Spend one weekend in Montreal, and all that Quebecois separatism talk starts making sense. The music is solid, the hipsters are laid-back, and the loonie goes a long way.
You’ll need a day to get the lay of the land. Boulevard Saint-Laurent splits the city into east and west (est and ouest). Old Montreal is good for a Euro-fix, but the real action is in Le Plateau and Downtown. The up-and-comer? Mile-End.
It’s quaint, romantic, and colonial. Stroll or bike the waterfront quays, then head to Reborn (231 Rue Saint-Paul O.; +1-514-499-8549), a killer fashion collective with designers both local (YSO) and foreign (Herchcovitch), and a mascot: a chameleon named Mr. Veil. Hit Turf Gallery (410 St. Pierre; +1-514-845-5559; now closed) for wicked limited-edition sneaks (Gravis, Callous, Vans Vault). Stay for a beer. They might just let you graffiti the wall.
Hungry? The enchanting Le Club Chasse Et Pêche (that’s “The Hunting and Fishing Club” for the unilingual) (423 Rue Saint-Claude; +1-514-861-1112) is a high-concept splurge. Tired and stuffed? Pass out at the chic and minimalist St. Paul Hotel (355 Rue McGill; +1-514-380-2222), but not before hitting Cube, in the lobby, for a nightcap (now closed).
Le Plateau and Downtown
Travelers on a budget should stay at the simple, clean, and well-located Anne Ma Soeur Anne Hôtel-Studio (4119 Rue Saint-Denis; +1-514-281-3187). Request a patio hammock so you can sway as you nibble your buttery breakfast croissant.
Off to Rue Saint-Denis for prime people-watching. Pop into Kenzo (72 Duluth E.; +1-514-286-2510), a Buddhist like den and hair salon, then attack the surrounding vintage shops. Score a ’30s cocktail gown for just $13 at À La Deux (316 Avenue Mont-Royal E.; +1-514-843-9893). Pick up a picnic at Le Fromentier (1375 Laurier E.; +1-514-527-3327), the best place for bread, cheese, and olives. Remember, this isn’t a bakery; it’s an atelier.
When not at band practice, the musicians hang out in Mile-End, a Portuguese working-class neighborhood that’s being discovered by the artists.
Local designers are setting up shop here, too. Neighbors Renata Morales (5392 Boulevard Saint-Laurent; +1-514-271-5061) and Denis Gagnon (5392A Boulevard Saint-Laurent; +1-514-272-1719) make envy-inducing, avant-garde pieces.
Loafing is encouraged at Cafe Esperanza (5490 Boulevard Saint-Laurent; +1-514-948-3303), which has snacks, handmade zines, and a distrobato — a revamped cigarette machine that dispenses limited-edition art projects for just two bucks. (These things are all over town. How cool is that?)
Come sundown, check out who’s playing at sister venues El Salon (4388 Saint-Laurent; +1-514-284-0122), Sala Rosa (4848 Boulevard Saint-Laurent; +1-514-284-0122), and Casa del Popolo (4873 Boulevard Saint-Laurent; +1-514-284-0122).
Before you crash, raid the minibar at the gorgeously sleek Hotel Godin (10 Sherbrooke O.; +1-514-843-6000; now closed) for Fresh products, condoms, Polaroids, and Thievery Corp CDs. Muse, as you reach for another freshly baked cookie in the lobby lounge, about which hot Canadian to have an affair with.
That way, you won’t ever have to leave.