The East End winter drags on. Right about now, you would do well to forget Paris, London, and Rome. Not forever, mind you, but just for a weekend. For it just isn’t practical to cross the Atlantic every time you wish you were elsewhere. And anyway, why hop a plane when European-inflected Montreal is just a car ride away? Eight hours later, you’ll be rewarded by fabulous food, French-style bars and cafés, cutting-edge design, top-drawer vintage finds, and Quebecoise bonhomie. On a cold-weather break, few would fault you if you didn’t venture beyond the city’s old quarter: Vieux-Montréal, a warren of cobbled streets where ultra-modern shops, bars, and restaurants occupy stone facade buildings that date from the seventeenth century. Much of the fun takes place on the Rue Saint-Paul. Start there, and who knows? You just might decide to tough out the grey season in high Franco-Canadian style. Here’s how:
The Hôtel Saint-Paul. This fashionable hotel in a Beaux-Arts building on the corner of Rue McGill and Rue Saint-Paul has spacious bright-colored guest rooms, many equipped with breakfast tables and banquettes. As a bonus, the hotel offers valet parking.
Hôtel Nelligan. Located right in the thick of things, the stylishly-appointed Hotel Nelligan consists of four stone buildings from the 1850s. The leather club chairs in the lobby are perfectly positioned for watching the parade of humanity on the other side of the plate glass windows.
If you’re an early riser — if you’re a lucky early riser — you might be offered a table at Olive et Gourmando without having to wait. By nine in the morning, the line snakes out the door at this popular breakfast and lunch spot which has fantastic sandwiches and baked goods. www.olivetegourmando.com
Continental breakfast, anybody? Head to nearby Maison Christian Fauré (on Place Royale, just off Rue Saint-Paul) for coffee and croissants that rival the best in France. www.maisonchristianfaure.com
Chez Lévêque. A much-loved old favorite that styles itself “a veritable Parisian brasserie in Montreal.” Among its specialties are traditional soupe de poisson, complete with croutons and aïoli, frisée aux lardons, salmon in sorrel sauce, and other bistro classics. www.chezleveque.com
Satay Brothers (Notre-Dame). Don’t expect much in the way of atmosphere at this high-decibel hole-in the wall. People come for the carefully-considered Malaysian-Singaporean-style food at this family-run spot, and you should, too. www.sataybrothers.com
Maison Pepin. Housed in a wonderful old warehouse space, this très chic furniture and homewares shop stocks unique items, large and small, some of which are locally-fabricated. A must-visit for design lovers. www.thepepinshop.com
Style Labo. With vintage items of European and local provenance, Style Labo is a design lover’s dream. Where else can you stumble across antique objets d’art, architectural salvage, and ephemera from the city’s hospitals, factories, municipal buildings at the turn of the last century? Recent finds include an old bootblack’s bench and a pair of Thonet bentwood chairs. www.stylelabo-deco.com.
Le Cartet Resto Boutique. For sweet souvenirs of Montreal, try the boutique at Le Cartet, a popular café on Bouleard McGill, near the Rue Saint-Paul. The maple syrup is so delicious, you’ll want to drink it straight from the bottle. www.lecartet.fr