A Local’s Guide to Montreal
I could have asked a million different people to do a local’s guide to Montreal. It is my hometown, after all, and I am lucky to say I still have a great group of friends and family who live there. But I asked Annika (you met her here) because not only is she a true local, she is a busy mom of two, an entrepreneur and a style-setting interior designer who knows all of the city’s best kept secrets. And there are many. The best time to visit Montreal? Now! September and October are beautiful as are May, June and some of July. December can be pretty too when the snow is falling but the temperature hasn’t dropped to its lowest lows. But the truth is, even in the deep winter snow or the thick summertime humidity, this city has my heart. Here’s why:
Where to get a facial: As the lovely editor of WWGD knows full well (editor’s note: that’s me!), Romanians do it better. Facials that is. They do facials better. It is not fancy by any means but my secret spot for most of my beauty needs is in a little salon tucked at the back of an Italian barber shop – Salon Juste Pour Toi. Claudia, the Romanian equivalent of a young Sophia Loren, gives AMAZING facials. Beautiful smelling Italian products, a dreamy foot massage while the creams and masks are doing their thing, and her capable, no-nonsense, calm approach all make for a really great hour spent on yourself. My other choice is the new spa The Cabin at Two Horses. The Cabin is only a couple of months old but is a great, cool little spa. Amy, the hot mama behind The Cabin, uses Herbivore Botanicals from Seattle and Province Apothecary from Toronto. Both are completely all-natural product lines. This is not your average spa environment (no “spa” music playing in the background and you will be offered a lemonade, latte, or if it’s after noon, a beer).
Where to get a massage: I used to be a real massage junkie – I’d get them at least once a month, if not more. This was pre-kids. Now that I actually need massages in my life, they are too few and far between. If I did have the time/money/time I would go to Espace Nomad. I don’t have a go-to massage therapist there but have always enjoyed my massages. The place is nice, the rooms have a cave-like quality that makes for deep relaxation, and if you book a morning massage, you can get an hour and a half massage for the price of an hour. Oh, and they give great pregnant lady massages! Another great spot for a massage is the stunning Bota Bota. This place is crazy gorgeous: an old ferry boat docked in Montreal’s Old Port turned into a Nordic spa with saunas, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, steam rooms, cold water baths and massage treatment rooms.
Where to shop for your man: There are an increasing number of cool men’s shop options in Montreal these days. Here are my favorites and, coincidentally, they are all located within a couple of blocks of each other in the Mile End neighborhood – really the best shopping/people watching/good eating and drinking area in town. Clark Street Mercantile: they have a great mix of clothing, art work and accessories (like razors, watches and bags). Annex Vintage offers a great selection of vintage clothing and accessories. Les Etoffes is another Mile End cooler than cool clothing shop. They have women and men’s clothing, mostly from Scandinavian designers, as well as some very carefully curated vintage pieces.
Where to shop for your home: There are some great vintage furniture shops in our fair city. Many are located on Amherst Street in the Gay Village neighborhood – Jack’s, Montréal Moderne, Sputnik. I also love going to the Marché aux Puces St-Michel: you really need to comb through the stalls to find treasure but when you do, it is the best feeling ever. For new home décor items, I like Galerie Co which has great objects, both local and from around the world, that have been ethically made and are environmentally friendly. Kitchen supply stores, hardware stores and pharmacies are really my favorite places to shop. And because of my minor kitchen stuff/tableware/pottery obsession, I love going to these mostly kitchen focused shops: Arthur Quentin, Quincaillerie Dante, and Les Touilleurs. For lighting, my go-to is Lambert et Fils: great design, cool, handmade and around the corner from my house. I’ve used their lamps in many of my commercial and residential projects, as well as in my own home.
Where to shop for your kids: Drawn and Quarterly is my favorite bookstore in town for young and old alike. They have a great selection of children’s books and I love to support the little guy. A new kid on the block in children’s stores is the gorgeous boutique Commes Des Enfants; basically this woman opened up my fantasy kids store. Not only beautiful clothing (Mini Rodini, Bobo Choses) but cute books and toys and Washi tape and Baggu bags and art and more. And the store itself is just so pretty.
Where to get a sweet treat: Cocoa Locale is my friend Reema’s lovely little cake shop (editor’s note: my fave, too!). Old school cupcakes, cookies and cakes all baked by this talented one-woman show. This place is my first stop for any life event: weddings, birthdays, baby showers, etc. Les Chocolats de Chloé is a chocolate shop that I fantasize about on the regular – specifically her versions of a Crunchie bar, Turtles and chocolate covered marshmallows. And the confit ginger. And her chocolate spread. Also the packaging is so nice that these make for great gifts for your kid’s teachers or for under the tree.
Where to get a cheap eat: Montreal has some pretty great cheap eats. My choices are Dépanneur Le Pick Up. It’s a great lunch counter set up in a corner store and a hipster hang out that is very kid-friendly. The veggie pulled pork, haloumi sandwich and the tuna-thon are my favorites. The Orange Julep is a Montreal institution. A great spot to bring the kiddies for classics like poutine and grilled cheese sandwiches and their weird creamy Orange Julep drink. Dinette Triple Crown is a southern BBQ joint around the corner from our house. They’ll give you a picnic basket with plates, table cloth, cutlery and hot sauces with your food order that you can bring it to the park across the street. A great summer evening guaranteed. My kids love their pulled pork, or “pulled cork” as they call it.
Where to wine and dine: Lawrence, duh! This is the restaurant that my husband and I are partners in so obviously it comes out #1 in my list of places to wine and dine at. But seriously, this is some great food. Local, nose to tail cooking with a serious drink program and great service. I eat here a lot. Not just so that I can stare at my husband’s gorgeous face but also because the food is really, really good. Nora Gray is a really great Montreal night out – amazing Italian food and more great wine. I’ve had only delicious food here and can’t wait to go back. Our new date night/special occasion spot is Park Restaurant. I could live on Asian food alone and this place does it right. Amazing sushi and everything else. Try to get a spot at the bar and watch chef Antonio Park weave his magic. L’Express is a true favorite of mine. A classic French bistro, this place was my family’s special celebration spot when I was young. And it still does it for me. My L’Express dream come true is a spot at the bar (bar seating is always the best!), with a chilled glass of white wine, a chicken liver mousse terrine, a small green salad, a bowl of French fries with mayo and some cornichons. Perfection! You instantly feel transported to Paris minus the jet lag and the big spend.
Thanks for sharing, Annika! Now I am homesick…and hungry 😉
*image above via Montreal artist Todd Stewart