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via Architectural Digest :


True North

With its magnetic mix of rugged individualism and European flair, Montreal exudes an irresistible French-Canadian joie de vivre


Text by Mitchell Owens


Tourists and travel guides often tout Montreal asa North American version of Paris. Pas vrai. Though the two cities’ abundant historic façades are predominantly limestone, Montreal’s are ash-gray, a rough-hewn contrast to Paris’s soufflé-gold luminosity. As for their all-important food scenes, Montreal’s muscular, hearty cuisine offers a robust counterpoint to the French capital’s refined traditions. And while the Québécois vernacular may have a sharper twang than what is spoken in France today, it’s actually more closely connected to French’s roots. Melissa Auf der Maur, the Montreal-born former guitarist for Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, once dismissed the provincial tongue as “hillbilly French”—only to have her mother, literary translator Linda Gaboriau, defend it as “the original French, the French of the kings.”


In an increasingly globalized world, Montreal venerates its deep-seated local culture. French colonists settled Quebec in the early 1600s, and their descendants have never forgotten that intrepid foray, hence the province’s enduring separatist movement and its motto, Je me souviens—“I remember,” rendered pointedly en français. As Los Angeles–based AD100 architect Richard Landry, a University of Montreal alumnus, explains, “When you see those words on every license plate, it’s hard not to think about the patrimoine all the time.” Indeed, this city of 1.7 million, set on an island at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, is infused with a pioneer spirit and an unpretentious pride in the homegrown.


Cuisine is integral to this rich heritage—and a major reason Montreal remains a compelling destination long after summer’s festivals (most famously the International Jazz Festival) and carnivals have ended. “Montrealers reportedly spend more of their disposable income on eating out than on anything else,” says Andrew Torriani, the CEO and co-owner of the Ritz-Carlton Montréal hotel, a 1912 Beaux Arts landmark graced by the impeccable Maison Boulud restaurant, where executive chef Riccardo Bertolino plates suave international fare. The city is well-known for poutine, a tangle of frîtes topped with cheese curds and gravy. Auf der Maur swears by the version at Patati Patata (514-844-0216), a microscopic café close to Mount Royal Park, a 494-acre oasis designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Diners craving more sophisticated menus can head to chef Normand Laprise’s hushed Toqué!, opposite the glittering business district’s colorful Palais des Congrès convention center and around the corner from the sleek W Montréal hotel. Chef-owners Hubert Marsolais and Claude Pelletier’s surf-and-turf mecca, Le Club Chasse et Pêche, on the other hand, is set amid the colonial gray-stone buildings of Old Montreal. Marsolais and Pelletier also collaborate with chef Michele Mercuri on the Italian-inflected brasserie Le Serpent, at the Ville-Marie arrondissement’s visual-arts center Fonderie Darling.


Last year in the working-class Little Burgundy section—not far from the Old Port, where warehouses have been turned into cafés and inns, like the lofty Auberge du Vieux-Port hotel—chef-restaurateurs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin opened Le Vin Papillon, a charming wine bar. The new boîte is on the same block as the celebrated pair’s Liverpool House, a bistro with antler-bedecked walls, and Joe Beef, a tchotchke-filled gastropub that was recently ranked as Canada’s top restaurant, thanks to its lively confections like parfait of foie gras with Madeira jelly. Other daring chefs invigorating the city’s scene include François Nadon of the Latin Quarter’s Bouillon Bilk and Guillaume Cantin at Old Montreal’s Les 400 Coups.


The city has a riveting collection of locally designed architecture as well. Starting with Moshe Safdie and his 1967 Habitat housing complex, a number of Canadian and Québécois talents have produced notable contemporary projects, including those in the Quartier des Spectacles, a network of performance halls, restaurants, galleries, fountains, and squares in the Latin Quarter. One of the district’s stars is the Grande Bibliothèque, a joint venture between Croft-Pelletier Architectes and Gilles Guité, both of Quebec City, and Vancouver’s Patkau Architects. The green-glass behemoth, containing multistory rooms walled with yellow-birch louvers, was hailed as “simple but wonderful” by Phyllis Lambert, Montreal’s architecture doyenne. The same could be said of Lambert’s own Canadian Centre for Architecture, which occupies an elegant 1989 building attached to a historic mansion in the Shaughnessy Village neighborhood. (The city does have a few outsider icons, namely Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1967 Westmount Square mixed-used complex, I. M. Pei’s 1962 Place Ville Marie skyscraper, and Roger Taillibert’s futuristic Olympic Stadium, a 1976 structure Landry calls “a very, very cool white elephant.”)


Québécois art offers major-league delights, too. The works of powerhouse midcentury geometric painters Claude Tousignant and Guido Molinari are highlighted at the multivenue Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. And things are only looking up for current local talents, according to Lesley Johnstone, a curator at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, which hosts the Montreal Biennial from October 22, 2014, to January 4, 2015. “Today the wealthy younger crowd whose families supported hospitals and the symphony are focusing on Canadian artists,” she observes.


Among this new generation are Anne-Marie and Pierre Trahan, the maestros behind the two-year-old Arsenal Montréal, a contemporary art complex housed in a former shipyard in the Griffintown neighborhood. The 83,000-square-foot space is also home to the couple’s Division Gallery, which focuses on domestic talents such as multidisciplinary artists Nicolas Baier and Bonnie Baxter. After taking in Arsenal’s exhibitions, one can visit another Griffin-town magnet, a stretch of rue Notre-Dame Ouest known as Antiques Alley, where cafés alternate with treasure troves like Milord Antiquités and Antiquités L’Ecuyer (514-932-8461).


Stylish Montrealers also dress Canadian, heading to Boutique Unicorn and Philippe Dubuc for fashions by their compatriots, while apparel star Marie Saint Pierre operates an eponymous flagship in downtown’s Golden Square Mile area. Boho-chic women—including Sharon Johnston, the wife of Canada’s governor general—step out in fascinatingly funky jewelry that designer Charlotte Hosten makes in her tiny appointment-only Mile End atelier. And at nearby Clark Street Mercantile, the brands primarily come from far beyond the province but share an earthy authenticity that feels absolutely Canadian. It’s a quality worth keeping in mind when exploring a city where roots and remembrance are everything.


See more of Montreal's can't-miss destinations.

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Intéressant. Mais c'est écrit dans ce style tapageur qui rappelle les pamphlets touristiques. On aime ou on n'aime pas. Mais ce qui m'irrite le plus, c'est cette habitude qu'ont certains de citer la population de la ville centrale (dans ce cas: 1,7 millions) au lieu de celui de l'agglomération urbaine dans son ensemble. C'est comme dire de Paris: un ville de deux millions d'habitants. Trompeur pour ceux qui ne savent pas, souvent les mêmes qui se contentent de puiser leur "savoir" dans les pamphlets...

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