Photos by Tourisme Montréal / Stéphan Poulin; Canadian Tourism Commission
Almost every memorable city is defined by its neighborhoods, and Montreal is no exception. But the city’s famous multiculturalism — it was colonized by both the English and the French, and is officially a bilingual city — has helped give its neighborhoods particularly distinctive personalities.
And if it seems easy to enjoy yourself in Montreal, that may be because maintaining a high quality of life is city policy. As a UNESCO City of Design, Montreal has set out to become “one of the most attractive cities in the world,” according to a document outlining the plan. “Quality of life is a critical factor in the success of cities.”
During a recent press trip to Montreal, sponsored by Tourisme Montréal, we spent most of our days at C2MTL, a business and creativity conference. (Look for more about C2MTL next month.) That left our nights free to experience the joie de vivre and the cuisine that the city has become known for. On three nights, we visited three different neighborhoods.
In Griffintown, a former industrial area, an ambitious plan to create new housing and jump-start and nurture creative and innovative businesses is under way. Renovation or new construction seems to be occurring on nearly every block — the ALT Hotel, where we stayed, is Griffintown’s first and only hotel, having just opened in May. The modern hotel’s strategy could be described as selective luxury: Each guest room is compact but furnished with Egyptian-cotton bedding and a goose-down duvet, free Wi-Fi, an ergonomic workstation, and one perfect armchair. There is no room service, but a selection of pastries and fruit is available in the lobby in the morning. The hotel also offers 4,500 square feet of high-tech meeting space, plus a terrace, which can accommodate groups of up to 150.
Griffintown’s restaurant scene is well established, and has become a place where some of the city’s most inventive chefs are settling in. We had dinner at Grinder, which features an airy interior with exposed beams and an open kitchen. Grinder specializes in meat and seafood, serving steaks, grilled fish, and braised meats, but also offers a wide variety of tartares, carpaccio, ceviche, and vegetable dishes.
Not very long ago, locals wouldn’t have dreamed of going to Old Montreal for dinner, according to Tanya Churchmuch, assistant director of media for Tourisme Montréal. But all that changed as the historic area, filled with cobblestone streets and stone buildings dating back to the 17th century, has undergone a massive revitalization.
Among the additions in recent years are numerous boutique hotels, including the 108-suite Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel, a favorite of visiting movie stars and corporate meeting planners. We stopped in the hotel’s lobby for a flute of champagne and a quick look at the property’s new, natural-light-filled meeting space and executive boardroom, which opened last month and can accommodate up to 60 people. Additional meeting space can accommodate 65 more.
We had dinner at nearby Racines (“roots” in English), which serves high-concept comfort food — such as lobster with smoked sour cream, and scallops with endive and apricots — in an elegantly relaxed atmosphere.
THE LOWER PLATEAU
Tourisme Montréal saved arguably the most famously bohemian neighborhood for our last night. Centrally located near downtown and McGill University, the Lower Plateau’s streets are filled with restaurants, bars, and shops. We stopped for drinks at La Fabrique Annexe, a storefront outpost of the nearby La Fabrique restaurant suitable for private events and parties — complete with a table that will seat 43 people. The menu at La Fabrique features such imaginative specialties as hake with olive-bread crust, confit lemon-cream and anchovy-flavored mayonnaise, a “French toast” bread-pudding dessert, and a whimsical finishing touch — short glasses of delicate pink cotton candy.