Old Montreal is new again for tourists and locals alike
Maryam Siddiqi reports on the boundary-pushing galleries and dynamic restaurants and bars drawing people to this highly walkable area
Old Montreal, the two-kilometre stretch of Montreal from Saint-Antoine to the water, McGill to St-Hubert (give or take a block), has traditionally been known as a tourist trap, where cruise passengers spend an afternoon before heading up the St. Lawrence to their next port of call. But thanks to a recent condo boom in the adjacent neighbourhood of Griffintown and in communities across the river, locals have turned their attention to the area, which has seen a number of boutiques, bars, restaurants and retailers open up shop in the past couple years. "It's become trendy to be here," Danny Pavlopoulos, co-founder of the tour company Spade & Palacio, says.
The neighbourhood is a mix of old – Montreal was founded in these very streets – and new, with boundary-pushing galleries and dynamic restaurants and bars opening up in historic buildings. Best of all, no matter where you are in the area, nothing is more than a 15-minute walk away.
Hôtel William Gray
Overlooking Place Jacques-Cartier, Old Montreal's promenade, William Gray opened in 2016 as modern boutique hotel that uses two 18th-century heritage homes as its base, one of which belonged to Edward-William Gray, a sheriff. On site, the hotel boasts a restaurant (Maggie Oakes, named after Gray's wife), and downtown dispatches of the famed Mile End café Olimpico and streetwear boutique Off The Hook.
In the latter half of 2017, the hotel opened its spa, adding to its wellness offerings of a well-equipped fitness centre (including spin bikes) and pool (open only in summer). The 5,600-square-foot spa includes treatments on Gharieni spa beds that come equipped with sound therapy – one room has a heated quartz massage bed. Before departure, make time for the spa's thermal circuit ($60 for hotel guests), which includes a steam room, Finnish and herbal saunas, a cold room and a Himalayan salt room. Your skin and state of mind will thank you. From $220; hotelwilliamgray.com
The bright, airy space is as garden-fresh as chef Stephanie Audet's menu at Lov, which stands for local, organic and vegan (though the menu has a healthy offering of vegetarian dishes). The Old Montreal location is the restaurant's second, and it's a busy destination given its proximity to downtown's office towers and Griffintown's condos.
The menu includes a vegan take on traditional French onion soup, haskap berry grilled cheese and buckwheat-sweet potato gnocchi with hemp-basil pesto. Add the Buffalo sauce Brussels sprouts to any meal; you won't be sorry. The drinks menu has an impressive selection of natural and bio-dynamic wines. lov.com
Le Club Chasse et Pêche
An old-school Old Montreal restaurant that is actually much younger than its ambience would lead you to believe (it opened in 2007), this is the place to come for a hearty Québécois meal. With low ceilings, intimate lighting and comfortable leather loungers, expect to see business deals being done around you. As the restaurant's name suggests, surf and turf fill chef Claude Pelletier's menu. Seared scallops with lemon confit offer a sweet start to the meal; luxuriously tender venison with celeriac, radishes and cranberries show off some local delicacies. leclubchasseetpeche.com
Crew Collective Café
Though it's been open for a couple years, this café, located under the majestic vaulted ceilings of the original Royal Bank of Canada headquarters, which dates back to 1928, is still undiscovered for many – and for those who already know about it, it continues to be a delight. Half co-working space, half café, it's the ideal spot to grab a latte and a croissant and recharge. crewcollectivecafe.com
Opened in mid-January, this funky bar under the Vietnamese restaurant Ha is the perfect hideout on a chilly winter night. With carpets on the wall, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling and tiki-inspired serving vessels, the decor matches the pan-Asian drinks menu, which includes soju and sake mixed drinks, and an Indo-China punch featuring oolong tea. restaurantha.com/nhau-bar
Montreal's archeology and history complex debuted its Fort Ville-Marie pavilion last year during the city's 375 th birthday celebrations and it continues to be open to visitors, who literally walk on top of history. The exhibition was built atop building remains and soil from 1642, when Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Jeanne Mance and around 40 other French people arrived in Montreal and settled. The show, called Where Montreal Began, includes a remarkable collection of artifacts from this first settlement. pacmusee.qc.ca
This multidisciplinary arts and culture centre has a diverse programming calendar – the first few weeks of the year saw screenings from Paris's Cinema Paradiso festival, a culinary-themed event series celebrating female chefs from around the world and Canadian Screen Award-nominated immersive films in the Virtual Reality Garden, a permanent space where visitors can experience virtual-reality films and projects. Pick up a souvenir at the Phi Boutique, which carries local brands such as Atelier Wonder, Field of Ponies and Le Cartel. phi-centre.com
The writer travelled as a guest of Montreal Tourism. It did not review or approve this article.