Winters in Canada can be long and bleak, particularly in Montreal. And so we experience the arrival of April as a kind of merciful divine intervention. At the time of writing, Spring is here, and so we can conscientiously invite strangers to visit again. In celebration of this, here are some of our favourite cultural spots in the city — in no particular order.
1 – Jean Talon Market (7070 Henri Julien Ave)
FAWN: Walking through the Jean Talon Market, “the largest outdoor market in Canada,” is like entering a corn maze, but instead of getting lost at every turn, you just keep finding nice goods from local and independent vendors: produce, meat, cheese, wine, chocolate and more. There’s something about the simple way the Market looks, just the sheer amount of colours on display, from fresh fruits to flowers to veggies and so on, that always feels invigorating and energizing to me.
2 – Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (211 Rue Bernard Ouest)
GUILLAUME: Librairie Drawn & Quarterly is Montreal’s literary heartbeat and best anglophone bookstore, offering an excellent selection of contemporary fiction, poetry, nonfiction and graphic novels. It’s such a good bookstore that it’s not impossible it actually saved my life. I moved to Montreal in early 2009. At the time, I felt completely lost and knew that my life wasn’t working, but I wasn’t sure what was missing from it. My first week in the city, I visited Librairie D&Q and ended up purchasing something like 75$ of contemporary novels and short story collections at random, just to try something new. All the titles I bought were on display on the main tables and had been hand-picked by the staff, and to this day, I still love several books I bought on a whim that afternoon. This set me on the path that I am now, embracing writing and literature, then going back to school to study Creative Writing, then organizing a million local readings at Libraire D&Q.
3 – Cheskie’s (359 Rue Bernard Ouest)
FAWN: This charming closet-sized bakery, which offers a variety of Jewish kosher pastries, is a must-try in Montreal’s Outremont neighbourhood. There’s pretty much always a line, but you can use your time waiting in line to repeatedly change your mind about what you want to order. Specialities include rugelaches in several flavours, including raspberry and cinnamon, chocolate babkas, those large symmetrical black-and-white cookies, etc. Overall, there’s something refreshing about the extreme variety of people who wait in line at Cheskie’s: Hasidic Jewish men, hungover twenty somethings, kids on scooters, a French Canadian woman in her forties, etc. We’re all in this together.
4 – The dome inside the SAT (1201 Boul. Saint-Laurent)
GUILLAUME: The Satosphere inside the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT) is a dome that uses a complicated setup of high-end projectors and speakers to create 360° immersive experiences that feel like a cross between virtual reality and a trip to the planetarium. While the dome is sometimes used for music and shows, the best experiences, I find, are usually weirder and more introspective, involving wildly abstract digital art that you consume lying on a beanbag on the floor. The Satosphere is one of my favourite places to let my mind wander and think about me and my problems.
5 – Mount Royal
FAWN: Montreal’s “Central Park”, or at least the closest thing it has to it, is either the best or worst place to be alone, depending on how many tourists are around you. You can ride your bike surrounded by nature, hike up what feels like 5000 stairs made of logs and take in a nice, calming panoramic view of the Montreal skyline and the whole region. There’s also le Parc du Mont-Royal, a hilly public park located in the middle of the city that can give you a much needed mental break from skyscrapers, urban pollution and noise. The opportunities are endless. Mount Royal is always there for you.
6 – Résonance Café (5175A Avenue du Parc)
GUILLAUME: Located in the Mile End, Résonance is a chill basement vegetarian/vegan café that features “improv jazz nights”, life-affirming chili bowls, an overwhelming selection of teas, creative experimental music and live literary readings, including the Résonance Reading Series, which occurs monthly and is probably the most well curated, steadiest and most reliable anglophone reading series in Montreal. Events at Resonance have a way of drawing regulars mixed with a kind of accidental audience, people who came to the café not to attend a specific event, but simply to work on things on their laptops and then ended up deciding to stay. During the day, cold, austere experimental music plays on the sound system, which is less distracting and more conducive to getting things done than generic pop music at your local Starbucks.
7 – Sparrow (5322 St Laurent Blvd)
FAWN: Sparrow is a classy, vintage-inspired bar in the Mile End. Come for brunch on the weekends (if you can find a table), stay for elaborate cocktails and drinks late at night. One time, a stranger noticed I couldn’t speak French and signalled for me to come closer so he could say something in my ear. He grabbed my hand and slapped it hard and said, “Now you will learn.” I ended up crying a little in the bathroom while having a headache from not eating and feeling like I was truly having the authentic “Montreal experience.”
8 – Chand Palace (989 Rue Jean-Talon Ouest)
GUILLAUME: For a record amount of delicious, authentic Indian food at a low, low price, this home-style, family-run restaurant has you covered. The decor and management style feel refreshingly earnest and unpretentious, although space can be a luxury, as the restaurant itself is on the small side and usually overpacked, especially on the weekend. The kitchen doesn’t mess around with spices, and so pretty much everything on the menu (Thali’s, Indian style appetizers, Tradition Dosa platters and sizzlers, etc) is memorable.
9 – Leonard Cohen’s former residence (28 Rue Vallières)
FAWN: The first time I cried outside of Leonard Cohen’s house was the night his death was reported in the media. My friend Alex Manley was launching his book at a venue called La Vitrola when someone took to the stage and said, “Leonard Cohen has fallen” dramatically. A group of us—Alex, Alex’s girlfriend, my boyfriend—walked to Parc du Portugal, across from his Montreal home, where people had gathered to light candles on his doorstep. Three women wrapped in blankets shared a page of lyrics and sang “Hallelujah.” A tear streamed down my face. I turned to my boyfriend to see if he was equally affected; he stared on stoically. I turned the other way, to find Alex, straight-faced and wearing his girlfriend’s fancy hat. Somehow, this cheered me up. Nowadays, when I’m feeling down or I need to think, I seem to always find myself passing Leonard Cohen’s house. The side street is usually quiet and you can almost imagine he’s still in there, sitting at his writing desk.
10 – Le Cagibi (5490 St Laurent Blvd, but moving to a new location.)
GUILLAUME: The most recent casualty of gentrification in Montreal is Le Cagibi, a vegan, queer-friendly café located in the Mile End with an unpretentious vibe, a flea market kind of decor, avant-garde haircuts and live shows in the backroom. Le Cagibi, which provided a space (and sometimes employment) for countless musicians, writers and artists, is currently in the process of moving to a new location in Little Italy because of new building owners doubling the rent. We’re told Le Cagibi will survive and even switch to a co-op business model in its new incarnation, but it feels like a sign of what I worry is to come for Montreal: Lululemon stores replacing independent cafés, rent prices exploding, etc. In Canada, both Vancouver and Toronto have become almost uninhabitable, with sky-high rent prices making everyone miserable, and it’s starting to feel like Montreal is on this path as well. Wherever the new Cagibi ends up later this year, we definitely recommend supporting them in their new location.
Writers Guillaume Morissette and Fawn Parker both live in Montreal, Canada. Parker is founder of BAD NUDES Magazine and the author of the collection of short stories Looking Good And Having A Good Time. Morissette, who we’ve featured before, is the author of two novels.