1. Where to Stay
End a night out in your own private Jacuzzi at Le Petit Prince (from $150), a four-room boutique bed-and-breakfast housed in a Victorian-era townhouse that doubles as an art gallery. In the morning, savor creative fare like shirred eggs in curry cream next to the dining room fireplace or on your in-room balcony.
Wake up to a view of the Frederick Law Olmsted–designed Mt. Royal Park from your room at Casa Bianca (from $129). The 1912 French Renaissance revival townhouse features five bright, open rooms with light hardwood floors and white-paneled walls, four of which look over the park and the tree-lined esplanade below. For added style, book the enormous two-room Marie-Anne suite for its sliding French doors and turret windows.
Sleep right above an intimate, 55-person indie music venue at Pensione Popolo (from $40), the surprisingly quiet upstairs hotel of Casa del Popolo, which also houses a bar and bistro. The rooms are functional rather than fashionable, but the price and location are unique and the booking includes two free tickets to concerts (past performers have included Xiu Xiu and TV on the Radio).
2. Where to Eat
Line up below the sign reading “Charcuterie Hebraique” (“Jewish Delicatessen”) at the landmark Schwartz’s, which has been open since 1928 and inspired Brooklyn’s own Mile End. Stick with the classic and order the smoked-meat sandwich ($6.30) for a juicy stack of brisket that rivals anything you’ll find in New York. The interior is nothing fancy—think fluorescent lights and cramped seating—but that doesn’t deter the crowds who wait until well past midnight on weekends.
Have a pondside lunch in the lush backyard at Café Santropol, one of the city’s oldest vegan- and vegetarian-friendly eateries. Opened 30 years ago as a desperate but successful ploy to keep the houses on its block from being demolished, the restaurant focuses on hearty soups, like homemade vegetarian chili with cheese ($8.50), and creative sandwiches including the Sweet Root ($7.75), made with grated carrots, raisins, coriander, and eggless mayo.
Get your Gallic fix at L’Express, where you’ll need a reservation to have dinner at what is arguably the city’s best bistro. Much like the décor—mirrored walls, a zinc-topped bar, and a black-and-white checkered floor—the food is unfussy and timeless, with meaty dishes like roasted quail with wild rice ($22), and savory pot-au-feu ($21). Be sure to try the maple syrup tart ($8) for dessert; it’s a traditional Quebecois treat.
3. What to Do
Gear up for a pub crawl across the heart of the city to sample a diverse drinking scene with the latest last-call time (2:45 a.m.) in Canada. Start off just outside Mile End in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie at Vices et Versa, where you can try 35 beers on tap (from $5.75 a pint), all produced by Quebec microbreweries. (Despite being known for wine, the French colonists who settled Quebec hailed from regions in which beer was far more dominant.) Next, sip Hill’s Absinth from the Czech Republic ($12) under mounted ostrich heads at Bily Kun, a high-ceilinged, candlelit space where classical and jazz piano performances add to the cozy vibe. End the night at unapologetically divey Barfly, where you can shoot pool, order cheap beer and shots, and dance with Quebecois fans of country and bluegrass.
Let loose at clubs in the Village, North America’s largest gay district, where a loud, colorful scene spills onto the streets until 3 a.m. Warm up with hip-hop beats at Club Unity (no cover before 10:30 p.m. on Fridays, 11 p.m. on Saturdays; $7 after), a three-floor megaclub at the neighborhood’s center before dancing with Francophone drag queens performing at Sky Club’s “Le Sky Show” (Friday nights at 10:30 p.m.; no cover). With a pub on the first level, two stories of dance floors, and a hot tub and pool on the roof, it’s one of area’s most massive destinations. Stay up until sunrise at the legendary Circus After Hours, a strictly late-night spot (2 to 10 a.m). They don’t serve alcohol, but a steep cover ($30) buys you access to three rooms with upholstered purple leather walls and techno sets rated among the world’s very best in DJ Mag’s 2012 roundup.
Catch a concert at one of Montreal’s popular live-music halls. For indie rock, head to Casa del Popolo’s larger sister venue La Sala Rossa, a rustic, chandelier-lit room where Arcade Fire got their start ten years ago. You can hear everything from punk to bluegrass (and play a round of foosball) at Divan Orange, where there’s a show every night of the week in an intimate, fuchsia-walled room where gold-framed photographs hang on the walls. For something more raucous, go downtown to Les Foufounes Electriques ($5 cover) (“the electric buttocks” in French), one of the world’s largest metal bars, which will be hosting legends Napalm Death on Oct. 31, not to mention D.J.s and dancing every night on the first floor.
4. Insider’s Tip
Like any other creative hub, many of Montreal’s most exciting art spaces operate semi-legally or in under-the-radar locations. (Experimental-music venue L’Envers, for example, was recently shut down by police and has suspended all performances indefinitely.) For now, you can still explore repurposed industrial spaces in the working-class neighborhood of St. Henri, including BBAM! Gallery, a combination gallery, performance space, café, and record store.
5. Oddball Day
Take a break from partying to enjoy some of the city’s daytime delights. The easiest way to get around is by picking up a Bixi bike ($7 for 24-hour access) for the day at one of the many stations around town. Fuel up with an early brunch of English pub fare at Lawrence (order the donuts filled with chocolate, jam, and custard for $5) before pedaling down Saint-Laurent to Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, the bookstore run by the popular graphic novel publisher known for famous artists like Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, and Chris Ware. (Three of the biggest names in the business—Ware, Charles Burns and Adrian Tomine—will be in-store November 11 for to celebrate the store’s anniversary.) Go ten minutes down Saint-Dominique to stock up on fruit, cheese, honey, and more at the humongous, enclosed Jean-Talon farmers’ market (Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) in Little Italy, open year-round with over 300 vendors from the countryside. After biting into apples and sampling syrups, haul your market buys to the heavily wooded 692-acre Mt. Royal Park for a late afternoon picnic beneath the Westmount Mountain. When you’re done exploring, cruise through the leafy streets of the bohemian “McGill ghetto,” a somewhat ironic name that refers to the student population who dominate here. Cut over to Rue Rachel E and pedal up to the bike paths in La Fontaine Park, where you can loop around two connecting ponds (there’s ice skating in winter) and ride across a bridge suspended above a waterfall. Drop off your bike at the station on Rue Rachel near the corner of Saint Urbain and cap off the day at Patati Patata (4177, Boul. Saint-Laurent, 514-844-0216) with a Vieux Montreal Blonde beer ($2 for half pint), sliders ($2), and a heaping plate of gravy-drenched poutine ($4.50).
Check the schedule for the wildly popular Montreal Roller Derby to see if a Friday night game falls during your trip.
Eastern Bloc is an arts production and exhibition center where you can check out video installations and multimedia performances.
Read the blog run by one of the gallery owners at the Belgo Building for details on open houses (“vernissages” in French) with plenty of free wine and cheese served inside the art galleries, dance studios, and yoga spaces that fill the converted industrial space.
Montreal on Wheels offers guided bike tours of the city, including a stop off for tastings at Atwater farmer’s market.