting and thought provoking contemporary art. “Come and See” by Jake and Dinos Chapman is the exhibition currently being showcased and it successfully delivers an eerie satire of consumer culture while displaying great artistic talent; a definite must-see.
Dolcetto & Co.
151 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest
Nothing says true Montreal restaurant like playing Mac Demarco over the speakers. With the windows wide open and the nautical wall art, Dolcetto & Co. fluctuates seamlessly between a coastal Italian atmosphere and a cozy kitchen. Serving unique Italian dishes, we ordered the eggplant parmesan and the foie gras, fig and fleur de sel foccacia.
191 Rue Saint Paul Ouest
By far one of the coolest tapas bars in the Old Port. The staff, decor and quality are second to none. The best way to describe Santos would be the trendy kitchen of your best friend’s crazy Spanish mother. With a “Welcome Home” neon sign above the bar, Mother Mary above the door, a female nude photograph on the wall, mason jar candles, and even cookbooks behind the bar (not to mention a Hey Girl Ryan Gosling book and a Understand Rap: Explanations of Confusing Rap Lyrics that You & Your Grandma Can Understand), Santos has truly found the ideal combination between quirky and classy. Creative drinks such as “Mr. Freeze” are available but you also cannot go wrong with Sangria Santos.
Terrasse Place D’Armes
701 Côte de la Place d’Armes
When you’re from Montreal, it’s easy to think that the view from Mount Royale provides the best view of the sunset. Once you’ve seen the sun set from Terrasse Place D’Armes, however, it’s hard to say. Located on the top floor of Hotel Place D’Armes, you’re guaranteed a breathtaking view whether you plan on staying for dinner or just grabbing drinks.
211 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest
Named after Émile Zola’s famous novel, L’Assommoir lives up to its name. Describing the drink menu as “extensive” and the bar staff as “educated” would be a drastic understatement. L’Assommoir manages to be classy and hip without being pretentious. We ordered Divine Intervention and Neon Watermelon (you’ve got to take every Beyonce opportunity you can). L’Assommoir not only offers a wide variety of drinks but they also have non alcoholic drinks for designated drivers, free alcohol tests and a designated driver service.
417 Rue St Pierre
Underground, literally and figuratively, Flyjin incorporates Asian influence and a modern bar and decor. While the location might feel a little too hip and trendy for some, the friendly staff are welcoming and make Flyjin an ideal place to begin a night out.
Photographs by Isabelle Grégoire