Attending university in the heart of downtown Montreal is a luxury McGill students commonly take for granted. Often it becomes far too easy to become chained to campus and trapped in the “McGill bubble.” In an effort to combat this pitfall, the Tribune compiled a list of some of the best things to do in four of the most eclectic neighbourhoods surrounding downtown.
East of campus, past the McGill Ghetto, emerges the Plateau Mont-Royal, more commonly known as “the Plateau.” The homey brownstone flats that are characteristic of this calm neighborhood give it a suburban feel that attracts a lot of McGill students. In keeping with the calmer vibe of the Plateau, the area is spotted with little parks, the most notable of which is Parc La Fontaine, which stretches from Rue Sherbrooke to Rue Rachel, and contains an ideal combination of walking paths, grassy spots for picnicking, and a pond. An eastbound bike ride along the two-way bike lanes of Rue Rachel will land you at the park, but not without passing other Plateau hot spots such as La Banquise. This is one of the most famous poutine restaurants in Montréal, where, 24 hours a day, restaurant-goers can custom order poutine with a vast selection of vegetable and meat toppings, and even vegan sauce and vegan cheese curds. Schwartz’s Deli, on Boulevard Saint-Laurent and Rue Napoléon, is one of the oldest delis in Canada, and thus attracts tourists from across the country for its famous smoked meat. For non-food related activities, simply walking around the Plateau can provide entertainment and peruse the wide variety of street art that covers its walls, alleyways and shops.
The Mile End
Offering a similar calm, artsy vibe to that of the Plateau, the Mile End is most notably a hub for young hipsters. Though its borders are somewhat debatable, in general terms the Mile End is located just north of the Plateau.
In keeping with the hipster vibe of the Mile End, this neighborhood is home to a lot of cafés and coffee shops. Among them is Chez Boris, a café that specializes in handmade Russian doughnuts, made-to-order on the spot. Le Depanneur, located on Avenue de l’Esplanade and Rue Bernard Ouest is another well-known café in the Mile End, known for its grilled cheeses and for hosting live music from local artists at all hours of the day to accompany patrons’ meals. For students familiar with the McGill Ghetto and seeking a home away from home, the other Lola Rosa is on Avenue du Parc, featuring not only more space for sitting, but a more expansive menu. Among other vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the Mile End is Aux Vivres, a vegan restaurant located on rue Saint-Laurent and Rue Villenueve Ouest with an extensive menu of vegan dishes that use meat and dairy substitutes in popular dishes that vegans would not otherwise be able to eat. The Mile End is also the perfect place to find a wood-fired Montréal bagel, as it is home to both St. Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel—arguably the two best bagel shops in Montreal.
Due to Solin Hall, the St. Henri neighbourhood garners a fair amount of attention from McGill students. Originally a largely working class centre of industry, St. Henri has undergone recent development and is often described as an ‘up-and-coming’ neighbourhood as more trendy restaurants, shops and living complexes migrate to the area.
St. Henri is home to Atwater Market, one of the city’s largest and most popular outdoor markets. Located along Avenue Atwater, the market provides local vendors with space to sell plants, fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses, and other fresh foods on a daily basis, year-round. The market is also located conveniently near the Lachine Canal, an offshoot of the Saint-Laurent river that stretches 14.5 kilometers from the Old Port of Montréal to Lac Saint-Louis.
The most notable street for social life in St. Henri is Rue Notre-Dame, along which one can find restaurants like Tuck Shop, a popular bistro with a combination of French and Italian food that sits on almost every internet list of top Montreal restaurants. Another stand-out restaurant is Green Spot, a ‘greasy spoon’ diner located on Rue Notre Dame and Avenue Greene. It has been open in St. Henri for a long time, and is thus another local favourite, serving a wide array of breakfast dishes, fried foods, and poutine.
The Gay Village
Located east of downtown, the Gay Village—commonly shortened to “The Village”—is a hub for Montreal’s LGBT community. The Gay Village is not only where Montreal’s Pride Festival takes place every year, but it is also home to the pedestrian-only section of Rue Sainte-Catherine that is strung with hanging pink ball ornaments for the duration of June to September.
Some of Montreal’s best nightlife thrives in the Gay Village. Olympia nightclub, a three-floor venue that is home to many of McGill’s Frosh events, is located in the Village along Rue Sainte-Catherine. Sky and Unity are two other popular gay clubs in the Village, both with multiple floors and outdoor patios, offering not just extra space but a multitude of ambiances for varied clubbing needs and desires.
While there is a vast selection of activities to do at night in the Gay Village, it’s equally difficult to get bored during the day. It is home to some of Montréal’s best coffee shops, like Porquois Pas Espresso Bar, known for their house blend almond milk used in most of their drinks. Also located in The Village is Le Milieu, a smaller café and art co-op run entirely by volunteers. Here, the art supplies for sale are all donated upcycled materials, and are sold on a name-your-price basis. The co-op also holds craft, art, and cooking workshops run by co-op volunteers, and offers comfortable space for locals to sit and enjoy knitting and craft in addition to a light coffee.