JAZZED UP IN MONTRÉAL
Written by Caylee Keto
Photography by Alexandre Chouquette (courtesy of Tourisme Montréal), Benoit Rousseau, Eva Blue, Alexandre Parent
Under the swirling lights of the main stage of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal this past June, concertgoers waved their hands in the air as bodies ebbed and flowed to the beat of music so loud you could feel the reverberations in your bones (montrealjazzfest.com). Surveying the scene, where the carefree enthusiasm of the singing crowd rivaled the volume of the performers, make me realized that so much joy in one place is hard to find these days. Montréal seems to be the exception. The city is like an infectious smile; once it takes hold, you can't help but soak it up.
Home to the world's largest jazz festival, Montréal is a city whose passions run deep, as evidenced by a chockfull annual events calendar that boasts a festival for everyone. Whether you fancy fine food, fireworks, fashion, film, fitness, or Formula 1, Montréal has you covered with unique celebrations dedicated to these interests and many, many more. Even in the dead of winter, the party continues with events like Igloofest, which has ski suit-clad revelers dancing under the stars to internationally famed DJs.
In a city of superlatives, the dining scene is aptly elevated, with a delectable restaurant to match every global cuisine you could imagine. Many chefs in Montréal have studied for years all over the world to earn prestigious titles. One of these is Executive Chef Riccardo Bertolino of Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton, who apprenticed under three-Michelin-star Chef Daniel Boulud. Maison Boulud is known for its implementation of Quebecois ingredients, including indulgent black truffles.
Opened in 1912, and commanding an entire city block, the Ritz-Carlton Montréal has the distinction of being the first hotel in North America to fly the Ritz-Carlton flag (rooms from $700/night; ritzcarlton.com/Montreal). The property's history includes a long list of VIP guests and extraordinary events. Alexander Graham Bell placed the world's first "long-distance" phone call here at a banquet in 1916. In 1964, Elizabeth Taylor wed Richard Burton in the Royal Suite. Today the hotel boasts a one-of-a-kind Dom Perignon bar, the first in Canada. With sparkling chandeliers to match the bubbles in delicate flutes, it is, without a doubt, an extraordinary experience.
Foodies could easily plan a long weekend around dining experiences in distinct, walkable neighborhoods. My favorite way to start the day, or really at any time of day since it's open 24/7, is picking up a fresh and hot bagel from St. Viateur at their original landmark location. Another must-see is the Jean-Talon Market. Opened in 1933 in the city's Little Italy neighborhood, the market is the largest open-air market in North America (it's open year-round seven days a week).
Strolling the cobblestones of Saint-Paul Street, you'll encounter art galleries, designer boutiques, and a host of charming restaurants. Don't miss Maison Pepin, a concept boutique setup like a stylish apartment, and Galerie LeRoyer, a bastion of contemporary art by emerging Canadian and international artists. Located in a 300-year-old building, Maison Christian Faure is regarded to be the pinnacle of pastry arts in Montréal.
The neighborhood surrounding hugely popular Mount Royal Park, which marks the city's highest point, includes colorful houses, and one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants. Many facades of the buildings that line Saint-Laurent Boulevard, home to the renowned Schwartz's Deli, are jazzed up with giant artworks created as part of the MURAL Festival (muralfestival.com).
In the winter, you'll likely become very familiar with RÉSO, Montréal's underground network that provides access to more than 1,700 shops, restaurants, and several major hotels. This subterranean city started with the construction of the Place Ville-Marie office tower in 1962. Designed by I.M, Pei and Henry N. Cobb, the building offers the city's highest observatory. Booking a private yoga session is a highly personal way to experience the space. Nearby, housed in a circa 1845 building that was most recently a sprawling furniture store, is Monarque, a fine-dining destination that opened in 2018 to instant acclaim.
Located in Victoria Square, the W Montreal's Bartizen is an intimate space conceived by Michael Isted to focus on Quebec gins and various tonics. I sampled from the "Gin and Tonic and Perfume" menu. Part chemistry and part cocktail, each drink misted with perfumes made from essential oils that deliver radically different flavor profiles based on the gin's aromatics. A plentiful charcuterie board laden with Quebec-smoked meats accompanied our libations.
Hiding behind a buttoned-up former bank façade, the W Montréal's public and private spaces sport lux contemporary furnishings geared for global jet setters. Standouts among the 152 guest rooms are the WOW and EWOW suites with outdoor terraces (rooms from $158/night).
A hidden gem in Montréal's business district is Japanese restaurant Jatoba. Complementing the appealing aesthetic, complete with a plethora of plants bathed in natural light and sleek black seating, is a menu devised by star chef Olivier Vigneault. Also worth seeking out is the up-and-coming area of Griffintown, which is buzzing with a vibrant art scene and global cuisine along the Rue Notre-Dame Quest.
Unique experiences abound in Montréal, and chances are a friendly local will be happy to cue you in on where to find the best espresso (Café Balance), the best poutine (too many opinions to list), or the chicest cafe (the Crew Cafe). Even if you're apt to adhere to an itinerary, you'd be wise to heed any insider intel, as we did, which opened our eyes to exceptional experiences just beyond the well-trodden tourist stops.
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