The Mile End is Montreal’s hot neighbourhood. Heavily associated with its artists, particularly the band Arcade Fire, this section of Plateau Mont-Royal — adjacent what is colloquially known as the Plateau — has been touted worldwide as a hotbed of creativity. Despite all the attention, the neighbourhood still feels refreshingly off the beaten track.
The area charms with its low-density, low-rise buildings, many featuring Montreal’s signature wrought-iron spiral staircases. Streets are tree lined and peaceful. Along the main drags, traditional Greek, Jewish and Italian merchants mingle with freshly opened shops, restaurants and bars patronized by newcomers. Swing a cat and you’ll smack any number of artists and homosexuals.
Some people bemoan the gentrification of yet another Montreal neighbourhood, but at this stage of the game, the mix works. Old and new, anglo and franco, traditional and trendy — the current mix of inhabitants seem to have really hit it off, creating in Mile End a lovely and unique ambiance.
The incoming denizens have an undeniable hipster aesthetic, but don’t let that put you off. Montreal’s hipsters utterly lack the snobbery and aloofness that pretty much defines hipsterism in North America’s bigger cities. Beneath the skinny jeans and behind the pornstaches, you’ll find a crowd that’s welcoming, charming and playful. If Williamsburg and Queen West are laughing at you, Mile End is laughing with you. So join in and have fun!
Start your day at Le Pick Up (7032 Rue Waverly). The traditional dépanneur, as the Québécois call their convenience stores, has been transformed into a quirky restaurant. The modest two-storey corner brick building has a picnic table out front and a patio out back. Inside, you’ll still find milk and toilet paper for sale, but you really need to pull up a stool at the original lunch counter. Enjoy a hearty breakfast from the griddle and excellent coffee prepared by the cute staff. The menu is sophisticated without being expensive, and you can stock up on gum, snacks and beer before you leave.
If you prefer to breakfast chez vous, pop into one of Montreal’s famous bagelries. St-Viateur (263 Rue St-Viateur Ouest) and Fairmount Bagel (74 Ave Fairmount Ouest) are both in the neighbourhood, baking the distinctive Montreal-style sweet and chewy breads.
A walk around the neighbourhood takes you to Drawn and Quarterly (211 Rue Bernard Ouest), the famous arts and literary comics publisher. Bucking a trend, the publishing house has recently opened a bricks-and-mortar shop in Mile End.
Drawn and Quarterly publishes comic books, sketchbooks and graphic novels, most notably by the likes of Julie Doucet, Seth, Chester Brown and Joe Matt. You’ll also find works by gay and lesbian favourites such as Maurice Vellekoop and Debbie Drechsler.
If you’re a CanLit fan, you might want to stroll by Wilensky’s Light Lunch (34 Ave Fairmount Ouest), famously featured in Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. You may recognize the diner if you saw the film adaptation of the novel, starring Richard Dreyfuss. If you’re in the market for some new duds, Local 23 (23 Rue Bernard Ouest) is a vintage store with well-chosen clothing and trinkets.
When it’s time for your afternoon coffee break, head to one of the Italian cafés, Club Social (180 Rue St-Viateur Ouest) or Café Olimpico (124 Rue St-Viateur Ouest). Some hardcore locals simply move back and forth from one to the other. These are no-nonsense, old-school espresso bars with large, languid patios that offer you licence to linger — the perfect place to rest your pegs under a shady tree.
By cocktail time, make your way to La Buvette Chez Simone (4869 Ave du Parc) and think about staying for dinner. The wine bar stocks an impressive list of private imports and offers a light menu of tapas, charcuterie and cheese. The bar is unpretentious and laid-back, buzzing with the relaxed energy of its arty crowd.
After dinner, head to the Royal Phoenix (5788 Blvd St-Laurent), the anchor of the neighbourhood’s queer scene. The bar and restaurant has a different theme each night, so it’s an ever-changing experience with a diverse crowd. There are often four or five DJs working simultaneously to keep the energy up somewhere near the ceiling. Flirty bartenders exude warmth and smoulder with sensuality. Prepare to drink and dance till the wee hours.
Le Nouveau Palais (281 Rue Bernard Ouest) is an ideal spot to wind down the night. It’s an old-school diner with fun, affordable and well-executed food. A full dinner menu is served until midnight, and until 3am a perfect post-drinking menu features perogies, poutine and burgers, all for less than $5.
By now, it’s late and time for bed. This is Montreal, so chances are you’re stumbling home with a new chum.
This is the second in a three-part series on Montreal. Last month, we looked at the city’s new nightlife scene; read it at xtra.ca. Next month, we’ll explore Montreal restaurants.
For map locations and website links to almost 200 area places of interest see our gay Montreal listings pages.