The side-by-side neighborhoods of Griffintown and Little Burgundy may be different in vibe and history, but both are creative hubs as well as food and drink destinations. They’re also two of Montreal’s most in-demand districts to live in, a skip from the Old Quarter, and ideal for travelers looking to experience everyday life in Quebec’s metropolis.
It’s impossible to ignore the unique personalities of Griffintown and Little Burgundy (La Petit Bourgogne), two vibrant sibling neighborhoods slipped between downtown Montreal and Saint-Henri. Griffintown and Little Burgundy comprise two of three areas of The Canal Districts (Les Quartiers du Canal), with Saint Henri (on the west side of Little Burgundy) completing the trio.
Griffintown’s rapidly changing cityscape is the result of an ongoing development boom. The area once housed chocolate factories, electric companies, and ironworks, but in recent years, this pocket of the city has been rezoned to residential. Modern high-rise condos now mingle with traditional low-rises, and developers have repurposed warehouse spaces into residential lofts. A thriving art scene keeps Griffintown a frontrunner for creativity, and with three public parks in the works it’s no surprise that the neighborhood has become one of Montreal’s hottest pockets.
Little Burgundy is one of the most multicultural areas in Montreal, and home to more than 80 different ethnic groups. Its past belongs to industry as well, but the area was also a hub for jazz in the city. Due to a rush of musicians relocating here during the Prohibition era, Little Burgundy was dubbed the “Harlem of the North” and became known as the jazz capital of Canada. Nightclubs dotted the streets and welcomed legends like Frank Sinatra and Dizzy Gillespie. Though those jazz clubs no longer exist, the area still offers plenty of reasons to visit. These include the sprawling Atwater Market – a gourmet’s dream come true – and a cornucopia of terrific eateries like renowned Joe Beef, the buzzed-about steak and seafood restaurant where weekday tables may need to be booked at least two months in advance.
Atwater Market is one of Montreal’s go-to stations for fresh produce, meat, cheese, baked goods, and any edible item one could dream of or crave (be forewarned, you will crave while you browse). Situated at the edge of Little Burgundy at the Saint-Henri border, this market delivers one of the most impressive offerings of seasonal food in Montreal. The building is an Art Deco gem and one of the city’s prettiest, remaining open year-round.
The great outdoors is never very far away in both districts since they hug the Lachine Canal – the neighborhoods’ lung and a historic waterway flowing through the southwestern section of the city. Thom Seivewright, a local guide and Montreal expert, explains that factory workers once lived in the communities that line the canal. “The canal is the very essence of these hoods,” he says. “They wouldn’t exist without it.”
A unique outdoor retreat, the Lachine Canal is where Montrealers walk, jog, rollerblade, and bike in the green space bordering the water, or kayak and cruise by electric boat on the canal proper. The land skirting the waterway is also a hotbed for real estate. Once a sugar refinery, the Redpath Lofts (named after Scottish immigrant and sugar mogul John Redpath) is now the locale of luxury condos overlooking the canal. Other multi-story residential projects have finished construction and still others are works in progress. Undoubtedly, the next five years will reveal the Lachine Canal’s new, exciting face.
According to Seivewright, although Griffintown and Little Burgundy differ architecturally, both “share an industrial history, a trendy present and surely prosperous future.” Beyond an array of activities along the water, these two districts promise some of Montreal’s best food, shopping, and nightlife. Notre-Dame Street West teems with antique galleries, trendy restaurants, cafés, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. The side streets also house hidden gems, so venture off the beaten path as you meander through the neighborhoods.
At Alt Hotel (120 Peel St), modern loft-like rooms evoke the industrial spirit of Griffintown. Expect high ceilings, exposed concrete, workstations, and plentiful spots to connect electronic devices. Cozy beds cloaked in down comforters and spa-inspired showers add touches of luxury. There’s also a well-equipped gym, small terrace, and, in the lobby, a grab-and-go corner for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Alt Hotels offer a lot of bang for your buck, and this Griffintown location puts you within a walk of the Lachine Canal as well as a number of fun hang-outs.
For a hip hotel with more of a residential quality, try L’Hotel Particulier (1200 Ottawa), a grouping of 1865 brick row houses converted to a chic Bed & Breakfast. The three apartments and two suites each have their own entrances, so it’s easy to imagine that you’re staying in a cool Montreal flat. Defined as “micro-lodging” since the rooms are easily reconfigured to adapt to larger parties, this hotel is the obvious choice for groups and families. The 300-year-old fireplaces and rotating art add history and panache. A quiet, luscious private garden is this property’s pièce de résistance.
Eat and Drink
Wood-fired and grilled foods take the spotlight at Foxy (1638 Notre-Dame St W), but don’t let that stop you from trying oysters with burnt onion mignonette or chipotle and lime ceviche. Meat lovers can opt for the perfectly-cooked hanger steak with romesco sauce, but shouldn’t ignore fish dishes like the flavorful sea bass with cucumbers and celery. Save room for the apple and almond tart crowned with a scoop of buttermilk caramel ice cream. Heaven.
In-season ingredients hail from local farms, and Chef John Winter Russell puts all to good use at Candide (551 Rue Saint-Martin). Set in a former church, this fine dining restaurant pairs a casual approach with a rustic interior – think red brick walls, wood paneling, and an open kitchen – but the culinary team creates simple plates overflowing with flavor and texture. New Nordic inspiration fuels the fruit, vegetable, and grain-focused four-course table d’hôte menu, which rotates monthly.
Grinder Viandes & Vins (1708 Notre Dame St W) features tartares and ceviches, foie gras, salads, fresh seafood, and various cuts of meat. Surf & Turf is a specialty here so expect big, juicy steaks accompanied by succulent lobster, shrimp, and scallops. Pair your shellfish with a dry white wine such as the Geschickt 2015 Riesling and try a glass of the Ca’ del Baio Vallegrande 2013 Barbaresco with a medium-rare NY steak.
Part wine bar, part bistro, Le Vin Papillon (2519 Notre Dame St W) is one of Joe Beef’s sister outposts. Though the natural wine selection is excellent, you’ll have to order a small plate to pair with your pours, due to licensing laws. Go with the ricotta and peas (spread it on the thick-cut, grilled bread), or the mouthwatering sturgeon and fried gnocchi (the house favorite). Finish with the decadent smoked carrot eclair. There are no menus here; rather, look at the blackboard on the wall for the listings of the day. To avoid hour-long queues, plan to arrive early, preferably when the place opens at 4 p.m.
Every neighborhood needs a local watering hole, and in this section of Montreal, that’s Lord William Pub (265 Rue des Seigneurs). Housed in the Caledonia Ironworks Co., the tavern runs from morning until the wee hours, as bartenders mix cocktails, tap beer, and pour wines by the glass. Nachos and poutine are ideal for starters, and main courses range from Egyptian falafel to fish and chips to a lamb burger. With adequate elbow room inside and out, this pub promises space to chill out with a beverage and bite in hand.
Translating to The Bread Beast, Le Bete a Pain (195 Rue Young) crafts some of Montreal’s best carb-filled delights including baguettes, brioche, and ciabatta, not to mention doughnuts, canelés, and croissants. The cafe also serves breakfast, a mixture of salads and sandwiches from the afternoon through early evening, as well as local brews and a decent list of wines by the glass. The quaint dining space bustles with locals who stop by for coffee or a meal with friends.
At the corner of Rue Guy and Rue Saint-Jacques, a can’t-miss mural titled “Hommage à la Petite Bourgogne” covers the protective wall of the Guy substation. Urban artist Roadsworth (Peter Gibson), who hails from Toronto but lives in Montreal, carried out the bold collage of colors to pay tribute to the history of Little Burgundy. Look for industry, jazz, art, and culture references in this public project, which was initially suggested to revitalize this section of town.
If an art gallery met a café, you’d have Carré des Artistes Galerie d’Art (1850 Notre- Dame St W). Owner Isabelle Charbonneau has created a bright and inviting place where she exhibits work by a roster of artists from Canada and other countries. Art enthusiasts can browse the 2-story gallery and discover a diverse collection of paintings, photographs, and sculpture, all while sipping a cup of coffee or tea.
Founded by collectors Pierre and Anne-Marie Trahan, Arsenal Contemporary Montreal (2020 William St) is a museum, gallery and event space rolled into one address. Occupying 80,000 square feet, it champions contemporary art, highlighting private collections with works by artists from Canada and around the globe. Make the trip upstairs to Galerie Division, the couple’s commercial gallery, which features mostly work by Canadian artists.
Barcelona-based artist Jaume Plensa used laser cut-outs to create “Source” – a giant stainless steelwork installed in 2017 for the 375th anniversary of Montreal. The piece consists of letters from Latin, Hebrew, Japanese, Arab, and several other alphabets, all fused to celebrate the multiculturalism of the city. Alluring both day and night, “Source” sits off the Bonaventure Expressway on the edge of Griffintown and Downtown Montreal.