Montreal is designstripe’s home, even though our team is global. It's nestled within the flow of the Saint Lawrence River from both sides, and prides itself on food, arts, history and nightlife.
With a rich French-Canadian identity, the feeling must be unique. Between mouth-watering poutine, those iconic bagels, and non-stop festivals, I'm told there's always something brewing.
I can’t wait to fly in from the UK for our second annual team retreat. Our team with deep roots in Montreal has packed a list of suggestions for us visitors. Their recommendations will give me a crash course into living like a local. And you get to see more of the authentic Montreal, too.
Filling Up On Montreal’s Culinary Delights
It’s crucial that I start here. The locals (known as Montréalais) care deeply about food. Deeply. I know that to be true before I've even landed - our foodie channel on Slack says it all. Food is part of Montreal's soul and celebrates the cultures that call it home. These are the delicacies the team tells me are an absolute must. And I’m more than happy to fulfil my obligation of trying them all out.
Making Poutine Part of My Routine
Poutine is one of Quebec's most famous dishes. Traditionally, you get fries topped with cheese curds, and gravy. But there's plenty of twists when it comes to toppings. And many spots to grab some good poutine. The recommendations from the team were lightning-fast, and the subject of heated debate.
"The all dress poutine at Poule Mouillée; it's with chicken, chorizo and Portuguese sauce" - Marin"
"Poule Mouillée all day" - Sam and Virginie
"Chez Monique or Paulo et Suzanne, aka will drive far for a good poutine" - Liz
"You can get poutine with corndog slices and onions at La Banquise" - Alex
"Poutineville over La Banquise" - Vincent. Gen disagrees
St-Viateur vs Fairmount: The Bagel Showdown
Montreal's bagel scene is legendary. They're sweeter, denser, and thinner than their New York counterpart. The team said they boil them in honey-infused water before they bake it in a wood-fire to get that flavor.
It was no surprise that another debate caught flames within minutes of me asking the team. So I'll need to try both so I can pick a side. If I have to try each twice, then it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.
Schwartz’s Deli is a Food Institution
No foodie discussion with Montréalais is complete without mentioning Schwartz's. It's the most iconic smoked meat establishment around. So sampling a smoked meat sandwich is a rite of passage for a visitor like me.
It’s a kosher-style deli meat product made from beef brisket, the meat is salted and cured with a mixture of spices. The question will always follow about how much fat you prefer on your smoked meat. Then it's smoked and steamed to perfection. A few of the team have grabbed meat from the market in the past to try and beat the best from the comfort of their backyard.
designstripe’s Lunch Favorites
Montreal is seriously hooking us foodies up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As we'll be switching up co-working venues, the team kindly reeled off a list of places to get a great bite.
For a Singaporean flavor, Satay Brothers is the spot, based in Atwater Market. Their bao buns look seriously inviting. Falafel Yoni is in Atwater too, but I’ll likely check out the one in Mile End near one of our co-working spots. The pics make it look like a messier option than Satay Brothers, but I’m sure the mess is worth it.
I’ve been told that Bossa is the new place to grab a great sandwich with Italian flair. I might still be full from Schwartz’s, but i’ll see what I can do. As for Drogheria Fine, their gnocchi rocks. Our colleague James has been going so often they’ve even told him to start bringing his tupperware box along. Gnocchi might be the only thing on the menu, but I have it on good authority that it’s because they do it so well. It’s easy to miss, so look out for it in Mile End next to Fairmount Bagel.
Smash Burgers are a big deal these days and I’ve had a few good ones in the UK. So I might as well add that to the list. Dave Grohl made a stop at Doubles Late Night, So that’s a pretty good place to start. You can book ahead or Come As You Are (sorry).
Music is Part of Montreal’s Soul
Montréalais are serious about good music. There’s a packed schedule of festivals every year that the city’s famed for. And there’s a huge diversity of artists from here. Maybe it’s the culture, or the French influence, or even the cold winters. But there's music to be found at every turn. So here’s some unmissable record stores, followed by some unmissable venues.
Montreal is a Crate Digger’s Paradise
Outside of designstripe, I’m obsessed with music production. So it was inspiring to know I could grab a few 12”s whilst I was here. Although with all the maple syrup i’ll be buying for the family, squeezing them in the case might be an issue. But that doesn’t matter - any collector will tell you that the digging is the best part.
Death of Vinyl is on the edge of Little Italy and is celebrated by Montreal crate diggers. It sells heaps of used records. I like that. I always lived by the idea that someone who enjoyed a record first is passing the experience on to you.
La Rama is another store I’d love to visit. There’s a lot on offer when it comes to dance and electronic, which is a great fit for my taste. Then Sonorama offers a super eclectic mix of music, so it’s perfect for sampling. It’s a great chance for me to channel my inner Kaytranada, a Montreal native and a big influence on my own work. Other notable mentions from locals include 180g and Aux 33 Tours.
Highly Rated-Venues and Nightlife
I didn’t know about the Montreal music scene’s impact on the wider world before. I’ve listened to Leonard Cohen, Arcade Fire and Chromeo, with no idea any of them were local. So it’s time to go where the cool kids are and discover some new bands and shows.
Casa del Popolo was co-established in September 2000 by Mauro Pezzente of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who were pivotal to the local indie rock movement. Based in Mile End, it's been a hub for underground music, arts, and culture for decades. It's been a launching pad for many local bands. And it's played host to heaps of community events down the years. I've been told to check out it's sister venues of La Sala Rossa and La Sotterenea too, which carry the same spirit.
Club Soda really sounds like my kind of spot, too. It should still feel cosy with a crowd of 1,000, and it's a venue know for it's versatility. I could get the chance to see a rock conert one night and a comedy show the next. It's pretty central and is a big part of Montreal's festival scene.
MTELUS opened in the 1920s and has been a cinema, skating rink and a theatre, going by various names in its time. It has an industrial design with ornate touches, which reminds me of a lot of the academy venues in London which have preserved their old feel.
Then there’s Foufounes Électriques, known as “Les Foufs” by the locals. It’s a pillar of underground and punk culture. Cue another Dave Grohl anecdote. I saw him rocking a Les Foufs t-shirt on the internet and then discovered that he played there with Nirvana before they blew up. And it's been a springboard for plenty of other alt bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Hole before they made it big.
After a performance, there’s plenty of places you visit, way into the night. But I’m most interested in the gems that might not be the first on the tourist list. Waverly Bar is in Mile End, and it has a classic dive bar feel. The casual setting works nicely for me - I'm not a shirts and shoes guy. Apparently it's a great place to grab a beer late in the weekend.
Ping Pong Club is also my kind of thing. It has such a fresh, clean look. There’s a full bar menu available and a projector too. And the main bit - the chance to bring out my penhold grip and serve up some aces. Not that I’m competitive. Not at all. It’s a different affair in the evening, when it operates as a party venue.
Good Evening Sports Fans
I couldn’t close this article without a nod to Canada’s most celebrated sport. Watching a hockey game is the first way to swear your allegiance as a Canadian sports fanatic. But it’s the close-season until October, so seeing the Canadiens at the Bell Center isn’t on the cards this time.
But the football is. In the same way Ice Hockey is part of Canadian DNA, football is a part of mine. I live and breathe it back at home. I’m watching CF Montreal on the first night I arrive. Built on the practice track of the 1976 Summer Olympics, I can’t wait to soak up the atmosphere in the first game I’ve seen outside the UK.
There’s Plenty to Pick From the Locals’ List
I can’t wait to visit, and it appears I won’t be short of things to do here. I hope try some of these spots when you pay a visit. I’ll be back soon to tell you more about what I checked out, and what should be right at the top of your list when you visit. To our Montréalais - what do you passionately believe we should be adding to this list? Get in touch with your recommendations.