Insiders Montreal

By: Grescoe, Taras
National Geographic Traveler
May/Jun2006

A slice of Europe only 40 miles from the U.S., Montreal has style to spare, élan beyond compare, and enough street smarts to satisfy the most jaded traveler. Herein, locals tell all.

A Party Girl with Depth

Montreal delights in confounding every cliché used to describe her Like a stripper working on a doctorate in philosophy, she’s forever letting slip her unexpected qualities. Is she “Paris without the jet lag?” Well, it’s true that you can get an unsurpassed steak frites in a brasserie on Montreal’s Rue St-Denis for much less than you’d pay in the French capital. · But an equally valid sobriquet would be “Jersey City with a beret,” for local tastes also tend to the down-home, if not downright trashy. Consider the grilled bologna sandwiches served at Wilensky’s Light Lunch, or the widely available poutine, a dish of french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. · After a few days of hearing both English and French, you may think you understand the city’s dual essence. You’d be wrong: The fact that two major linguistic groups dominate cultural life means nobody really dominates. At the Caffè Italia in Little Italy, generations of Italians still order espressos in the dialects of their ancestors. In the diverse neighborhood of Parc-Extension, the aromas of Greek souvlaki and South Indian masala dosa perfume the air outside of mosques and Orthodox churches.

By rights, cramming the French and British together on an island in the St. Lawrence River should have created endless civil war. Instead, it seems to have fostered tolerance and hedonistic individualism.

The million citizens of Montreal know they are on to a good thing. Unlike Torontonians, who like Toronto for its efficiency, or Vancouverites, who favor proximity to the wilderness, Montrealers love Montreal, period.

TRAVELER asked dozens of locals to spill the beans on their city. They picked flamenco nights in indie rock concert venues, 18th-century fountains in post-modern atriums, and bug-tastings prepared by gourmet chefs.

The clichés, it turns out, are true: Montreal’s got joie de vivre to spare. But, judging from what Montrealers told us, you’re just as likely to find it at the Notre-Dame Basilica as on the dance floor. Montreal may be a party girl–but she’s got depth.

All area codes are 514. In addresses, “O” indicates Ouest (west). Prices are in U.S. dollars.

28 magnifique ways to enjoy the best of Montreal.

1 Ogle the homes of the elite The Westmont district was Montreal’s wealthiest English-speaking enclave. It’s still a spectacle of Victorian and Edwardian mansions and home to the Jikes of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. “The visitor should make a beeline for the Westmount Public Library [4574 Rue Sherbrooke 0; 989-5300], which we restored much as it was in 1899,” says Peter Trent, a former mayor of Westmount. “In the same complex, don’t miss the Victorian greenhouses, with their tropical plants and pool of fish. Also stop in at Nicholas Hoare [1366 Av. Greene; g33-4201], a booklover’s bookshop. And from the look-out at Summit Circle, you can see clear to Vermont.”

the art of conversation

2 Schmooze at the best galleries “The Darling Foundry [745 Rue Ottawa; 392-1554] near Old Montreal is the city’s most impressive art space,” says Isa Tousignant, art critic. “It’s this industrial room big enough to hang cars from the ceiling and has an amazing café, Cluny ArtBar [above] The Canadian Centre for Architecture [1920 Rue Baile; 939-7026], in a converted town house, always has fascinating temporary exhibitions. The Belgo Building [372 Rue Ste-Catherine O], downtown, has over 20 galleries. At openings, you can hobnob with artists and gel a free glass of wine.”

3 Eat ethnic “Jean-Talon Market [7070 Rue Henri-Julien; 937-7754; www.marchespublics-mtl.com/en-CA] has ethnic eating–with no chain stores allowed,” says Barry Lazar, author of Taste of Montreal. “The shops on the north side sell fried squid and barbecued lamb méchoui. The Marché des Saveurs du Québec features local specialties–marinated baby cattails, maple pepper, local raw-milk cheeses, and chocolate-covered blueberries. La Dépense is an exotic food shop run by the Vienne family. Philippe, the father, is probably the city’s best spice experimenter; people line up for his vegetable bhaji. And don’t miss the Polish bakery Wawel with its glazed, yeast-dough, jelly-filled paczki. They’re the world’s best doughnuts.”

4 Shop a trendy street “Rue Saint-Denis is the main street of one of Montreal’s trendiest neighborhoods,” says Sylvie Poirier, editor of Elle Québec. “Between Laurier and Sherbrooke Streets, charming exterior staircases lead to second-floor shops like Quebecois fashion designer Philippe Dubuc’s showroom, Dubuc Mode de Vie [4451 Rue St-Denis; 282-1465]. Revenge [3852 Rue St-Denis; 843-4379] has Quebecois fashions for men and women. Rubans, Boutons [4818 Rue St-Denis; 847-3535] is a little All Baba’s cavern filled with ribbons and buttons.”

5 Try haute poutine “Poutine [pronounced ‘poo-TEEN’] is an artery-clogging Quebecois specialty,” says Adam Gollner, a Montreal food writer who contributes to the New York Times. “It’s the perfect comfort food. Try the poutine at the Montreal Pool Room [1200 Boul. St-Laurent; 396-0460] or one of the 22 varieties served at the open-all-night La Banquise [994 Rue Rachel E; 525-2415]. Au Pied de Cochon [536 Av. Duluth E; 281-1114], one of the city’s best restaurants, does a version with foie gras, elevating this working-class dish to haute poutine.”

6 Go underground Montreal’s “Underground City” (really an enclosed city, partially above ground) consists of shopping malls, metro stations, hotels, and offices connected by 20 miles of tunnels–and is immune to weather. “You can stroll for four hours without going outside,” says Alan Hustak, author of Downtown Montreal “I’m partial to the retro friezes on the walls of the Central Station, gloriously illustrating Canada’s national anthem in both official languages. The World Trade Centre [747 Rue du Square Victoria] features an 18th-century fountain from northern France; at the north end of the atrium you’ll find a 2.75-ton chunk of the Berlin Wall.”

7 Rock the indie scene “Montreal inspires its artists and vice versa,” says music writer Dylan Young. “On a Thursday night, go to the Sala Rossa [4848 Boul. St-Laurent; 284-0122], have a dinner of tapas, enjoy flamenco dancing, then head upstairs to catch a cutting-edge rock band. At the Divan Orange [4234 Boul. St-Laurent; 840-9090], another restaurant-bar, two or three new bands are showcased every other Tuesday in a series called Mandatory Moustache. Day or night you can find writers, artists, and musicians sharing food and ideas at the restaurant-café Pharmacie Esperanza [5490 Boul. St-Laurent; 948-3303].”

8 Find fast fare with flair “We consider New York pastrami a pale imitation of Montreal smoked meat,” says author and filmmaker William Weintraub. “I still get mine at Schwartz’s [3895 Boul. St-Laurent; 842-4813], where the interior has had few visible changes in 40 years. Our bagels are also better–sweet and cooked in a wood-burning oven. My favorites are served at St-Viateur Bagel Shop [263 Av. St-Viateur O; 276-8044]. Enjoy the creamy citrus concoction at the Orange Julep drive-in [7700 Boul. Décarie; 738-7486], shaped like a huge orange, and the Polish pierogies at Mazurka [64 Rue Prince-Arthur E; 844-3539].”

9 Walk on the old side “Old Montreal was Montreal from the 17th to the mid-19th centuries,” says Phyllis Lambert, founding director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture. “But it’s still a working city, with courthouses and the city hall. The 1684 Sulpician Seminary [116 Rue Notre Dame O] is Montreal’s oldest building, and the Sailors’ Church [Chapeile Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours; 400 Rue St-Paul E; museum: 282-8670] an enchanting little chapel. Finally, the interior, and particularly the altar, of the Notre-Dame Basilica [110 Rue Notre-Dame O; 842-2925; www.basiliquenddm.org] is magnificent. During concerts, I sit near the pulpit close to a statue that reminds me of Michelangelo’s ‘Moses.'”

10 Cheer the Canadiens “Montreal is simultaneously a great hockey city and a very harsh one,” says sportswriter and poet David McGimpsey. “Excellence is expected of the Canadiens, and when it’s not delivered, we can be quick to boo a star player. The Bell Centre has good sight lines no matter where you sit. The best games are with the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, because those cities are close enough that the teams bring their own fans and a kind of friendly, boisterous antagonism to downtown streets. A steak house that’s popular before the game is La Queue de Cheval [1221 Boul. René-Lévesque O; 3900090]. For a good pint, go to O’Regans [1224 Rue Bishop; 866-8464], a small Irish bar that fills with hockey fans after the game.” For game tickets and schedules, see www.canadiens.com.

11 Traipse the mountaintop “Parc MontRoyal is an oasis of greenery in the heart of downtown,” says Sylvie Guilbault, director of Les Amis de la Montagne, a citizens’ group dedicated to preserving Mont Royal. “The 544-acre park sits on a 764-foot-high mountain topped by a cross outlined in lights. The park attracts picnickers in summer; in winter, it’s a fairyland of families skating, sliding downhill on inner-tubes, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing [rentals available]. The Chalet is decorated with magnificent paintings that depict the birth of the city. The view of downtown skyscrapers and of the St. Lawrence River from outside the Chalet is famous. But I actually prefer to take a little-known path, called le Sentier de l’Escarpement, which wends along the flank of the mountain, through maples, oaks, and pines, and offers beautiful views of the East End of Montreal framed by leaves.” For park information, see www.lemontroyal.qc.ca.

12 Take your kids to the Biodôme Children get immersed in Montreal’s Biodome [4777 Av. Pierre-De-Coubertin; 868-3000; www.biodome.qc.ca]. “The building itself was the velodrome for the 1976 Olympics,” says Liam Durcan, father of two. “You pass through four different biospheres, starting with the tropical forest, which has the capybara, the world’s largest rodent. In the St. Lawrence Marine ecosystem, I like the circular aquarium full of North American fish. The kids love the Antarctic biosphere, with penguins. Tip: Avoid weekdays, when school groups visit.”

13 Bike the canal “The Lachine Canal was envisioned by a Montreal priest in the 17th century,” says Trevor Ferguson, who writes detective novels under the nom de plume John Farrow. “There are exciting jet boat rides [www.jetboatingmontreal.com]through the Lachine Rapids, but I prefer to stroll or bike the nine-mile-long canal, crossing from side to side over the locks. You pass Catholic churches, old grain elevators, new condos, and Habitat 67, a housing complex built for Expo 67. You also might see tugboats and lakers–freighters that follow the Seaway to the Great Lakes.” Get maps at the Lachine Visitors Services Centre at the fifth set of locks from the east (www.pc.gc.ca/Ihn-nhs/qc/canallachine).

14 Catch a rising dance star “Montreal may be a capital of contemporary dance,” says choreographer Marie Chouinard, “but it can be a challenge for visitors to catch a snow. The Pest companies are usually off touring.” She advises visitors to check www.mariechouinard.com and www.grandsballets.qc.ca for performance dates. “Some of the greatest international companies come to the Théâtre Maisonneuve in the Place des Arts [175 Rue Ste-Catherine O; 842-2112; www.pdarts.com]. Though it’s a big room, there’s a sense of intimacy. To catch up-and-coming dancers, there’s no better place than Tangente, on the ground floor of L’Agora de la Danse [840 Rue Cherrier; 525-5584; www.tangente.qc.ca].”

15 Quaff an ale at a brewpub “Montreal produces more styles of beer than any other city of its size in North America,” says Raymond Beauchemin, author of Salut! The Quebec Microbrewery Beer Cookbook. “We make amazing Belgian-style ales. Try the buckwheat beer at Le Cheval Blanc [809 Rue Ontario E; 522-0211], a great little brewpub full of students. Dieu du Ciel [29 Av. Laurier O; 490-9555], which has copper beer tubs in the window, experiments with small batches; [ like their hemp beer. Brutopia [1219 Rue Crescent; 393-9277], downtown, is an exceptional value; you can order inexpensive samplers of four-ounce beers, including their excellent Scotch Ale [when in season]. Also try the recently opened Fourquet Fourchette du Palais [265 Rue St-Antoine O; 789-6370], a restaurant where everything from the appetizers to the dessert is made with beer.”

16 Jazz it up “Montreal is a great jazz town,” says Len Dobbin, who hosts Dobbin’s Den on local CKUT radio. “These days, the jazz club at the forefront of the Montreal scene is the misnamed Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill [1254 Rue MacKay; 931-6808]; you actually walk downstairs to a bistro-like space with exposed brick walls; the food is excellent [make reservations], and the music starts every night at 8:30. Throughout the days of the Montreal Jazz Festival [June 29-July 9 this year], there are 350 free concerts on downtown streets.”

17 Get down with the clowns “The Cirque du Soleil [ www.cirquedusoleil.com ], based in Montreal, often launches its new touring shows in the spring at the Old Port,” says Aytahn Ross, a freelance circus artist. “Circus lovers should also visit the Cité des Arts du Cirque [2345 Rue Jarry E; 376-8648; www.tohu.ca ].It has a high-ceilinged theater-in-the-round where you can watch shows and attend lectures, and there’s a permanent exhibition of sculptures, photos, and costumes related to circus history. Also, in Parc Mont-Royal, there’s a decades-old tradition called the ‘tam-tams.’ Every Sunday in summer, up to 6,000 people gather at the base of the Cartier Monument to play the djembe drums and picnic. It’s a great place to pick up tricks from jugglers, acrobats, and unicyclists.”

18 BYO wine to a Plateau bistro “Meet friends at the corner of Rue St-Denis and Avenue Duluth in the Plateau neighborhood,” says Sarah Musgrave, the casual-dining critic for the Gazette. “Pick up an inexpensive wine at the dépanneur, or corner store; or, for a better selection, go to the SAQ [4053 Rue St-Denis; 845-5200], a government-controlled liquor store, to get a nice Merlot or Chardonnay. Then walk to Le dardin de Panos [521 Av. Duluth E; 521-4206], a Greek restaurant that specializes in grilled meats. Or try another BYOB bistro in the neighborhood, such as L’Entrepont [4622 Av. de l’Hôtel de Ville; 845-1369]–I order the duck–and Beurre-Noisette [4354 Av. Christophe-Colomb; 596-2205], which does excellent pan-seared scallops with risotto. There’s never a corkage fee, and they’ll open and pour the bottle for you with a flourish.”

19 Get lost in a museum “All sorts of interesting goodies are scattered through the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts [1380 Rue Sherbrooke O; 285-2000; www.mbam.qc.ca],” says art historian Sandra Paikowsky. “The collection is strong in early 20th-century decorative art and has wonderful pairings of furniture and paintings. There are two superb Tiepolos, a Rembrandt portrait, and paintings by dames Wilson Morrice, a friend of Henri Matisse and the first Canadian painter to have a truly international reputation.”

20 Have a latte in Little Italy “When I’m in Little Italy, I always go to the Caffè Italia [6840 Boul. St-Laurent; 495-0059],” says Pierre Foglia, the Italian-born columnist for local newspaper La Presse. “I sit on a turning stool at the counter, order a caffé latte, and ask the owner to surprise me with a panino. She usually gives me mortadella [sausage] and spikes it with peppers. It’s a café for habitués, with two television sets for watching the latest soccer matches in Europe.”

21 Roam the boneyards On weekends, news anchorwoman Mutsumi Takahashi takes long walks in the two cemeteries–Mount Royal (www.mountroyalcem.com)and Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (www.cimetierenddn.org)–that sprawl along the slopes of Mont Royal. “There are crumbling crypts, family plots with epitaphs to sons killed in the First World War, and children’s graves with tiny tombstones carved with lambs,” she says. Maps of the graves of famous people are available at each of the cemeteries’ headquarters. They include Anna Leonowens, the governess who inspired The King and I [in Mount Royal Cemetery] and hockey legend Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard [in NotreDame-des-Neiges].

22 Dawdle at a romantic fountain “On summer nights, I like to stop at the Place dean-Paul-Riopelle, a tree-filled square,” says women’s fashion designer Marie Saint Pierre. “They’ve moved La JouLe [the Joust], a fountain made by one of Quebec’s leading artists, and it’s brought this part of downtown back to life. As the sun goes down, a ring lights up with flames, and mist comes out of the water. People stop to watch; lovers pause to kiss. It reminds me of Paris.” [much a bug]

23 Savor the Insectarium [4581 Rue Sherbrooke E; 872-1400] on multiple levels,” says novelist Kathy Reichs. “Some of the 4,000 critters on display are stuck on pins, but many are alive [above]. You can see Atta ants cutting leaves August and September, watch hundreds of monarch butterflies being released to migrate south. At the Croque-Insectes bug-tasting events, local chefs barbecue locusts and wrap ants in tortillas.”

24 Do Darjeeling with the ducks “The high tea at the Ritz-Carlton [1228 Rue Sherbrooke O; 842-4212] is the real deal,” says Maria Francesca LoDico, editor of the Zagat survey of Montreal. “Walk into Le Jardin in the summer, when the garden is in bloom. A family of ducks pops in and out of the fountain. The tea comes with the full service of Wedgwood porcelain pots on doilies and fine bone china. Since this is Montreal, you get both French and English traditions: patisseries and scones.”

25 Listen to the classics “The biggest musical deal in town remains the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal [842-9951; www.osm.ca ],”says Arthur Kaptainis, music critic for the Montreal Gazette. “Hear the OSM doing their late-Romantic or French repertoire. To add a taste of classic architecture, look for chamber events at the Redpath Hall of McGill University [861 Rue Sherbrooke O; 489-8713] or a choral blockbuster in the rococo St-Jean Baptiste church [4237 Rue Henri-Julien; 842-9811].”

26 Relive furry history “The fur trade was Montreal’s raison d’être for centuries,” says John A. Dickinson, co-author of A Short History of Quebec. “The fur trade museum [1255 Boul. St-Joseph, Lachine; 637-7433] is on the Lachine Canal at the site where French Canadians would set off in canoes to explore the interior of the continent. Exhibits include canoes, pelts, and historical maps. Downtown, the McCord Museum of Canadian History [690 Rue Sherbrooke O; 398-7100] uses native artifacts, furniture, and costumes to recreate daily life of the past. The lesser-known Cartier house [458 Rue Notre-Dame E; 283-2282] in Old Montreal also recreates 19th-century life, complete with an example of early household plumbing.”

27 Shop locally “Many of Montreals downtown shops aren’t part of international chains,” says Marie-Claude Pelletier, founder of the personal image agency Les Effrontés. “Les Cours MontRoyal [1455 Rue Peel; 842-7777] is a mall in a preserved 1922 hotel with funky and designer boutiques. And don’t miss Ogilvy [1307 Rue Ste-Catherine O; 842-7711], a grand department store with chandeliers. Each day at noon a bagpiper strolls through.”

28 Pick an avant-garde flick “To see foreign films long before they show up in New York,” says Mark Slutsky, a filmmaker with the production company Automatic Vaudeville, “go to Ex-Centris [3536 Boul. St-Laurent; 8472206; www.ex-centris.com ].It brings auteur-based cinema and new media under one roof; see documentaries from Afghanistan or the latest by Jim Jarmusch and Pedro Almodóvar. There are live projectionists; prices are lower than at the downtown multiplexes.”

Tips Tip #1 Depending on which day you arrive, a $16 weekly bus and metro pass–available at metro stations and valid from Monday through Sunday–might be preferable to a $14.75 Carte Touristique, valid for three consecutive days.

Tip #2 The $34 Carte Musées Montréal gets you into 30 attractions (ask for it at participating museums), plus three days of free bus and metro rides.

Tip #3 To help you unravel the mysterious of joual, Quebec’s distinct take on the language of Moliére, pick up a copy of French Fun: The Real Spoken Language of Québec, available in some downtown bookstores.

Tip #4 Scan the Tourisme Montréal website (www.tourisme-montreal.org) for museum opening hours, restaurant addresses, hotel deals, and walking tours.

Tip #5 To find out what’s happening before you arrive, visit the weekly entertainment guide the Montreal Mirror online (www.montrealmirror.com); a new edition goes up every Thursday.

Tip #6 For a guide to 23 of Montreal’s major arts, sports, and cultural festivals–including the Just for Laughs comedy festival and the world’s largest jazz festival–log on to www.festivals.qc.ca.

dining out Making French Fare Affordable FRENCH-BORN Jean-Philippe Tastet, restaurant critic for the weekly Voir and editor of its annual dining guide, delights in surprising visitors from Europe with the quality and originality of Montreal’s restaurants. “Young Quebecois chefs have no limits; they will take classics like sole meunière and completely explode the concept; they make classically trained French chefs look like robots in comparison. And visitors, especially Americans, are shocked by the prices: not only is the food affordable, but restaurateurs here often sell wine for only 15 percent more than the retail price.” Taster itemizes his latest crop of favorites:

  • “La Montée de Lait [371 Rue Villeneuve E; 289-9921] is a fantastic little place with only 36 seats. It serves elegant nouvelle cuisine with Quebec creativity and plenty of local ingredients. You can watch the chefs at work in the kitchen, which adds to the buzz of the place. It has an excellent wine list. The sommelier used to work at one of Montreal’s best cheese shops, so you can also try out-of-this-world Quebecois cheeses like Riopelle and Rassembleu.
  • “Anise [104 Av. Laurier O; 276-6999] was founded by a Lebanese woman who loves to work with exotic textures and odors. The menu changes every two months. You may find yourself eating with your hands or tasting a new spice in a familiar dish. I come from a part of France where they’ve been raising geese since the time of the Romans, and I’ve never tasted anything like what she does with foie gras.
  • “L’Express [3927 Rue St-Denis; 845-5333] is the peak of classicism; it’s been open for 25 years, and it’s much like a Parisian brasserie: a jar of cornichons on the table, waiters in white and black, marble tables, mirrors on the walls. There is nowhere else in North America to find such consistent excellence in your pot-aufeu, saumon au cerfeuil, and île flottante.
  • “Joe Beef [2491 Rue Notre-Dame O; 935-6504] is amazing, founded by veterans of two of Montreal’s busiest kitchens. it is completely down-to-earth, with aged Angus beef and the best oysters from both oceans. They’re famous for being picky about oysters.” North America’s champion oyster shucker used to work here; nowadays co-owner David McMillan is training for his first shucking competition.
  • “Finally, Milos [5357 Av. du Parc; 272-3522] is a five-star restaurant in my guide and in my heart. They fly in fish from the Mediterranean daily; at 3 a.m., the fish is on ice in the boat in Greece; at 6 p.m., it’s on your plate, it is the best grilled fish in Montreal, prepared the Greek way.” Favorite dish? “I order the loup de met [sea bass] or the barbouni [red mullet].”

lodging Canada’s Best Boutique Hotels OVER TWO YEARS, I’ve stayed in every notable urban hotel in Canada,” says Chris Johns, who writes annual hotel and restaurant round-ups for Air Canada’s in-flight magazine. “The country’s boutique hotel trend started in Montreal, which still has Canada’s best examples. You can go high end–$4,000 a night–but in general, prices are reasonable, particularly for those paying with euros and U.S. dollars.” Five of Johns’s six hotel picks are in Old Montreal. “Now that locals are buying condos there, it feels like a real neighborhood with food stores and amenities.

“My absolute favorite is Le St-James [355 Rue St-Jacques; 841-3111; www.hotellestjames.com; from $350]. All 64 rooms are decorated differently. The décor is opulent, very Old World. There’s nothing else quite as dramatic in Canada. Yet, it’s tasteful, and the service is discreet.

“The antithesis of Le St-James is the Gault [449 Rue Ste-Hélène; 904-1616; www.hotelgault.com; from $200]. Despite its ornate exterior, it’s modern inside, almost Scandinavian in its minimalism, but never cold. The rooms are simply furnished-though they have king-size beds–but when you open the windows, it’s like all the magnificent architecture of Old Montreal fills your room.

“I like the St-Paul [355 Rue McGill; 3802222; www.hotelstpaul.com, from $156], which is in a ten-story historic building, because it’s so romantic and dramatic. There’s this impressive illuminated alabaster fireplace in the lobby; the elevators have black steel walls and are decorated with a cast-iron deer’s head holding a chandelier; and the suites have a bed separated from a dining area by a sheer curtain. It also has a notable restaurant, Cube, which attracts some of Montreal’s best talent.

“The Place d’Armes [55 Rue St-Jacques; 842-1887; www.hotelplacedarmes.com; from $166], on the same square as the Notre-Dame Basilica, has an elegant lobby, rooms with wooden beds, and black-and-white tiled bathrooms. I picked its restaurant–Aix Cuisine du Terroir–as one of the ten best new Canadian restaurants in 2004. It’s run by the same people who own the Nelligan [106 Rue St-Paul O; 788-2040; www.hotelnelligan.com; from $166], which I like for its plush beds and Jacuzzi baths. Both hotels practice a delightful tradition of daily wine and cheese tastings.

“The Sofitel [1155 Rue Sherbrooke O; 285-9000; www.sofitel.com; from $144] is in a fine location, just down Sherbrooke Street from the Museum of Fine Arts. They have done a great job of renovating a ’70s office building: The natural-light-flooded lobby is decorated with the work of local artists, and a big rug, depicting scenes of Montreal life, sits in a library area stocked with books on the city history. The rooms are spacious but still have a sense of intimacy, and the bathrooms are modern and comfortable. It’s a sharp hotel.”

nightlife Dance All Night MONTREAL FIRST became a global mecca of dance music in the disco days of the ’70s,” says Raf Katigbak, a club DJ and author of “Disko Akimbo” in the weekly Mirror (check his column at www.montrealmirror.com for nightlife news). “These days the city is full of young artists. Combine that with our European joie de vivre and the fact that it’s so cold in winter that people go dancing just to stay warm, and you have one of the world’s best places for nightlife.

“For a cinq à sept(5 to 7 p.m.–Montreal’s happy hour), Baldwin Barmacie [115 Av. Laurier O; 276-4282] is a great new place. It’s got vintage vinyl chairs, and the music is eclectic, everything from rock to weird electronic music. There’s no pressure to dance, but spontaneous festivities happen.

“Lately there’s been a move to intimate places like the Wunderbar in the W Hotel [901 Rue du Square Victoria; 395-3100]. It attracts visiting celebs like Bruce Willis and Mick Jagger. Cocktails are served on a bar that looks carved out of ice. Fridays and Saturdays are the best nights: You’ll hear everything from hip-hop to ’70s anthem rock.

“Stereo [858 Rue Ste-Catherine E; 286-0325] is an after-hours club that opens at 2 a.m. and does not serve alcohol. It’s famous for its clear sound system, which was designed by DJs for DJs. Their house music is more soulful and funky than techno, and they have residencies by people like New York’s Victor Calderone, a remixer for Madonna.

“One event not to miss [one Thursday night per month] is C’est Extra. It’s a celebration of French pop music from the ’50s to the ’70s, and you’ll see coquettes and rood boys leaping on stage to lip-synch to Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, and French versions of Beatles songs. People go absolutely nuts!” [Venues vary; check www.latulipe.ca.]

Calling All Montreal Insiders * Do you know Montreal? Do you have a tip on where to dine, where to stay, or what to do in the city that we didn’t cover in this article? Whether you’re a resident or devoted visitor, we want to hear from you (unless you have an interest in the business you’re recommending).

  • Please be specific: Tell us what you like (say, a certain restaurant) and why you like it (your favorite dish), include your name, town of residence, and personal connection to Montreal. E-mail your tips to traveler.insiders@ngs.org. We may post your suggestions on our website, www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler.
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