After strolling through Marché Jean-Talon, the landmark “people’s market” from 1933, we wheeled around Little Italy, where nearby queer- friendly Felix Bar offers cabaret, comedy, and dance parties, and then Mile-Ex, an offbeat post-industrial enclave hidden away between Mile End and Parc Ex.
Along with artists, galleries, and hipster barbers, pioneering restaurateurs and bar owners are filling the void. Among the compelling coordinates is Alexandraplatz Bar, a seasonal queer-owned beer garden in an old garage by the loading dock of a local brewery. Dining choices include Manitoba, rave reviewed for its menu of foraged ingredients and wild game, and Dinette Triple Crown, a takeout counter from native Kentuckian Colin Perry where diners are served fried chicken and other Southern fare in picnic baskets for enjoying in the nearby park.
We lunched at Mile-Ex, where French-born Chef-Owner Grégory Paul invited me to the grill as he prepared his signature “squid roll merguez.” Inspired by “le street food” he discovered while working in LA, Paul’s squid- wrapped hot dog, topped with sweet-sour relish, is sex in a toasted bun. Other chalkboard highlights at this cozy refuge include the M***fer Burger, while dessert was G-rated ice cream cones served through a side window.
“From bowling to live music to dance clubs (see sidebar), Mile End and its neighbors are definitely gaining in popularity with a concentration of social, dining, and nightlife choices for the younger LGBT set,” said McPherson.
Mile End is part of the broader Plateau neighborhood, the historic dis- trict footing the eastern slopes of Montréal’s in-city mountain, Mont-Royal. Hyper-trendy in parts, Le Plateau offers a range of diversions for LGBT travelers.
The heart of legendary Saint Laurent Boulevard or, “The Main,” runs through here. Lined with ethnic eateries, vintage boutiques, bric-a-brac shops, movie theaters both avant-garde (Excentris) and adult (Cinema L’Amour), toy stores, art galleries, and more, this historic immigrant thoroughfare, established in 1792 as the dividing line between the city’s French- and English-speaking communities, invites leisurely exploration.
There’s no rainbow flag at 4175 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, but behind the non-descript, graffiti covered door and curtain beyond awaits the seductive fun of Big in Japan. Featuring Japanese whiskey bottles suspended from the ceiling, this candle-lit speakeasy-style bar, serving appetizers, sake, and other cordials, is among the district’s hot draws.
Nearby, The Wiggle Room is a “tranns-cendent” vaudeville-inspired spot for burlesque and variety shows from performers including Montréal’s own Tranna Winter.
The Main is also home to MURAL, an 11-day free festival featuring exhi- bitions, food, music, and, the star attraction, local and international artists trans- forming building sides into mind-bending works of art. Following the third edi- tion of the festival this June, finding and photographing the many beguiling works adorning Saint-Laurent and Le Plateau’s parking lots, alleyways, and back streets makes for absorbing hunting.
Located on Parc Avenue on the edge of the Plateau, Cabaret Playhouse is an old-school haunt with enduring glam appeal. Evolving through incarnations including Latin music club to strip club, this LGBT-welcoming venue features an eclectic range of live music acts on its intimate stage.
Montréal’s biggest stages, meanwhile, are found between Le Plateau and downtown in the Quartier des spectacles, the city’s cultural heart for more than a century.
With its vast open-air Esplanade drawing some three million revelers each year during major happenings such as the Montréal International Jazz Festival and the FrancoFolies, La Place des Arts is home to renowned venues such as the 2,100-seat Maison Symphonique de Montréal and intimate Cinquieme Salle.
Entertaining street performers are a regular sight during the summer, while dining options abound, including casual concepts from two of Montréal’s culinary stars, Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux Normand Laprise and Carlos Fer- reira. Renowned for his fine-dining Toque!, Laprise offers Brasserie T!, while Ferreira, famed for his family-run Ferreira Café, delivers petiscos (Portuguese small dishes) at Taverne F.
Offering year-round entertainment in all artistic disciplines, the Quartier’s 30-plus performance venues include Metropolis. Founded in 1884 as a skating rink, this 2,300-seat, two-tiered venue and its cabaret-style annex is known as the “cat with nine lives” for multiple prior incarnations including opera house, adult cinema, and disco.
The venue is right by the intersection of Saint-Laurent and Sainte Catherine, the heart of yesteryear red-light Montréal. Still holding court from Sin City days is trans-friendly Café Cléopatra, the legendary strip (locally, peeler) joint for drag performances, fetish parties, and burlesque shows. Adjacent to Le Club Soda (1980), other heirlooms include Midway Tavern (1927) and hot dog haven Montréal Pool Room (1912).
Down the block is the Society for Arts and Technologies (SAT), where I enjoyed Rouge Mékong, an absorbing experience in experimental theater inside SAT’s massive rooftop Satosphere dome. Free to move about a set that included a large bed, furnishings, and flickering TV, we were both audience and participants as the show’s cinematic narrative was projected on the inside of the dome. Approached, wordlessly, by one of the lingerie-clad actresses “imbedded” in the show, we slipped into an arousing slow dance. Also on the top floor is SAT’s eclectic Labo Culinaire, or Foodlab, an open-plan kitchen with outdoor deck where I enjoyed a cold beer with the lively crowd gathered there.
While I was not especially surprised to find LGBT Montréal migrating in the general direction of the Plateau and Mile End, what would prove truly remarkable was the growing movement into the previously uncharted territory of the city’s Sud-Ouest (Southwest) neighborhoods.
An enclave for the Irish immigrants who built much of Montréal’s early 19th-century infrastructure, including the national landmark Lachine Canal (1825), Sud-Ouest’s once-gritty Griffintown is experiencing major mixed-use revival.
Bordering Old Montréal, the neighborhood now lures visitors with attractions such as the Darling Foundry Art Centre. Updating a historic foundry complex, the venue mixes exhibition space with artists’ studios and dining at Le Serpent.
Part of the three-restaurant group incorporating Old Montréal’s celebrated Club Chasse et Pêche and Plateau hotspot Le Filet, this expansive industrial- chic space, named for the foundry’s former “depollution” pipe, is a hot draw for cocktails and Italian-inspired delicacies such as raw fish, quail, and rabbit.
With the new ALT Hotel Montréal providing a ready local base within walking distance of the Lachine Canal and its multi-use path, Griffintown is also home to LGBT-friendly nightclub Mademoiselle Butterfly. Announcing its March 2015 opening with “And you thought the gays were only on St-Catherine Street,” the club celebrates diversity with Famous Sundays and other parties.
Following Notre-Dame Ouest, the main thoroughfare connecting the Sud-Ouest neighborhoods and one of the city’s oldest streets, then comes Little Bur- gundy, another smokestack-era bastion that was once the center of black Montréal and famed for its jazz. Popular today for its historic façades, antique shops, and live performance venue Corona Theatre, a vintage 1912 movie hall, Little Burgundy is also home to sibling restaurants Joe Beef and Liverpool House, the former ranked among the world’s top 100 restaurants.
Next along is Saint-Henri. Home to the art deco classic Atwater Market, another one of Montréal’s historic public markets from 1933, this buzzing former working-class neighborhood is where partners Peter Saunders and Sophie Ouellet, the chefs, and Claudie Harvey offer an eclectic blend of flavors at their restaurant EVOO.
Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Saunders fell in love with Montréal and became a permanent Canadian resident. After meeting him and his partner at Le Serpent, he had invited me to check out the restaurant, an acronym for “Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” The trek was handsomely rewarded, with highlights including the frozen cherry with pine dust; roasted squash with duck pastrami and homemade ricotta; and saddle of rabbit with bacon. Joining me for this wonderful meal were the two women leaders of IMAGE+NATION, Canada’s oldest LGBT film festival.
Over wine and many laughs, Charlie Boudreau, executive director, and Katharine Setzer, director of programming, previewed the festival’s 28th edition, taking place in November.