“Whether you want to embrace the season on rinks, trails or runs, or dodge the cold and head to the spa, this vibrant city has it all.” Seth Sherwood from the NY Times on Montreal.
Just last week the NY Times wrote a travel piece on how to spend a lovely “36 Hours in Montreal.” This piece first caught our attention because it was being shared all over Facebook, and let’s face it, as Montrealers we loved that our city got some international love. Especially from the NY Times! We were honoured when we read the headline, it kept popping up on our newsfeed but we never got around to reading the article until the weekend. After reading it, honestly, as Montrealers, we were offended, read it HERE, and let us know what you think.
Sorry NY Times but you got Montreal all wrong. Some of your choices were the usual cute touristy things that Montreal is known for, but we took particular offense to your restaurant, bar and shopping choices. Sorry again NY Times, you didn’t capture Montreal at all, and as born and raised Montrealers, we were disappointed by what we read. So we’re here to clear a few things up.
- Ready, Set, Snow, 5 P.M.
If you love skating, skiing or sledding, we too recommend Parc du Mont-Royal, that large majestic mountain right in the middle of our city. Rent skates, go tubing and fall in love with winter in Montreal. Alright NY Times, you got this part right. Le Pavillon du Lac aux Castors, called Beaver Lake by Montreal’s Anglophones, allows you to rent skates, tubes and even cross country skis for the surrounding trails and rink. It’s a nice way to spend a Friday afternoon in the winter.
- Enchanted Forest, 8 P.M.
You’re probably wondering why the header is “Enchanted Forest,” we were curious too. Montreal’s “Enchanted Forest” is really a supper club by the name of Soubois in downtown Montreal. Soubois’ food is decent for a supper club but is definitely nothing to run to if you only have 36 hours in Montreal. The way supper clubs open and close about every 2-3 years in Montreal, we wouldn’t recommend a place like Soubois, they haven’t even celebrated their one year anniversary. Poor choice NY Times! By the time you plan that trip to Montreal, Soubois will likely have changed its name and look, probably still owned by the same people, but it will be something new and trendy, here today gone tomorrow. Ciao!
How about Buonannote? I mean the supper club has been open for twenty years, boasts a two-glass designation from Wine Spectator, and they are one out of only four Montreal restaurants to have this distinction. They are known for their mouth-watering Italian dishes and they know how to party. One of the owners, Lino Lozzo is the face of Buonannote and is the sort of man who comes to see you at your table, to ensure that his clients are having a good night. But sure… go to Soubois. Where the Basics hang out, you know, those girls who have no loyalty to a restaurant or bar but just bounce around to the latest trendy spot to snap a selfie.
- Canadian Libations, 10 P.M.
And here is where we got confused… your dinner at the “Enchanted Forest” was at 8pm but you didn’t stay to party afterwards? Soubois is more about the after party then dinner, there are much better places for dinner. According to the NY Times piece, you’re now drinking at Burgundy Lion. Hmm it is a good British pub in Montreal, but again, there are better options. Apparently you also take a swig at La Drinkerie Ste. Cunégonde which is down the street from Burgundy Lion, it has likely never made any list of Montreal’s best drinkeries. I suppose they’re grateful. Actually I can imagine so many Montrealers reading about La Drinkerie Ste. Cunégonde and wondering, “hmm where is that?”
The whiskey list at Burgundy Lion is impressive, but we don’t particularly like the ambiance of the pub, it’s more of a local watering hole for the 20-something-year-olds of Little Burgundy. Let’s be honest folks, it’s easy to pour a glass of whiskey, the skill is all in making cocktails. Instead of drinking the whiskey at Burgundy Lion, you should head over to Big in Japan Bar. We hope you find it because there is no sign, you just need to find that famous beaten up door between a pawn shop and Patati Patata on St-Laurent Street. Talk to André, the owner, and you’ll see a passion for cocktails and his clients that we haven’t easily found anywhere else in Montreal. He will invite you into Big in Japan Bar like it’s his home, with dim lighting, jazzy tunes and a relaxed feel. Perfect for a quiet drink for people who love a good cocktail and an experience that can’t be replicated at home… by pouring a neat glass of whiskey.
- Earth and Sky, 9 A.M.
The Biodome with it multiple ecosystems, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, and the Insectarium are all fun, but very touristy outings in Montreal. Cute, nothing wrong with these places! But if you want that perfect mix of earth and sky you should go to Mont-Royal’s Belvedere lookout that offers you a great view of downtown Montreal. Other touristic but fun activities include a much needed visit to St-Joseph’s Oratory, nevertheless, the NY Times did a good job of telling you about activities to enjoy in Montreal. But they weren’t good at everything…
- Shack Snack, NOON
How about that NY Times recommendation to go to Eggspectation on Laurier. This recommendation kept us up at night, tossing and turning because out of all breakfast and brunch restaurants in Montreal, the NY Times recommended a chain restaurant that’s known for its mediocrity. This is the equivalent of naming McDonald’s as the restaurant to get the best burger in Montreal. Readers were told that Eggspectation boasts a “Sugar Shack” sampler, so you can get that Canadian sugar shack experience right in the city… right! So do tons of other restaurants, better restaurants, REAL restaurants… especially during sugar shack season.
When we think of brunch in Montreal we think of Maison Publique opened by Montreal’s own Chef Derek Dammann, and celebrity Chef Jaimie Oliver. And you don’t need to make celebrity wages to eat at this restaurant, it’s very affordable. Feel like a good English brunch? This is THE spot! Maybe you want something different? Le Chien Fumant in the Plateau has an ever changing chalkboard menu so that you never have a chance to get bored. Their brunch changes depending on the theme of the week that can range from dim sum, to a Brazilian brunch, to a sugar shack theme. Who the hell recommends Eggspectation?
- Buy Canadian, 1:30 P.M.
Sorry NY Times, Montrealers don’t really shop on Laurier Ouest, it’s a gorgeous street with beautiful shops, but most Montrealers just go to Laurier Street for their restaurants. Why? Because it’s absurdly expensive. But do you know what Montreal is known for? Its Underground City, sounds magical doesn’t it? You see Montreal gets very cold and we’re hearty people who don’t hibernate until the spring. So when we need to shop we go to the Underground City in downtown Montreal. Consider it a step above that “Enchanted Forest” that we are “known” for. Pffttt! About 32 km of tunnels connect shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, condos, office space, banks, universities, multiple metro stations, etc. It’s an important tourist attraction in Montreal, an urban planning achievement, and when it’s cold, it’s key when shopping in Montreal. Our Underground City is connected by our metro system (public transportation), you can roam around jacket free, see the detailed map HERE.
But where do you “Buy Canadian” in Montreal? If you want a true Montreal experience, head over to the Jean Talon Market. Opened in 1933, it is one of the largest public markets in North America. Partially indoors, it is open all year round, even during those grueling winter months. The Jean Talon Market is full of ethnic shops, food stalls, chocolate shops, cafés and other interesting stores for that quintessential Montreal experience. Surrounding the market is Little Italy, full of authentic Italian restaurants, bakeries, shops, etc – with a vibrant immigrant community, you’ll feel like you’re in Italy when you walk into some of these cafés and shops, especially when you’re greeted in Italian.
And again, the NY Times sent travelers to Juliette et Chocolat, another chain café with desserts. Why not send them to Tim Hortons too? Isn’t that uber Canadian? Because Juliette et Chocolat is just a level up from Timmies. If you want the best coffee that the city has to offer you need to go to Café Olimpico that has been open since the 1970s in the Mile End. Their house blend coffee remains a family secret and this unassuming shop is for people who simply love coffee, nothing more. Café Olimpico is open until midnight every night because Montrealers don’t just grab a coffee in the morning, or to stay awake in the afternoon; drinking coffee is an all-day treat in Montreal.
Just down the street from Café Olimpico is the famous St-Viateur Bagel Shop, open since 1957, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this is where to go for THE Montreal bagel. Come by to satisfy your late night eats craving, or just to grab a dozen to take home. And if you’re driving back to your swanky NY Times’ office, you should be bringing St-Viateur Bagel Shop bagels home to your loved ones, if not for the taste, then for the feud. The New York Bagel vs. Montreal Bagel war has been going on since the dawn of time (well almost!)
But never mind the bagels, now we’re ranting! If you want a café, but you would like to enjoy a decadent dessert at the same time, you must stop by Maison Christian Faure in Old Montreal. This pastry shop and pastry school is run by Chef Christian Faure, known as an alchemist of pastry, it is a perfectly Parisian pastry house. We are in Nouvelle France after all, why not delve in rich French pastries instead of the less authentic desserts that the NY Times found at Juliette et Chocolat?
- Chromatherapy, 3 P.M.
The Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal is a treat. NY Times you did well, you actually went on nice outings in Montreal, even though you ate so poorly. But we still have more to say… Right next door to the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal is McGill University, a university that’s even older than Canada with gorgeous grounds and buildings. Since Montreal is a big university town, this place is worth a visit, it’s the Harvard of Canada after all! You should check out McGill University’s Redpath Museum and their spectacular fossil collection, it’s not as well-known as the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal but it’s a must for natural history nerds. Montreal is full of secrets and history, underground tunnels and stories!
- North Stars, 7 P.M.
Alright we love Restaurant Manitoba, we really do, but dear NY Times, if you only have 36 hours in Montreal, is this really the quintessential Montreal restaurant? Why not choose a Montreal institution like Restaurant L’Express. Opened in 1980, this French bistro has stood the test of time in the Plateau. When so many restaurants come and go in Montreal, Restaurant L’Express remains, and it satisfies any budget. With their jar of sour gherkins on every table, their calming ambiance, and their delicious French bistro fare. It’s a place where locals, celebrities and tourists converge, perfect for people watching and a fabulous evening.
If you have money to spend we would recommend Au Pied de Cochon, which can only be described as true Montreal cuisine. Chef Martin Picard is a genius and he doesn’t cook for the faint of heart. His specialty dishes include duck in a can, and absolutely anything with foie gras, like a foie gras poutine. What’s more Quebecois than poutine? He even has a sugar shack by the same name, but you need to reserve months in advance to get a seat at his Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon. But if you know that you’re coming to Montreal, it’s worth the hassle of reserving in advance. Martin Picard is a Montreal chef through and through.
- Liquor Laboratory, 10 P.M.
Okay NY Times, you got us here, we love Le Lab. Our only point of contention is that lately everyone seems to love Le Lab so it’s always packed. Fret not, there are other options in Montreal! We already gushed about Big in Japan Bar, but you already spent Friday there, so you would want somewhere new on Saturday. Look no further than Le Mal Nécessaire in Chinatown. This tiki bar can be found by going down the stairs below an electric pineapple sign towards a green glow – strange just like Montreal. We have a thing for bar’s with no signs! This tiki bar in Chinatown is below a Chinese restaurant that can serve you a few bites while you get boozy below. We hope you’re lucky to be there during their Drunken Master competition that evaluates the skill and speed of some of Montreal’s best bartenders. Ask to speak to Graham Warner, he’s the genius behind Le Mal Nécessaire, one of Montreal’s most interesting bars. Oh and you should roam around Chinatown too, that’s so very Montreal, full of ethnic diversity!
And since you’re in Montreal, you should be overwhelmed by our history. If you love a good story (like we do), you should go to Dominion Square Tavern, built in 1927 as a hotel tavern, it survived both the Depression and then a great fire that destroyed the adjacent hotel. Dominion Square Tavern is a restaurant and bar that is reminiscent of a 1920s speakeasy. Enjoy a Canadian Old Fashioned cocktail, the best one in the city. If that isn’t your thing, order a gin n’ tonic with their house made tonic. These guys are only open until midnight, but they know their cocktails, and you’ll fall in love with its historical Montreal feel.
And if you’re feeling peckish after a few drinks, you should walk into Schwartz’s Deli. Vacations are all about overindulgence, right? You need to make those 36 hours count! They serve smoked meat sandwiches until 2:30 am on Saturday nights and pretty late all week long. Open since 1928, this Hebraic delicatessen is known for having the best smoked meat in the city. Schwartz’s brisket is made the old fashioned way with tons of spices and is marinated for ten days. Order a medium smoked meat sandwich, french fries, coleslaw, a pickle, and wash it down with Cott’s black cherry cola, trust us, you’ll thank us later!
- Vintage Voyage, 10 A.M.
Marché aux Puces Saint Michel is a random suggestion for vintage shopping in Montreal. The word ghetto comes to mind. Oh NY Times, you’re very strange! If it was summer we would send you to Finnegan’s Market that is open every Saturday from May to October in Hudson, right outside Montreal. This is a serious flea market that is full of antiques and Canadian handcrafts from many antique shops that are located in Montreal.
For a true “Vintage Voyage” look no further than what is known as Montreal’s Antique District on Notre-Dame in Griffintown. From jewelry, to furniture, to clothes, this is where you shop vintage in Montreal. Other options include perusing the few antique shops, amid the bridal shops, on St-Hubert Street, less “high-end” than Notre-Dame’s Antique District. Nonetheless you can find some gems, we already have!
- Ship Shape, 1 P.M.
Montreal does have a few Nordic themed spas, they bode well with our Nordic weather, and Bota Bota is the best. This was a lovely NY Times’ suggestion. It seems that they were pretty spot on with what to do in terms of fun activities in Montreal, but they knew nothing about where to dine and shop.
Hotel Le Crystal is a tad out of the way, and Auberge de la Fontaine is not particularly well known by Montrealers. Again the NY Times did their best, but fell short here too. Why did these hotels make the cut? Maybe they paid the NY Times to be featured? But hey that’s just our guess because they just aren’t Montreal enough for us. The Sofitel Hotel is a popular hotel in downtown Montreal, it’s near public transportation, McGill University, Dominion Square Tavern, Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal, the Underground City, and more.
If you crave that old European feel of Old Montreal, check out the Place D’Armes Hotel which is also near public transportation, Bota Bota, Maison Christian Faure, Le Mal Nécessaire, and tons of restaurants and bars. But to be honest, we have stayed at some superb spots in downtown Montreal by just using Airbnb, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their inexpensive, but wonderful, accommodations. Montrealers are simple people, we love going out, want to have fun, but are still economical and practical. Big city people with an ethnic soul.
36 hours in Montreal should be about the gems in our city, the best of what we have to offer, and we just don’t think that the NY Times did a good job of portraying that. Better luck next time!
Tagged: 36 Hours in Montreal, Au Pied de Cochon, Big in Japan Bar, Cabane a Sucre Pied de Cochon, Café Olimpico, Dominion Square Tavern, Downtown Montreal, Jean Talon Market, Le Chien Fumant, Le Mal Necessaire, Little Italy, Maison Christian Faure, Maison Publique, Martin Picard, Montreal, Montreal Hotel, Montreal Restaurant, Montreal Travel, NY Times, NY Times Response, Old Montreal, Plateau, Restaurant L’Express, Schwartz’s Deli, St-Viateur Bagel Shop, Travel Guide, Underground City