Here is the first walk that I have prepared just for you readers.
Shoes: Green basketball shoes
Time: 1 hour to 1 day, depending on the number of stops you make
First, here are some photos to show you what you’ll be getting into 😉
Sainte-Catherine from Saint-Marc to Papineau (Downtown/Latin quarter/Gay village)
This walk, if done in a straight line and without stopping, will take about an hour and a half. If you take your time, it could last all day!
Ste-Catherine is a very, very long street (the main part spans 10 km, so 6.2 miles). By walking on it, you’ll encounter many different realities and types of people. That’s what makes this walk so fascinating and entertaining. You can start either way, but since the night time entertainment is more developed in the gay village, the example I am giving will start at St-Marc and end at Papineau.
Start out at the corner of St-Marc, right near Concordia University. What you’ll find there is a large concentration of Asian shops and restaurants (come back another day to have dinner at the wonderful Kazu). It’s a great area to find cute, not overtly expensive clothes, objects, and delicious cheap eats. Walk into the formerly depressing Faubourg Ste-Catherine, where you’ll find the newly opened Grumman 78 food stand. They serve tacos that are all-fresh and so tasty. Your lunch should run you around 12 to 16$, depending on your appetite.
Afterwards, keep walking on Ste-Catherine and you’ll pass by Concordia, where you are sure to see lots and lots of well dressed kids with bright creative minds. It’s always a lively spot to go through, even if there isn’t much to do per se.
As you keep walking towards the eastern part of town, you’ll find yourself in the downtown area, where the men in suits share sidewalks with fashionistas, tourists and buskers looking to fund their road trip to Vancouver. The density of people can be frustrating here, but the sheer variety of things to see will make up for it. Opulently decorated store windows stand side by side with strip clubs, restaurant chains and churches. That’s downtown Montreal for you.
If ever it rains, snows, or if the heat is overbearing, you can cheat the next part of the walk by going in through the underground city (a huge indoor shopping mall), which will take you all the way to The Bay, a huge Macy’s type department store. If you prefer to stay outside, you’ll encounter more stores, places to eat and many interesting characters.
Once you walk out of or past The Bay, you’ll have made it to the next part of the walk, which is more culturally inclined than consumerist.
A hidden gem in this city is the Belgo building. You couldn’t see this from the façade, but once you go in and walk up to the 4th and 5th floors, you’ll find a plethora of contemporary art galleries, showcasing the best up and comers and even some well known names. (You’ll find references to specific galleries lower down). Hours can be spent here, and if you feel hungry after all that art, there’s a café on the ground floor that serves good snacks and caffeinated drinks.
Keep going down Ste-Catherine and you’ll find yourself in the Quartier des spectacles, at the Place des Festivals. This particular area of the city has been the core of Montreal’s cultural life for a few years, but since 2009 it is even more so. The city and local government put in a lot of money to make this a hotspot for hosting the cities’ multiple festivals. Depending at which time of year you come to Montreal, you could very well walk into the Jazz festival, the Just for laughs comedy fest, the Montréal Complètement cirque (circus) festival or the World Film festival. Most days during the summer, a part of the street is closed off to cars and there is something happening at the Place des festivals, whether it be a free Stevie Wonder concert or an outdoor screening of the movie La vie en rose.
If you happen to be in town during one of the quieter periods of the year (those don’t really exist but whatever), you could always go check out the Museum of contemporary art, a world class museum that puts on art shows that feature well-known artists like Ai Weiwei, Vik Muniz or Janet Cardiff.
Afterwards, keep on going and you’ll find yourself in the former red light area of the city. In some ways, it’s still a relatively seedy spot, with lots of sex shops and rundown buildings, but gentrification is coming its way! The brand-new, shiny 2-22 building, on the corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard is a testament to the new direction that the city wants to give to the neighborhood. There is still a lot of resistance to the changes being done, with people saying that it will become too trendy, therefore sterile. I’ll let you be the judge of what is better. All in all, it’s definitely an interesting block with so many contrasts.
Stop in for a beer at the legendary Foufounes électriques and you’ll be stepping into an old stomping ground for Montreal punks. At night, the place turns into a popular (almost generic) club but during the day, the former spirit of the bar remains, with most patrons sporting tattooed limbs and a dark attire.
Next you’ll be walking through the campus of Université du Québec à Montréal, which definitely isn’t a campus like one would imagine it to be if based on American standards. If you weren’t made aware of it beforehand, you’d never notice that these are the grounds of a faculty of higher learning. It just looks like a regular grid of streets and buildings. What you will notice is a large concentration of brown bricked buildings, cheap places to eat and a mix of students and homeless people. It makes for a fun place to be.
Just in front of parc Émilie-Gamelin, a meeting place for activists, druggies and dreamers of all kinds, you should stop in at l’Escalier, a lovely hippie café/ concert room. In what is obviously a former apartment that has been converted into a chill hang out for people from all walks of life, you’ll find good vegetarian snacks and drinks (alcoholic or not). If daytime is very calm here, at night, things can get wilder, even slightly agitated if you come in a time of social unrest like spring 2012.
If your appetite calls for something meatier, go to the Station des sports. It’s a bar that caters to sports fans (hockey fans, mostly), but also to students. Prices are cheap, even though a certain hike has been noticeable in the last few months. Come here for a nice hamburger and some light beer (nothing fancy here!).
After spending some time in many a man’s dream spot, you’ll find yourself in quite a contrasting environment : Montreal’s famed Gay village. During the summer, this part of the street is closed off to cars, so restaurant and bar tables spill onto the sidewalks and the atmosphere is lively, even electric, most evenings. Choose a place to chill with some sangria and enjoy the show. If you like to dance, there are plenty of good clubs and bars to go to for all tastes. Most are straight-friendly and open to all genders, though you should have a look first. Generally, you can get an idea based on the crowd you see standing outside. Some places have been known to reject women on certain nights.
If drags shows are your thing, Cabaret chez Mado puts on great ones every evening, but try to go on days when owner Mado is present (calendar here). She is quite the popular character here in Montreal.
Keep going towards Papineau street and you’ll have reached the end of our walk. You’ll be tired, but you’ll have seen and experienced so many things. If it’s summer time and Saturday night, try to make it here for 10 pm, find a bar with a rooftop terrace (like Sky or Unity) or walk up to the Jacques-Cartier bridge (follow the crowd) to observe the firework shows that are put on at La Ronde amusement park.
Musée d’art contemporain/Museum of contemporary art
185 Sainte-Catherine Street West Montréal, QC (514) 847-6226
372 Sainte-Catherine Street West Montréal, QC
1439 St. Catherine Street West Montréal, QC (514) 849-7577
463 Sainte-Catherine Street West Montréal, QC (514) 288-9245
Concert halls and theater:
L’astral (Jazz, pop)
305 Sainte-Catherine Street West
La maison Symphonique/ Place des arts (classical, orchestra, jazz)
1600 Saint-Urbain Street
Théâtre du Nouveau monde (Theater, experimental and classical, french only)
84 Sainte-Catherine Street West
Métropolis (One of Montreal’s biggest concert halls. Green Day, Coldplay, Beck and David Bowie have played here)
59 Sainte-Catherine Street East
Théâtre Sainte-Catherine (theatre, improv, comedy)
264 Sainte-Catherine Street East
Théâtre Olympia (rock, pop, musical theater)
1004 Sainte-Catherine Street East
Places to eat: (per person, tips and taxes not included: $= 10 dollars or less, $$= 25 dollars or less, $$$= 40 dollars or less)
Kazu (Japanese) $$-$$$
This restaurant is incredible. You’ll probably have to wait one hour outdoors before you can sit down to eat, but it is worth it! Come in with an adventurous palate and high expectations, you won’t be disappointed. The room is tiny, so be prepared for that. You can’t eat here if you are a group of more than 6, and no reservations are taken. Don’t expect to be scarfing down all-you-can-eat sushi because what they mostly serve here is japanese izakaya (pub)fare. What you’ll get is the best shrimp burger in the city, porc purée that melts in your mouth and other tasty and surprising treats like sake ice cream.
1862 Rue Sainte-Catherine West Montréal, QC (514) 937-2333
Wok Café (Chinese) $
Standard oriental cuisine (japanese, cantonese, sichuanese, vietnamese) that is good and keeps your wallet happy too.
1845 Sainte-Catherine Street West (514) 938-1882
Grumman 78 (Mexican, NOT tex-mex) $-$$
See description in the text.
1616 Sainte-Catherine West (514)290-5125
3 brasseurs (Alsatian) $-$$
A beer brewing chain that started in the north of France and has expanded here. They serve good alsatian and french cuisine (flammekueche, sauerkraut, mussels, chèvre chaud). Many patrons come here to order the beer meter, 10 glasses of beer presented on a meter-long wooden tray.
1356 Sainte-Catherine West Montreal (514) 788-9788
Reubens deli (Smoked meat, cheesecake) $$
Good smoked meat sandwiches, big portions, yummy cheesecake. What more do you need?
1116 Sainte-Catherine West Montréal, QC (514) 866-1029
Vasco da gama (portugese, sandwiches, salads) $$
A few steps out of the way, but for someone looking for something fancier than other things that were suggested in this list so far, Vasco da gama is a good place to go. They serve sandwiches and salads at a counter, but the meals are more refined and much more audacious than your standard sandwich shop. A sample of the menu: duck and fig sandwich, bison burger and pissaladière.
1472 Peel Street Montréal, QC (514) 286-2688
Panino (Panini, salads) $
Good coffee, panini, fresh salads. You can eat on the spot, or take it to go.
271 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal, QC (514) 664-4440
Club Sandwich (snack bar fare) $
You don’t come here so much for the food (hamburgers, poutine, club sandwiches :)). You come here because it’s open at 4h30 AM and you can hang out with the drag queens that have just turned in their platform boots for the night, the GI Joe lookalike bar bouncers or the overexcited teenagers living their wildest years. This place is big and crazy, especially in the summer, after the Village bars close.
1570 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal, QC (514) 419-5259
Places to rest (Cafés, sweet snacks):
552 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal, QC (514) 419-6609
3000 Crescent (corner of Sainte-Catherine East)
279 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal (514) 564-8900
Places to go out:
A favorite hangout with local students. This place is casual and everyone is here to have fun. If you need a little courage to get up and sing, the alcohol is cheap.
2071 Sainte-Catherine West
A nice, if expensive place for entertainment. Here, you can chill on slick white couches, sipping away on your mojito, while your friends play some pool or bowling.
1606 Sainte-Catherine West Montréal, QC (514) 934-3105
(see description in text)
87 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal, QC (514) 844-5539
Prized in the summer for its’ wonderful courtyard, this old-school pub/bar has a nice selection of beers and drinks. The entrance is a bit hard to find, as it is just off Sainte-Catherine, on a very nondescript street, but the effort is worth it!
1412 Sainte-Élizabeth Street Montréal, QC
(see description in text)
862 Sainte-Catherine East, Montréal, (514) 903-8571
(see description in text)
1115 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal, QC (514) 525-7566
Club complex with two dancefloors and a rooftop terrace. The crowd here is mixed and very young.
1171 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal, QC (514) 523-2777
This huge bar is a favorite with the lesbian crowd, but is open to all. The set up changes often here but you’ll most likely find a restaurant, one or two indoor bars, two outdoor terraces and a dance floor inside this building.
1366 Sainte-Catherine East (514) 524-1960
Club complex with multiple dance floors, a rooftop terrace, a street-level terrace, shows on the ground floor and plenty of place to chill with a cocktail.
1474 Sainte-Catherine East Montréal, QC (514) 529-6969