Canada

Montreal Like a Local: Le Plateau-Mont-Royal

by Tracy Kaler  |  Published January 10, 2017

One could accurately describe this arrondissement as a hip, vibrant section of Montreal, a place that stimulates and inspires. A mix of artists, young families, professionals, and students live in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, and locals insist the borough represents an accurate portrayal of the Montreal lifestyle. Ultimately, there’s no denying its “je ne sais quoi,” and for anyone visiting this French-Canadian city, exploring Le Plateau is inevitable.

Local life from the Square Saint-Louis in Le Plateau proper, photo by Tracy Kaler

Local life from the Square Saint-Louis in Le Plateau, photo by Tracy Kaler

Steeped in history and culture, Le Plateau-Mont-Royal includes Mile End, Côte Saint-Louis, Milton-Parc, and of course, Le Plateau proper. Sure, the borough boasts a fabulous food and drink scene (not a surprise anywhere in Montreal), and it’s best explored on foot. What’s more, step onto Saint-Laurent Boulevard (“The Main”), and you’ll discover a prime shopping destination. But beyond dining and commerce, it’s the funky, colorful houses, winding outdoor staircases, and creativity and diversity of the people who live, work and socialize there that give the borough its Bohemian spirit. Here’s a glimpse at local life in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal.

Restaurants
One thing’s for sure – you won’t go hungry. The district’s thriving culinary scene provides countless options to please all palates and budgets. You’ll encounter everything from tasty grab-and-go bites to gourmet meals created by award-winning chefs.

You’re in for innovative yet flavorful food should you choose Chez Victoire (1453 Avenue du Mont-Royal E). Pick from plates like beef tartare (cherry-stone clam, tarragon, avocado, and shichimi togarashi), roasted cauliflower & truffle (bacon, scrambled eggs and beurre noisette/lemon), and grilled AAA Angus beef, as well as charcuterie and oysters. Considering the curated wine selection, you’ll surely discover the perfect pairing to accompany your meal. If you’re a wine novice, ask for suggestions from the staff since they’re are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.

A Montreal institution, Chez Schwartz’s  (3895 Boul St-Laurent) is famous for its smoked meats and Jewish delicacies. Sure, you’ll run into tourists in the modest Hebrew shop, but make no mistake, locals adore the authenticity of this 80-year old establishment as well. Rather than adding chemicals to brisket, Schwartz’s uses a combination of herbs and spices and marinates the meat for ten days. Besides traditional smoked beef, the deli serves turkey and salami sandwiches, rib steak, chicken, and liver. Sour pickles, French fries, and coleslaw on the side are par for the course.

Schwartz's Montreal

Patrons wait at Schwartz’s Deli, Photo by Tracy Kaler

Brunch is a big meal in Montreal, and you’ll eat one of the city’s best at Bistrot La Fabrique (3609 Rue Saint-Denis). Expect interesting egg dishes and tartares accompanied by sides like slaw and couscous. Every item is made fresh, and you’ll watch the chefs prepare your brunch in the central open kitchen. The evening menu at La Fabrique is equally delicious. Broken down into sections such as “In a Bowl,” “In a Dish,” and “By the Knife,” the lineup features plates like beets salad (apple, goat cheese, tropical dressing, and char siu pork), and the 3 by the knife platter: beef, salmon, and pork feet.

Thanks to Chef David Pellizarri and Maitre D Catherine Draws (also owners and husband and wife) at Lili.Co (4675 Boul St. Laurent), the seasonal, inventive cuisine and exceptional wine program shine. Expect market fresh seafood, vegetables, and a selection of offal dishes. Every plate that comes from the tiny kitchen is sublime, but ordering a sampling to share, or the tasting menu of six courses (entire table only) works best. Considering the quality of the food and warmth of the service, it’s no surprise that Lili.Co packs in the patrons, particularly on weekends. Be sure to call ahead or be prepared for a wait.

Bars and Nightlife

Montreal nightlife is as varied as its eateries, so whether you’re looking for a selection of brews or unique cocktails, you’ll have an assortment of spots to try.

Locally crafted beer is the heart and soul of Reservoir (9 Avenue Duluth E), but make no mistake – the food is a hit too, so late-night vegetarian eats like cauliflower tacos and veggie poutine (a version of the local dish typically made with French fries and cheese curds) are on the table. This open-air tavern brews IPA, pilsner, and stout, to name a few, but even if you’re not a beer drinker, Reservoir sells wines by the glass. On temperate days, the doors and windows remain open, and the second level is an ideal set-up for people watching.

The lineup at Reservoir in Montreal, photo by Tracy Kaler

The offerings at Reservoir in Montreal, photo by Tracy Kaler

Bar Big in Japan (4175 Boul St Laurent) might sound more like a film title than a drinkery, but rest assured, the team behind this retro lounge knows how to handle a drinking crowd. A queue is standard some nights of the week because you won’t run into five people deep at the bar here. Every patron has a seat as the bow-tied bartenders mix martinis and other classic cocktails. The jazz standards spin (Sinatra, anyone?) while devotees flashback to an earlier era, quaffing their potations.

Depending on the time of day you visit, you can encounter a cafe, resto, or bar and nightclub at Laika (4040 Boul St Laurent). This laid-back hangout turns into a hotspot after dark when DJs spin lounge, jazz, and house music, and bartenders mix negronis and caipirinhas. Laika is the kind of place that can be whatever you make of it but always assumes a European feel. During warm weather, sip your cocktail on the terrace.

Just outside Parc la Fontaine, you’ll find Le Lab (1351 Rue Rachel E), a cocktail bar serving libations, beer, wine, and bubbly, and in case you’re abstaining, mocktails. Be on the lookout for some pomp and circumstance; while mixologists craft froufrou drinks, they might perform a few fire-juggling tricks. Le Lab boasts a substantial absinthe collection as part of an extensive spirits menu. Think pages of whiskey, gin, rum, tequila, and more. An alluring, upscale interior completes the experience so feel free to don your finest attire for your night out on the town at Le Lab.

Shopping

When it comes to shopping in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, there’s no shortage of thrift stores, designer boutiques, and fashionable outposts. Spend time on “The Main,” but peruse Mont-Royal Avenue, Rue Saint- Denis, as well as side streets. In other words, be prepared for a day of browsing and buying.

Montreal funk meets pin-up at Kitsch ‘n Swell (3972 Boul St Laurent). Purveying a collection of retro and vintage clothing, costume jewelry, sunglasses, antiques, and taxidermy, the amusing albeit offbeat shop has a charming owner who dresses straight out of the 1950s. Merchandised with flair, Kitsch ‘n Swell entices and entertains, and gives new meaning to the phrase: “good clutter.” Colorful and kitschy in the best way, this store makes “looking only” nearly impossible.

The funky interior of Kitsch 'n Swell, photo by Tracy Kaler

The funky interior of Kitsch ‘n Swell, photo by Tracy Kaler

Fashion-forward males on the hunt for a stylish store can’t ignore Savoie Fils (251 Rue Saint Viateur O). Join some of Mile End’s most confident men when you shop more than ten different brands featuring everything from T-shirts to outerwear to grooming products. Savoie Fils champions emerging designers and heritage brands, so you can be sure that you’re supporting small businesses when you buy here.

If home decor is on your mind, Style Labo (5595 Boul St Laurent) sells modern and industrial furniture mixed with vintage pieces, as well as lighting and accessories. This store is spacious and well curated – you might find yourself spending hours surveying its vast inventory then spurring your own design notions, and that’s no exaggeration. One thing’s for sure – no matter your decorating style, this loft-like shop houses a wealth of tasteful merchandise begging to be bought.

A vignette at Style Labo, photo by Tracy Kaler

A vignette at Style Labo, photo by Tracy Kaler

Cafés and Bakeries

The cafe culture in Le Plateau is evident. Most every block provides an option for a beverage and a quick bite, a quiet place to work, or a trendy spot to socialize.

Part coffee shop, part meeting place, Club Social (180 Rue Saint Viateur O) brews tasty Italian coffee (locals claim some of the best in Montreal). And social it is – this Mile End cafe attracts scores of neighborhood residents who come for the caffeine, scene, and in warm weather, the killer sidewalk café. Club Social serves alcoholic beverages as well, but you’ll have to fork over the annual member’s fee to partake. The two gentlemen behind the counter might seem on the surly side, but they’re actually quite charming once you have a chat.

A frothy cappuccino at Club Social, photo by Tracy Kaler

A frothy cappuccino at Club Social, photo by Tracy Kaler

Café Myriade  (4627 Rue Saint-Denis) believes that there’s no right or wrong way to drink coffee, so they encourage you  to sip to your liking. With rotating coffees from 49th Parallel in Vancouver as well as guest roasters from North America and Europe,  you’re getting quality brew. Free Wi-Fi and yummy pastries from local bakers keep Café Myriade among the top choices for Montrealers to get their java fix.

When it comes to taste, rumor has it that Montreal’s bagels beat out New York’s. Head to the famed St. Viateur Bagel (263 Rue Saint Viateur O) in Mile End and judge for yourself. The hole-in-the-wall churns out fresh bagels all day and night so you can satisfy your carb craving at any hour. Bagels come warm, chewy, and pretty much heavenly. Choose from plain, whole wheat, sesame, poppy, everything (or “all dressed”), and more flavors. Regardless of the type of bagel you prefer, a smear of Philadelphia cream cheese is a given. This 24-hour flagship doesn’t offer seating, but the St. Viateur Bagel & Cafe (1127 Mont-Royal E) does.

Fresh bagels at St. Viateur, photo by Tracy Kaler

Fresh bagels at St. Viateur, photo by Tracy Kaler

For decadent French pastries and bread as good as grandma’s, Mamie Clafoutis Saint Denis  (3360 Rue Saint-Denis) –– where every baked good is handmade with love –– is the place. Savor tarts, baguettes, desserts and melt-in-your-mouth croissants as well as soups, sandwiches, quiche, and coffee in this sweet boulangerie. Take your treats to go or snatch a seat in the upstairs lounge.

Parks

The arrondissement contains more public parks, squares, and gardens than you can count, so you’re rarely far from a green space to jog, rest, or pass through.

Across the street from some of the borough’s most funky and colorful townhouses, Square Saint- Louis is a neighborhood retreat. This quaint park is a suitable spot to rest when you’re out and about on a walking tour exploring this pocket of town. Sit on a bench and watch life as it’s happening in the heart of Le Plateau, and don’t miss the Victorian fountain at the center of the park.

Square St. Louis in Le Plateau, photo by Tracy Kaler

Just opposite Mount Royal and across from Mont-Royal Avenue, you’ll stumble upon Jean Mance Parc. Softball fields, tennis and beach volleyball courts, and ice skating rinks are just some of the features this park provides. It’s also an excellent place for time alone to rest and recoup, sunbathe, and picnic with friends. A children’s swimming pool, playground with a rope obstacle course, swings, a rock climbing wall and a vast lawn for romping make Jean Mance Parc an appropriate choice for families too.

The most well-known public park and the largest in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is Parc La Fontaine.  At 84 acres, this park affords plenty of space to sprawl, stroll, and relax. Two ponds, a fountain, and waterfalls contribute to the overall tranquility of Parc La Fontaine. Running and bicycling paths, wading pools, a dog park and Theatre de Verdure –– an outdoor theater that hosts free films and performances during summer –– are enough to keep any park-goer occupied for an afternoon or nighttime outing.

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