Nightlife in Montreal. Bring it on!
This is a cut-to-the-chase guide to the hot spots to hit in this Canadian city, its best nightlife areas, bars, restaurants and sightseeing spots.
In short, it’s just about everything one needs to know, especially for those visiting on long weekend jaunts who have a limited amount of time in town and want to experience the highlights.
Montreal has plenty of places from which to choose. The two main areas are Rue Crescent, a two-block area packed with patios and pubs andRue St. Laurent, a predominantly French-speaking spot with more upscale locations, nice cafes that turn into mini-clubs and most of the dance clubs.
This is pretty much a Thursday-Friday-Saturday bar city and there are several 2-for-1 Happy Hours lasting well past dark. Drink ’em if you got ’em is 3 a.m., people generally hit the bars around 11 and there are some after-hours clubs downtown. Practically everybody smokes.
Stay downtown; you can walk everywhere and it’s safe day or night.
The French Factor In Montreal
Are people in Montreal snobs, as so many in others in Canada insist? Well, there’s a lot of no but a little of yes to this answer.
First, the no. Montreal has some of the nicest, most friendly residents one is likely to encounter anywhere. They laugh, are fun to hang out with and are only too happy to assist out-of-towners. But yes, there are a few die-hard French Canadians who refuse to talk in English or relate to anyone who does. Just give them a nod and move onto the friendlier folks. They are not hard to find.
Crescent Street – Bars and Restaurants
The English part of town – primarily casual Londonish pubs – is on lively Crescent Street. The “Frenchies” avoid it as if it wereToronto (there’s a huge social war between these two cities, which is about the only thing that can rile up a Canadian besides insulting their beer).
Primary a one-block area between Rue de Maisonneuvee and Rue St. Catherines, it is where English-speaking locals and tourist flock. Just about every place has a patio overlooking the street. Those terraces are occupied mostly by mellow diners; the real bar scene is inside. The dress code is casual ; shorts are acceptable in the summer for all except a couple of places though we recommend at least jeans and a decent shirt for the guys. Girls tend to dress a little more classy, but not overboard.
The most popular place is Thursday’s, a multi-purpose bar and lounge with a somewhat cheesy dance club downstairs. The main area has two large bars and tall tables where most of the mingling takes place. A DJ plays music, the crowd is primarily 30s and up and locals know it as the biggest pickup joint in town. Thursday’s backs up against a high-rise hotel which in the summer has a rooftop bar by a swimming pool that is highly popular. On the way to the hotel is a cool little lounge adjacent to the hotel’s upscale restaurant.
The number two spot on the social calendar is next door atChurchill’s. Or is it Winnie’s? Actually, it’s both; each of the two levels has a different name. Generally, the lower level is the more happening with a DJ blaring music at a way-too-high level. It’s pretty similar in layout to Thursday’s though s not quite as big a destination among the hearty partiers as the patrons tend to be slightly older. Girls like to lap up sangria on the upper terrace.
Down a block, just past Rue St. Catherine’s, is an interesting Irish bar called Hurley’s. It’s almost like an underground maze – a thin room with leather chairs and a dart board for shooting the breeze over a pint, a main area with a bar, a smaller adjacent spot with a live band, a room to the side with tables for dining and an pair of patios, including one in the back that looks into the the music room. It’s perfect for the pub crowd.
We kept waiting for Ziggie’s Pub to explode because we like its look, but mostly it’s just low-key backpackers quietly hanging out on the patio.
For dancing,Electric Avenue(pictured) is the spot. It plays mostly 80s dance music, has a packed dance floor and because it’s downstairs has an underground feel to it.
The most upscale spot on the block is Newtown. This is a restaurant/lounge/club owned by Formula 1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, who is from Quebec. It’s the class of the field with a dinner menu featuring items such as Chilean seabass and duck ($30 price range, don’t think about wearing jeans).
Speaking of dining, finding fine food in Montreal is not a snap. Unlike other Canadian cities – most notably Toronto but alsoVancouver – it’s not always possible to sit down just about anywhere and get an outstanding meal. Instead, it has to be sought out (even locals confess this is the case). Thursday’s and Churchill’s, for instance, offer nothing more than bland bar selections.
With that in mind, the best places to eat in the area are Weinstein’s Pasta Bar for pasta and pizza. Anything grilled – chicken, ribs, steak – is good at Dundee’s Bar and Grill. As a bonus, Dundee’s has a cool little bar with the finest looking staff on Crescent. There’s the predictable Hard Rock Cafe and its great nachos.Steak Tar Tar is renowned for its raw steak. For post party munchies, Amir makes a terrific gyro ($7).
A good food find is La Cage Aux Sports, a large, popular sports bar with some of the city’s best steaks (1427 Rene Levesque, one block past Rue Ste-Catherine and two blocks toward the old Forum from Crescent). This is the Best Sports Bar in Montreal not only for the food and the multiple TVs but because it’s one of the few (the only?) places that gets ESPN. So one can actually watch more sports than hockey or the CFL.
And while we’re off Crescent, four blocks away at Ste-Catherine and Peel is the famous (infamous) Peel Pub. It’s a sweaty college bar with cheap food and cheap drinks. It can get packed, mostly with very young people. We must point out it has been busted in the past for reselling draft beer.
Time is a big-time party where local and international stars play when in town.
St. Laurent Boulevard Bars & Restaurants
For a vibrant nightlife area, it’s hard to beat St. Laurent. For nearly a mile, it’s almost exclusively places to eat and drink. The crowd is well dressed and generally more upscale than on Crescent Street. On weekend nights, the rue is full of people out for a stroll, drinking in cafes by the large open windows, lining up at the clubs and the street itself is clogged with cars from beat-up taxis to Ferraris.
The focal point is at the intersection of Rue Prince-Arthur. From there, every destination is within a two-block radius in either direction.
At the corner of Prince-Arthur – Montreal’s only pedestrian street which is lined with cafes of all nationalities – isVol de Nuit(pictured). It is this central location – not to mention the near-continuous 2-for-1 Happy Hours and inviting patio – that make this one of the city’s most popular hangouts.
The Vol, as locals call it, is where people go in the late afternoon or early evening to have a drink and is the kind of place for anyone to go when looking for a bit of activity. Later at nuit, it’s wildly popular among the local college students (no cover); people spill out all over the patio and the small interior is SRO.
From there, the choices are largely up to the individual(s). The cafes turn from serving food to mini-clubs with DJs and dancing (some of the nicer ones have $10 covers). The clubs are narrow entrances at street level leading upstairs.
Across the street from the Vol is Sophia, a sophisticated cafe/club.The Shed Cafe is a lounge with 60 wines from all over the world.Cafe Republic is another jammed cafe-turned-bar. Globe may be the hottest of them all, an upscale eatery that becomes a becon for celebrities when they are in town. With or without the “A” list, it plays hip music to a hip crowd.
Club London, Tokyo, Orchid and Club Envy are the craziest clubs. Club London has a rooftop patio, bouncers dressed as Beefeaters, pounding house music and expensive cosmopolitans served in plastic cups (to protect the people dancing below). Tokyo has two bars, two terraces and two DJs . Orchid has an upscale clientele with drink prices to keep out the less well-heeled.
One of our favorite spots is Publix. It’s casual classy, great for night-starter drinks. The late 80s music later creates a cool party atmosphere ($10 cover after 10 on Saturdays).
From there, we prefer to head to The Lodge Taverneand/or CoCo(photo). Neither have a cover and each is blue jeans comfortable, both in attitude and the crowd. Nearly identical, they have a long narrow bar with a dance area in the rear. The Lodge has a mountain lodge decor with 70s, 80s, 90s and Top 40 tunes. CoCo has funky chairs in the shape of a giant hand and Twister-style decor, giving it the psychedelic late 60s feeling.
After hours, Insane at Montagne is a hot hangout.
One weakness of this area for singles on the prowl is that most people are in their own groups or are on dates and it’s difficult for out-of-towners to crack through the barriers. Still, if one believes in strength through numbers than this is your place.
Strip Clubs & Les Princesses, Montreal’s Unique Restaurant
Montreal is recognized internationally for its strip clubs. While PubClub cannot personally vouch for the quality, we can definitely report there is quantity. Any stroll down Ste-Catherine Street in the heart of downtown supports this observation.
We can, however, report on the most unique dining experience one is likely to ever encounter anywhere in the world. It’s a restaurant featuring near-nude waitresses. There’s a bar called Les Princesses, and it features nude servers.
There’s a pair of more-than-modestly attractive girls – one serving tables, one behind the bar – wearing just sarongs and stilettos. Added to this, there are adult movies show on three of the TVs (the Canadian sports channel, TSN, is on the other TV). Beer and cocktails are sold – one or the other is almost a requirement here – and happily, the food is more than palatable (though it seems every dish comes covered in gravy). It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, from 5 a.m.-midnight, and most plates are only in the $7-10 range. Incredible!
It’s called Les Princesses and it’s located at 4970 rue Hochelaga (255-0003) a few blocks from a bland edifice known as the Big O (Olympic Stadium). To get there, take the Metro to Rue Viau (11 stops from downtown Peel Street station), proceed to Viau away from the Big O and turn right. It’s two blocks down. This is a small, smoky place filled largely with middle-aged men.