101 GuidescityTravel

montreal design guide

by Grace Bonney

[image via Nino H]

today’s city guide is devoted to montreal- one of the cities i’ve most wanted to visit for the past few years. i’ve always heard such wonderful stories about friends and family’s trips to montreal so today i’m thrilled to have a wonderful city guide, written by marie-eve of lake jane, to this beautiful city. if you’re lucky enough to travel to montreal i hope you’ll bring marie-eve’s guide with you- it’s chock-full of great places to shop, eat and enjoy the culture of montreal.

CLICK HERE for the full montreal guide after the jump!

Montreal Design Guide, by Marie-Eve Best www.lakejane.com

Growing up, my mother would often talk to us about Montreal, her beloved native city. There was always a sparkle in her eye every time she would describe the city’s impeccable taste and laid-back lifestyle. It comes as no surprise then that I always knew I’d end up making Montreal my home.

You really have to visit the city to get a taste of its magic, its je ne sais quoi. Gourmet Magazine did a good job of expressing one of the many reasons why tourists and Montrealers alike fall in love with the world’s second largest french-speaking city: “Montreal is still filled with surprises, and each time you come upon a new shop, a new restaurant or a boutique hotel, it feels like a discovery.”

It’s true. We Montrealers like to think that we are in on a secret that only few of us share. Everyone has his or her favorite coffee shop, bookstore and delicatessen. Small businesses can thrive for years and years because locals remain loyal to their neighborhood favorites. Consequently, there are tons of little gems hidden at every turn. I’ve organized this Montreal Design Guide by neighborhood because it’s probably the best way of discovering the city. You’ll feel like you’re hopping from one unique village to another, each with its own languages, legends and characters.

Mile End

This eclectic neighborhood (bordered by four major thoroughfares: St. Laurent Boulevard or “The Main”, Avenue du Parc, Fairmount Avenue, and Bernard Street.) has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last 5 years. Some of the city’s hippest restaurants, bars and boutiques are in this multicultural neighborhood, including:

The Sparrow: This English pub-inspired restaurant opened in February ’09 and was instantly embraced by locals. The décor is warm and the food comforting.

Jamais Assez: A boutique devoted to promoting Quebecois design selling everything from bedding to furniture with an emphasis on the environment.

Philz Twentieth Century Design: A classic design lover’s dream. Great vintage furniture from floor to ceiling.

Les Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois: Try Framboise, a raspberry coulis blended with a dark ganache delicately flavored with Malaysian long pepper.

Push Gallery: A great space devoted to showcasing emerging contemporary artists.

Les Enfants Terribles: Enjoy a glass of wine and steak tartare on this trendy bistro’s sidewalk terrasse facing the historic Outremont Theatre.

Atelier Dame Plume: Calligraphy and stationary services all in one beautiful little boutique.

Drawn & Quarterly: One of the most influential art and literary comics publishers in North America recently opened a bookstore in Mile End where they sell the best in today’s comics, fiction and art books by publishers from around the world. They also offer great after-hours workshops.

*Don’t miss: Try both St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel (I’m loyal to the latter).

Le Plateau

Known for its colorful houses and characters, Le Plateau is a maze of small residential and commercial buildings. One could easily spend hours exploring the mural covered alleyways, perusing the tiny cafés and browsing the funky shops.

Les Touilleurs: The award-winning kitchenware boutique offers in-store cooking lessons with some of the city’s top chefs.

Baldwin Barmacie: Airport lounge meets pharmacy is how best to describe the great décor of this funky lounge. Enjoy one of their homemade elixirs with a side of grilled cheese.

Hanneman Design and EcoDarling: Eco-friendly home accessories and gift store on a cute little side street. Also home to Hanneman Design who specialize in furniture design and re-upholstery.

Unicorn: One of my favorite clothing boutiques in the city. Check out their fantastic vintage accessories and unique Canadian-designed collections.

Au Pied de Cochon: Traditional Quebecois fare served by the friendliest staff. A definite must for any tourist.

Blume: Unbelievable florist on The Main; a veritable greenhouse in the heart of the city.

Domison: Beautiful furniture showroom that showcases the Periphere line and also supports fellow Canadian designers like Furni and Looolo.

Pop!: Hip wine bar with retro décor. Try the chocolate crème crowned with caramel mousse and sea salt served in a mini-Mason jar.

Les Commissaires: This design gallery-boutique carries some of the the rarest and most interesting objects in very small quantities.

HQ Gallery and Boutique: Vintage and handmade fashion and accessories boutique near Parc Lafontaine. Also check out some affordable art in the adjacent gallery space.

Lola & Emily: You’ll feel like you’re browsing through a friend’s closet in this beautiful little women’s clothing and home accessories boutique.

*Don’t miss: Tam-Tams (an impromptu gathering of local musicians and people-watchers) on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Jeanne-Mance park


The area is undergoing a complete transformation (from rather dingy to ultra cool) so it’s time to take advantage of the new boutiques, galleries and restaurants before the velvet ropes take over!

McKiernan’s: Gourmet Magazine described their food as Frenglish and I completely agree. It’s an interesting take on Quebecois classics with some English pub-fare influences. Quality ingredients and an eclectic décor.

Quartier Libre: A great contemporary art gallery featuring the work of young local artists.

Surface Jalouse: Very cool concept store specializing in wall and furniture decals. The stylish pieces are the work of graphic artists and designers.

Beige: Beautiful home furnishings and accessories boutique with a collection of hand-finished one-of-a-kind pieces.

Itsi Bitsi: Grab a cupcake to go while browsing baking supplies and other adorable kitchen accessories.

*Don’t miss: A bike ride alongside the Lachine canal followed by lunch at Atwater Market.


The Downtown area is abuzz with students, tourists and professionals alike. It’s fast paced and a great place to shop if you’re looking for more well-known retail brands.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: The Museum’s original building and it’s more contemporary counterpart are located across the street from one another but connected by an underground tunnel. Save some time for the decorative arts section!

Mona Moore: A shoe-lovers fantasy come to life. You’ll feel like you’ve walked into a pale pink walk in closet filled with carefully selected designer shoes.

Hôtel Le Germain: Fashion-forward boutique hotel with friendly service, a fantastic restaurant and a central location.

Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art: Located at Place-des-Arts, this gorgeous museum has an impressive permanent collection as well as interesting evening events.

Nota Bene: My favorite paper store in the city. Save some time for the small community gallery on the second floor!

*Don’t Miss: Montreal is the capital of summer festivals and the downtown core is home to the best of them. Keep your ear to the ground for the outdoor concerts at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Old Port

Some of the city’s most important historical buildings are found in the Vieux Port, many of which are now home to some of the newest and coolest restaurants, bars, hotels and boutiques.

Pointe-à-Callière Museum: An impressive museum (both inside and outside) devoted to Montreal’s archaeological history erected on the very site where the city was founded.

Habitat 67: Initially built as a thematic pavilion for the 1967 World’s Fair, Habitat 67 is now a fascinating apartment complex.

Cluny ArtBar: Located in the old Darling Factory, this restaurant serves breakfast and lunch to local officeworkers and artists.

Silophone: This unique project makes use of the incredible acoustics of a Montreal landmark, Silo #5, by introducing sounds collected from around the world using various communication technologies. They are played in the large structure then re-broadcasted to other listeners and to a sound installation outside the building.

Hôtel St.Paul: The historic facade of this hotel is in steep contrast to its interior which is very modern and almost ethereal.

DNA: Enjoy a cocktail in the funky orange lounge then head off into the truly unique dining room to enjoy the delicious Mediterranean-inspired menu and perfect views of the waterfront.

*Don’t miss: The new Montreal Convention Center’s colorful glass facade


One of Montreal’s primarily anglophone neighborhoods. Known for the gorgeous tree-lined streets and impressive real estate.

James: This clothing store is known for being on top of the latest trends.

Zone: The largest of Zone’s three Montreal home décor boutiques is in Westmount. Their window displays will certainly lure you in.

Flore: One of the city’s premier florists (and it’s easy to see why when you step into their gorgeous boutique).

Appetite for Books: Spend a couple of hours browsing cook books and register for an in-store cooking class.

*Don’t miss: Westmount Square, built in 1967, was Mies Van der Rohe’s last projects.

I hope you enjoyed my Montreal Design Guide. There is so much to see in this incredible city so it’s worth planning more than one trip. Perhaps you’ll make your own discoveries! I invite those of you who have lived here or visited in the past to share your favorites too.

Suggested For You


  • Ditto–I would never go into Philz in Toronto (or support their Montreal store). They are absolutely evil to children!

  • Looking for suggestions for New Year’s Eve 2012. Does anyone have any recommendations for where to find a good party or even a just a low-key hangout in a pub?

    Also, does anyone know if there is much open to visitors on New Years Day?

    Thanks for any suggestions!

  • Hi everybody,
    I soon will be a Montrealer myself (for one short year), studying at UQAM.
    I wanted to know what neighborhoods to consider for housing that would be in a reasonable distance from the school – I’ve never lived in a big city and have a hard time figuring how far is too far.
    Thank you so much for your help, and thank you for this City Guide, lots of things to put on my list !

  • I got my super comfy Eames Lounge Chair from an online store in Montreal called Elite Modern Furniture. I’d recommend giving it a shot. Awesome prices and free shipping. Plus their support is top notch. Check em out.

  • I too wlove an update on Montreal! We are headed there in June for a week and are hoping to connect with local designers to feature at our home store in Santa Cruz.

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.