Next to the flashing neon sign for a nearby club that bogarts the attention of most passers-by, sits a quaint, unassuming retro-style diner by the name of Nickels.
This gem of Saint Catherine’s, established by Montreal’s very own Celine Dion, is part of a Canada-wide chain of restaurants, and is perfect for almost any occasion: a quiet lunch with a friend, a group dinner out, a casual (okay, very casual) drink, or a late night poutine run.
Nickels has been my favourite restaurant in Montreal since I first visited at the age of fourteen. My first visit was a class trip to learn about ‘Canadian culture’ (apparently that can’t be found in Vancouver). Nickels accommodated our group of 70 or 80 rambunctious teenagers and their exhausted chaperones expertly. Since then, I’ve been back to Montreal both as a tourist and a student. Each time, I’ve made a point of visiting this timeless establishment—introducing a new patron to its quiet charm on every occasion.
Upon entering, diners are greeted promptly and cheerily by a host or hostess, and escorted to a booth or table. Your server introduces him or herself shortly thereafter, and the challenging but enjoyable task of narrowing down your choice to just one dish begins. Whether you are there for appetizers and drinks, a full meal, or just dessert, the menu offers a myriad of options. Nickels boasts a number of different poutines, an extensive breakfast section, and some delicious cheesecake options, along with a surprisingly enticing drink menu. I have gone with for drinks at Nickels and received more pleasant and personal service than I could have hoped for in most bars on Saint Laurent.
The ambience at Nickels is both laid-back and unexpectedly refined. The restaurant is very open and doesn’t afford much privacy, yet one enjoys the more old school, social experience it creates. Each booth or table comes with the classic bottles of ketchup and mustard—circa 1950—and the walls are adorned with black and white photos of classic movie stars. You might not expect it, but eating with the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean gazing down at you only enhances the experience.
I’ve yet to have a poor service experience at Nickels, even when I’ve been there as a part of a larger, and slightly louder group. Whether dining in a pair, with a small group of friends, or with my entire ninth grade class, I’ve always received exemplary service. The general atmosphere is extremely comfortable, as if everyone dining there has come to escape from the fast-paced Montreal lifestyle for an hour or so. The prices are extremely reasonable, so that even a university student with less than sufficient funds can afford a trip every now and again, and the food is unarguably worth the splurge.
The only complaint I can file against Nickels is this: their washrooms (or at least their women’s washroom) are not made for people over 5’8”. They are located below the main dining area, and for some inexplicable reason, feature claustrophobically low ceilings.
Despite this one mild inconvenience, however, Nickels continues to be one of my favourite Montreal restaurants, and I highly recommend everyone take time for at least one visit.
The best Nickels in Montreal is located at 710 Rue Saint Catherine. Typical prices range from $15-$25 including tip.