Quebec Autumn: BlackBook Escapes to Montreal, Travels to Space
Based on the handful of trips we’ve taken post-quarantine, the combination of having to get multiple C19 tests, show up even earlier to the airport, wear masks all the time, and not drink (ugh) has led us to concede that we are most definitely not about to enter an exuberant new golden age of flight; but at least we’re getting out of the house, right? So with some of our wish list destinations still off limits, we thought it a perfect time to return to the loving embrace of old fave Montreal (just a 90 minute flight from NYC) for an early autumn escape.
We actually benefitted from a specifically COVID situation, as a Canadian colleague had abandoned his apartment last July without returning, and so offered it up as our temporary crash pad in the Quebec capital.
Just happy to be in another country, we didn’t make much in the way of advance plans; but we were determined to explore parts of town that hadn’t been on prior itineraries. So we found ourselves gamely descending into the bowels of the fourth busiest transit system in North America for a seamless (think: a less crowded London Tube) ride east to the leafy environs of Boucherville and Longueuil. In both, we discovered more of what Montrealers crave in those precious warmer months – open spaces – with the expansive Parc Michel-Chartrand in Longeuil adding the most to our step count for the day.
Eventually wending our way back downtown we headed straight (pun intended) for the new-ish SQDC store, weed without the worry for the uninitiated, and were amused by the Apple-Store-like ambience of the place; it was certainly a far cry from our illicit youthful foragings in Washington Square Park. Not being connoisseurs, though, we can’t speak expertly to the quality…but we assumed it was top notch. The following few hours were indeed sufficiently fuzzy. Obviously suddenly hungry, on the walk back to the Plateau Royal we stopped at the cozy Icehouse, apparently a Food Network fave, for fish tacos and a ginger soda, relaxing amongst a crew of obvious art school types.
As luck would have it our visit coincided with the recent launch of the very stylish new Humaniti Hotel (part of the luxe Autograph Collection), within what they’re calling a Smart Vertical Community, or “city within a building.” Comprised of residences, shops, and public space, and festooned with original contemporary art, it was quite conveniently located in the center of the city along the Rue de la Gauchetiere.
So we checked into our simple but fabulously elegant room overlooking the pool for a night of trendy hotel living. After an excellent truffle mayo burger in the hotel’s h3 lounge, we headed out to one of the more buzzed about happenings in town, the NASA-inspired virtual reality space exhibition, THE INFINITE at Arsenal Contemporary Art, where we donned headsets and imagined ourselves aboard the ISS. As we walked through the “spaceship,” virtual astronauts appeared and talked through their day in space, reminding us not only of the wonders of human achievement, but also of our own lack of technical smarts. (Though it should be noted that we definitely make up for it in knowing our way around the city streets.)
The following morning we lingered over an amazing room service breakfast of crêpes aux petits fruits from the H3 restaurant and then took a tour of the hotel’s stunning interiors, with bleeding edge design by New York luminaries Lemay + Escobar. We afterwards met friends at Monarque for a healthy déjeuner of seared broccoli and quinoa, shorthand for “Yes, you can have a glass of bubbly.” We were actually charmed to notice that there was wine on every table (Montrealers are French, kind of), making for a civilized Friday afternoon in a light and airy bistro.
As is the drill by now, we were cautious of Verdun’s accreditation by another publication as the hippest neighborhood in M’real – and in fact, the eleventh hippest in the world! We decided to see for ourselves, and that evening hopped the metro for an investigative night on the southside. Long regarded as one of the poorest districts in town, Verdun has, in a relatively short time, begun to distance itself from its working class roots to become a gentrified hot spot. We cruised Wellington street, an obvious main drag, stopping at artisanal (uh huh) brasserie Benelux, ending up toasting with the cheery young bar staff over a shot of small batch beer, which they explained was a tradition from prohibition days when booze wasn’t permitted, but beer was, apparently.
Not only was the place buzzing, but our vodka tonic was like $5, so not so gentrified yet, thankfully. It being night and, erm, dark, we didn’t get to check out the nearby beach on the Saint Lawrence River; but from what we saw of the street scene, including a number of fancy looking restaurants (cool cocktail spot Bar Palco, for one), and the obligatory record shop, it did seem as though Verdun was beginning to resemble Brooklyn’s Williamsburg or Greenpoint.
We wrapped up our Montreal week with a stroll through local oasis Mont Royal Park, famous for its mountain top view of the city, and its numerous walking and running trails. After stretching our legs and lungs we were back on the metro, for one last pass through the ever popular Jean-Talon Market, to peruse all manner of comestibles and nibble on fresh offerings from some of the very many stalls. And we would eventually make our way back to NYC via newish regional flyer Porter Airlines, whose smaller planes, gratis wine and service with a smile went a long way in these still rather anxious times.