“Montreal is more for the nightlife and to party,” says Richard Seguin, comparing the gay appeal of the province’s two prize cities. “Quebec City is more for the romance.”
It’s no revelation. But amidst the din of activity at Toast! — waiters in red plaid shirts hustling small plates of seafood and foie gras to diners — Seguin’s French accent injects a sense of authority to the observation. So do his 24 years in public relations and marketing at Quebec City’s tourism office.
In Quebec tourism circles, the comparison is common. But it seems as natural on the street as locals describe their city. Restaurant owner Stéphane D’Anjou understands both cities well. He moved to Montreal after growing up in Quebec City — a common exodus for gay Quebeckers with big-city cravings.
But the opportunity to run his own restaurant wooed D’Anjou back to Quebec City after decades away. “The first two years were very difficult,” he says of breaking back into the local gay scene. “Gay people here tend to be in relationships and don’t go out as much.”
But over time and through the grind of running Toast! and his more recent venture in casual dining, Simple Snack Sympathique, the 47-year-old has settled in, appreciating the local evolution in cuisine and community. One of a handful of successful restaurateurs embracing the local food movement, D’Anjou is now partnered and over the wanderlust. “When I do go back to Montreal, I get depressed. Montreal is stuck. The people are the same; they’re doing the same thing.”
Another difference lies in the temperature: Quebec City is consistently a degree or two chillier than Montreal. It wouldn’t seem the destination to stamp out the chill, but locals know how to fight the cold and find the warmth.
On a Thursday night, I shoehorn myself into Le Drague, the city’s flagship gay club. My journey to the bar resembles a salmon run as I navigate my way through the men and a few women spellbound by the elaborate drag show. As I persevere, I’m reminded of the sensuality of the French by the mix of colognes, which reminds me of a stroll along Simon’s fragrance counter.
Throughout the crowd, shoulders jerk in giggling delight as drag queen Gyzel churns out punchlines with her physical humour in well-choreographed acts.
A tour of the multiplex by Olivier Poulin, director of GLBT Québec, reveals a spacious backstage — a key part of putting on such sophisticated performances, a sports and leather bar, mixed bar areas and a full-throttle dance club beneath.
Poulin, acknowledging the missing generation in Quebec City’s gay scene, says the bar features something for everyone in the 20-something and 40-something demographics. “They tend to be either really young or older, so we have a responsibility to appeal to both.”
He feels the same obligation when organizing the annual Arc-en-Ciel Labour Day Pride festival on Rue Saint-Augustin, in front of Le Drague.
Soak and stimulate
Opened in 2011, Bioterra Spa Sante Urbain (spabioterra.ca) follows the theory that a hydrated body is best equipped to fight the cold. I ease into my treatment with an essential-oil-infused soak in a Jacuzzi tub. Sipping cucumber water to keep hydrated, I peer at my bathing partner in the adjacent tub (with conveniently placed windows).
Next up, a couple’s massage, with choice of three scented oils, relieves pressure points loosened up moments ago by the Jacuzzi jets. Heated socks slipped on by my masseur preserve the warmth of my feet from the bath.
A light lunch featuring local cheeses in the oasis-like relaxation room keeps my stomach whirring and bloodstream circulating, maintaining my new body temperature as I prepare for the wintry elements.
Quebec City’s restaurants are defined by fine French cuisine, whether they celebrate or reject the motherland’s style. None is more firmly entrenched in tradition than the landmark Le Continental, with its dark wood-panelled interior and candlelit tables with white linens.
With the kitchen at your tableside in the form of an open flame, there’s nothing hotter. Waiters spend years training to cook and serve the likes of flambéed sirloin and crêpe Suzette.
Tucked beneath the walls of the old city, the old-port neighbourhood is home to a smattering of fine restaurants that show off the city’s evolving food scene. Toast! features delectable small plates, from seared foie gras to braised venison in an intimate and chic setting.
A shot of Nectar des Dieux provides a warming boost for shopping along the whimsical streets of nearby Quartier Petit Champlain; the spicy hot chocolate is a signature cold-weather beverage at La Fudgerie. According to hostess Jade Vezina, the divine concoction of Belgian chocolate, milk and chili peppers keeps customers streaming through the charming shop “beyond just Christmas and Valentine’s.”
The chill of the outdoors is quickly melted by the extravagant hospitality of the Auberge Place d’Armes (aubergeplacedarmes.com). The inn, with its two dozen rooms, sits adjacent to the stately Château Frontenac. “Better than the view from the Château is our view of the Château,” says general manager Marc-André Dandeneau.
Fit-for-a-queen decadence oozes from the sensational Marie Antoinette suite, which features original panels from the Palace of Versailles, a luxuriously outfitted queen-sized bed, corner views and a fireplace.
Quebec City’s romantic vibe extends beyond the walls of the old city. The snowy peaks of nearby Mont-Sainte-Anne (mont-sainte-anne.com) provide an atmospheric backdrop to chalet life. Even in the cold, warmth can be found guiding a dog sled through the snow-covered trails.
“The musher works as hard as the huskies,” says Bruno Saucier, of Secretes Nordiques. He’s right: balancing on the skates of the sled, knees bent, grasping the handles, hollering at the lead dog and running behind the sled when the pack struggles uphill, I’m quickly breathless.
The muscle strain of mushing is relieved at Station Blü Nordic Baths (stationblu.ca). Tucked in the forest, the hot-to-cold-to-hot-style spa optimizes the scenic sightlines from the outdoor hot tubs and second-floor relaxation rooms.
Bars & clubs
727 Chambres et Pension
Le Coureur des Bois
Restaurants & cafés
Aux Anciens Canadiens
Le Cochon Dingue
Sauna Bloc 225
Boutique Un Style de Vie
For map locations and website links to almost 100 places of interest see our gay Quebec City listings pages.