Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal’s Secret Spots Only Locals Know
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Hidden Bars Inside Old Montreal Shopfronts
Behind the stone facades and wrought-iron balconies of Old Montreal lie some of the city’s best-kept libation secrets. While tourists flock to the cobblestoned streets above, locals make their way to clandestine watering holes hidden in the centuries-old buildings.
Seek out the green awning at 350 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest to find Les Soeurs Grises. The Grey Nuns ran an orphanage here in the 1800s before it became a convent. Now the basement is home to a cozy tavern with brick walls, dim lighting, and monks' choir music setting a hushed mood. Sip Trappist beer, wine, and spirits once forbidden to the former inhabitants. On busy nights, squeeze into the catacombs for privacy in the tunnel-like passageways.
Nearby on Rue Saint-Vincent resides Koxton’s Pub, situated below street level through an unmarked red door sandwiched between shops. Descend the stairs to a cavernous stone cellar full of long wooden tables perfect for large groups. Order pitchers of beer brewed at the on-site microbrewery and hearty pub fare like fish and chips or Montreal smoked meat sandwiches.
Tucked behind Pharmacy Bar’s old-timey storefront is a swinging bookcase that leads to La Champagnerie. Gather here late-night to imbibe bubbly in the champagne bar’s intimate, candlelit confines. Velvet banquettes, drapes, and ornate wallpaper make an elegant backdrop for enjoying snifters of vintage Veuve Clicquot and plates of caviar.
The Coldroom is aptly named for its interior of stone walls, concrete floors, and refrigerated air. Find the unmarked metal door in the Imprimerie du Messager and enter the former newspaper printing press to chill out in the industrial-chic surroundings. Savor creative cocktails or local craft brews alongside grilled cheese sandwiches and poutine inside this hidden hipster hangout.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Hidden Bars Inside Old Montreal Shopfronts
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Where to Find Montreal's Best Smoked Meat Sandwiches
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Stumbling Upon Street Art in the Latin Quarter
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Boutique Shopping in Mile End's Quirky Stores
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Getting Lost in Mount Royal's Forested Trails
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Cozy Cafes off the Main Boulevards
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - The Speakeasies Behind Unmarked Doors in the Plateau
- Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Joining Locals for Summer Fun at Parc Jean-Drapeau
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Where to Find Montreal's Best Smoked Meat Sandwiches
Montreal's smoked meat sandwiches hold a place of pride in the city's culinary canon. The mile-high piles of sliced brisket between slices of rye bread draw crowds from across Canada and beyond. While delis all over town serve their own take on smoked meat, certain joints stand out for their superior sandwiches.
Locals make pilgrimages to Schwartz's Deli on Saint Laurent Boulevard, widely considered Montreal's smoked meat mecca. Patrons line up out the door of this legendary restaurant that has dished out brisket for over 90 years. Schwartz's no-frills decor and brusque counter service suit the straightforward sandwiches. Opt for the classic smoked meat sandwich with tangy yellow mustard on rye. Adding a dill pickle and order of crisp fries makes a quintessential meal.
Just down the street sits The Main Deli Steak House, Schwartz's longtime rival. Their smoked meat also draws hordes of hungry fans. While similar in many ways, The Main's brisket is slightly leaner and spiced differently than its neighbor's. Order the medium-fat sandwich for the ideal meat-to-fat ratio to decide which deli you prefer.
Mile End is home to Snowdon Deli, anchored by a bustling lunch counter. Snowdon's pastrami-cured smoked meat stands out with its deeply seasoned crust and tender, pink interior. Pair the sandwich with a schnitzel, knish, or chopped liver to round out your nosh.
Head to Saint-Henri for a smoked meat sandwich from Grumman '78. Their house-cured brisket brings Texas smokehouse style to Montreal with brisket smoked for 15 hours over oak and hickory. The meat's smoky flavor and moist texture make it some of the best in town.
Lastly, bahn mi lovers can get their smoked meat fix at Le Red Tiger. Their banh mi features Vietnamese-style brisket nestled into a crackly baguette spread with garlic aioli. Pickled veggies cut through the rich meat for a satisfying sandwich with an Asian twist.
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Stumbling Upon Street Art in the Latin Quarter
The cobblestone streets and historic buildings of Montreal's Latin Quarter hold an artistic treasure trove behind their stately facades. Home to three major universities, the Latin Quarter attracts young creatives who have transformed it into an outdoor gallery with an eclectic array of street art.
Aimlessly wandering the neighborhood leads to delightful discoveries around each corner. Brilliantly colored murals appear on building walls without warning, showcasing every style from photorealism to surrealism. Intricate graffiti tags cover doorways and alleyways in bursts of self-expression. Take your time strolling to admire each unique piece.
Locals love photographing the ever-changing artwork. Montreal photographer David Ohana captures the ephemeral art in its surrounding urban landscapes. His photos reveal creative collaborations covering entire walls in complex cityscapes. Ohana frequents the Latin Quarter to find new inspiration for his street art series and impart his wonder to over 40,000 Instagram followers.
Murals showcase themes unique to the Latin Quarter, like the massive painting of French novelist Victor Hugo at the intersection of Rue Saint-Denis and Boulevard de Maisonneuve. It embodies the neighborhood's French heritage and literary spirit. Nearby, a towering portrait of Leonard Cohen references another famous former resident of the area.
Small galleries are tucked into many of the 19th-century row houses. They often feature street artists who also paint nearby murals. View exhibits at Galerie Blanc, DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, and Occurrence to discover up-and-coming talents.
Wandering north along Saint Laurent Boulevard leads to the epic Under Pressure street art festival site. For the annual event, artists repaint the entire side of a building in elaborate detail, creating the world's largest annual mural. The Under Pressure legacy covers over 15,000 square feet of wall space with dynamic designs.
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Boutique Shopping in Mile End's Quirky Stores
Beyond smoked meat sandwiches, Montreal's Mile End neighborhood entices visitors with its abundance of independent boutiques stocking unique fashions, home goods, and curios. Wandering the area reveals a string of quirky shops that fuel artistic inspiration and invoke that joyful feeling of stumbling upon hidden gems.
The flagship location for local clothing brand Rudsak gives the Canada Goose rival a run for their money with another high-end take on winter apparel. Their modern outerwear fuses style and performance to brave harsh northern elements in both function and fashion. Rudsak's Mile End outpost builds an almost cult-like following with its chic, minimalist decor and helpful staff. Shoppers leave loaded down with parkas, vests, and boots ready to conquer a Quebec winter.
Those seeking vintage treasures make the pilgrimage to Citizen Vintage, whose collection spans various eras and aesthetics. Spending an afternoon here sorting through their trove of unique garments and accessories transports shoppers back through the decades. Visit multiple times to uncover new second-hand scores like retro cowboy boots, flapper dresses, bold costume jewelry, or Members Only jackets. The hunt itself brings half the fun.
Decor aficionados find inspiration at Boutique MAST, an emporium packed with globetrotting housewares. Their stock drifts between French country, industrial chic, bohemian and other curated vibes. Gift-givers delight in MAST's discoveries like artisan ceramics, woven cushion covers, or hand-printed textiles. Locals refresh their spaces with MAST's dose of worldly wares.
For comic enthusiasts, the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore provides a clubhouse of indie magazines, graphic novels, and zines. Montreal's comic scene converges here to mingle and browse the shelves. Beyond stocking titles from acclaimed artists like Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, they host book launches, artist talks, workshops, and other community events. Patrons leave inspired by both the literature and artistic energy.
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Getting Lost in Mount Royal's Forested Trails
Beyond the skyscrapers and stone churches, Mount Royal's sprawling park offers a sanctuary of forests and trails in the heart of the city. The mountain's steep, wooded slopes feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle downtown. Locals relish getting lost in 'la montagne's natural escapes, especially in fall when the foliage sets the trails ablaze in autumnal splendor.
Crisp air carries the scent of cedar and pine through the mountain's winding pathways. Crunchy birch and maple leaves underfoot accompany visitors hiking through the tranquil scenery. Pausing to appreciate an overlook or historic site lets you immerse in the mood of tranquility. Meandering down random trails inevitably leads to surprises like hidden cemeteries, arching stone bridges crossing streams, and sprawling orchards.
Instagrammer Valerie Loisele often wanders Mount Royal's trails to photograph city sights peeking through the colorful treetops. She captions photos of downtown skyscrapers framed by red and gold leaves, "Mont Royal always surprises me with its beautiful views over Montreal." The next turn may reveal the ornate domes of Saint Joseph's Oratory in a sea of orange foliage.
Not knowing exactly where you'll end up is part of the adventure. Just be sure to download a trail map in case you need help navigating the wooded landscape. While it's nearly impossible to get seriously lost, the winding trails make it easy to lose your orientation. But there's no need to rush as you meander through the urban escape.
Pack a picnic to enjoy in a grassy clearing on the mountain's slopes. Many secluded sites work perfectly for an impromptu lunch or relax with a book. As the afternoon light dapples through the golden boughs and a view of the St. Lawrence River peeks through the gaps, you'll feel worlds away from the city.
Locals also enjoy breaking a sweat on the park's extensive network of hiking trails. Serious outdoor lovers head to the Les Sommets staircase, hiking up steep wooden steps to rewarding views. Or take on the 12-mile Loop trail encircling the entire mountain for a convenient half-day trek. More leisurely hikers amble along the wide gravel paths wending through the landscape.
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Cozy Cafes off the Main Boulevards
Beyond the bustling main drags, Montrealers adore holing up in cozy neighborhood cafes off the beaten path. Tucked into residential pockets, these hideaways let you unwind over coffee, baked goods, or light meals in an unhurried atmosphere. Regulars chat and joke with the friendly baristas, more like an extension of their living rooms than a business. The comfy couches, wood tables, and mellow music set the mood to linger for hours reading, chatting, or getting work done.
Mile End’s trendy streets hide the gem Cafe Olimpico behind an emerald storefront. Mismatched furniture like vintage kitchen tables and caramel leather armchairs fill the inviting space. Locals hunker down here for hours scribbling in notebooks or browsing old issues of The New Yorker from the stacks of magazines. The cafe exudes the feel of a professor’s study with walls lined in bookshelves and filled with academic tomes. Savor a cappuccino with a flaky croissant and soak up the scholarly-chic ambiance.
In the Southwest borough, Café Souvenir’s cheerful yellow exterior welcomes guests into a cozy space to unwind. Locals pack the laidback cafe on weekends to catch up over steaming mugs and plates of avocado toast or huevos rancheros. When the weather warms, the petite patio opens for alfresco brunching with a latte and lemon ricotta pancakes. Cats roam the floors, adding to the homey ambiance.
Patrons rave about sipping coffee and eating croque madames at the retro-inspired Jack & Crédit on Laurier Street as the perfect weekend morning. Locals chat around the U-shaped marble counter or gather around repurposed wood tables with mismatched chairs. Hanging plants and brick walls make the converted garage space feel hip but still relaxed. It’s an ideal spot to ease into the day over baked brioches and French presses of bold coffee.
Verdun residents adore Cafe 5e Péché, whose name hints at its cozy-cool vibe. The laidback space attracts freelancers toting laptops to use the free WiFi for hours. Scuffed wood furniture and green accents give it a stylishly unfussy look. Locals swear by their Van Houtte coffees and flaky pastries for an unhurried start to the day. Drop in on Saturday mornings to join friends gossiping and tucking into plate-sized cinnamon rolls.
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - The Speakeasies Behind Unmarked Doors in the Plateau
The Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood harbors a boozy secret behind its residential facades—a collection of clandestine speakeasies reminiscent of the Prohibition era. Locals in the know slip through subtle, unmarked entrances into intimate dens of craft cocktails and conversation.
These hideaways date back decades, originating as illegal buvettes run out of private homes. During the Quiet Revolution of the 1950s and ‘60s, Quebec society spun rapidly from conservative religious control toward more liberal social norms. Buvettes blurred the lines between public and private, giving the emerging youth counterculture places for freedom of expression.
When prohibition ended, many buvettes transitioned into “speakeasy-style” taverns. Owners play with the illicit speakeasy concept in environments blending privacy and exclusivity with a culture of propriety. Patrons must buzz to get into spots like Bar Palco or go through false storefronts like at Le Lab.
Inside, the attention to detail transports you back in time. At Coldroom, servers wearing newsboy caps deliver Prohibition-era cocktails in metal cups to maintain discretion. Big in Japan’s intimate booths lit by bare bulbs foster hushed conversations over Japanese whisky flights. Gimmicky touches like secret passwords or requiring reservations weeks in advance add to the exclusivity.
Yet local speakeasies also foster community in their cozy confines. Habitués develop friendships with owners and bartenders over years of patronage. Regulars beers appear without ordering at Bar Palco, where manager Marie-Claude Lacasse greets everyone with la bise cheek kisses. Places like Moonshine feel like an extension of owner Shawn Soole’s living room.
While speakeasies sometimes get accused of pretension, Soole insists their niche vibe has authentic roots in Montreal’s culture. “The speakeasy trend ties into our city’s heritage of buvettes and appreciation for cocktail craft,” says Soole. “We create an accessible experience by focusing on hospitality and hiringbartenders who make guests feel at home.”
Locals embrace these neighborhood watering holes as casual community hubs for connection. Patrons like Jordan Rivet frequent Moonshine several times a week to chat with Soole and staff while unwinding over a Negroni. “It feels like my Cheers bar, where everybody knows your name,” says Rivet.
Off the Beaten Path: Uncovering Montreal's Secret Spots Only Locals Know - Joining Locals for Summer Fun at Parc Jean-Drapeau
When sunny skies beckon Montrealers outdoors, locals head to Parc Jean-Drapeau for laidback summer fun. The park’s two islands in the Saint Lawrence River offer picturesque green spaces, sandy beaches, cultural sites, and lively events that attract revelers all season long.
Parc Jean-Drapeau provides a lush urban escape just minutes from downtown. Locals picnic in the grass, toss frisbees, or stroll through gardens abloom in summer hues. The islands offer over 25 miles of bucolic pathways for meandering by bike or on foot.
The park’s sandy beaches feel like a seaside vacation without leaving the city. Plage Jean-Doré on Île Sainte-Hélène draws crowds seeking sun and swimming without the long drive. Visitors relax on the sand, cool off with a dip in the river, or rent a kayak or paddleboard for aquatic adventure. The urban beach scene picks up on summer weekends with DJs, food trucks, and evening bonfires extending the fun into the night.
Thrill-seekers flock to Parc Jean-Drapeau for the adrenaline rush of La Ronde amusement park. The lively destination packs over 40 rides and attractions like record-breaking rollercoasters, water slides, and games of skill. La Ronde offers kid-friendly options alongside pulse-pounding rides for daredevils, with nightly fireworks shows and live entertainment. Visitors get swept up in the festive atmosphere.
Music lovers convene on the park grounds throughout the summer for a stellar lineup of festivals. The weekend-long Piknic Electronik music fest fosters carefree vibes with DJs playing energetic beats across multiple stages and art installations dotting the landscape. ÎleSoniq turns up the energy with huge EDM stars, while heavy hitters like Foo Fighters and the Rolling Stones grace the park for festivals like Osheaga.
Another beloved event is the Montreal Fireworks Festival, lighting up the sky every Saturday and select Wednesdays throughout the summer. Locals stake out spots across Parc Jean-Drapeau to watch rival countries' pyrotechnicians compete in dazzling half-hour displays synchronized to music. The epic fireworks finale caps off Montreal’s summer season with a awe-inspiring showcase.
Beyond recreation and entertainment, Parc Jean-Drapeau offers fascinating glimpses into history and culture. The Biosphere environmental museum provides an eye-opening look at ecology and sustainable development with interactive exhibits inside architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome. And the striking architecture of the Casino de Montréal has drawn gamblers and show-goers since the 1967 World's Fair it was created for.
The park also connects to Montreal’s maritime roots, with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve racetrack named after the legendary local Formula One driver. A Ferrari and racing car museum displays historic vehicles that once set speed records on the track. Visitors can even zip around the track themselves on guided tours offered in racecars throughout the warmer months.