You would be hard-pressed to find a Canadian city that feels more European than Montreal, and nothing in Montreal captures the feeling of an old-world village quite like Laurier Avenue West. Dating back to the 1870s, this quiet stretch of fiercely independent shops and restaurants runs from the artist enclave of Mile End to the more conservative, residential Outremont. Though its reputation as a très chic stop for imported groceries and designer labels is already firmly in place, a new generation is taking notice of the street and the surrounding area’s recent refreshment, an effort by merchants to prove their worth with the personal touch.
Sample a wide selection of spa services at Dermalounge health and beauty centre, where offerings range from the traditional (manicures and pedicures) to the unique (Hawaiian-inspired lomi-lomi massages) to the state-of-the-art (laser treatments and microdermabrasion). Nearby Alvaro Coiffure has been in the neighbourhood for over 35 years, with a team of 15 experts on hand offering cut, colour and makeup applications to fashionable locals, including Montreal celebrities. The salon acted as the official hairdresser for the Prix Gémeaux – Quebec’s version of the Emmys.
Montrealer Michel Brisson’s eponymous shop is a lot like the labels it carries – dark, minimalist and structurally stunning. The former bank building was stripped down to the concrete and updated with smoked glass and mirrors. It is a must-visit for men seeking modern European lines, from Germany’s Jil Sander to France’s Christophe Lemaire. A welcome, old-school touch: complimentary in-store tailoring. Women can venture down the street to Billie, a boutique designed to look like a (very fashionable) friend’s walk-in closet. Pick out a Filippa K sweater or a Joie silk blouse, then try it on in the French-boudoir-inspired dressing room.
Leméac is more than a French bistro, it’s a local institution. Indulge in pain doré with caramelized bananas during weekend brunch, served under the four-season solarium, or join local foodies for the famous prix-fixe menu, available after 10 p.m. Down the street, stop in at BarBounya for Turkish meze with a Quebecois twist. (Try the house specialty, barbounya – mullet fish served with olive relish.) If you fancy doing a little cooking of your own, visit Les Touilleurs, where you can pick up Le Creuset pots or take part in an evening workshop in the demonstration kitchen – it’s the same one used in Quebec’s popular cooking show Les Touilleurs.
If you’re in the neighbourhood at the right time, you might get to take part in a typical Montrealer’s favourite evening activity: attending an art vernissage. Try Galerie d’Avignon for contemporary work from emerging artists including expressionist tableaux by Aaron Fink and massive metal sculptures by Dale Dunning (whose work can also be found at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). Further down the street, find husband-and-wife duo Gilles and Lisette Brown’s Galerie Clarence Gagnon, open since 1976. They’re known for their eclectic taste and impressive Canadian Masters collection, which includes works by Jean-Paul Riopelle and Albert Rousseau.
Finding everything you need to pack a picnic lunch is a breeze here (try Gourmet Laurier for cheese and charcuterie), and where better to take it than Mont Royal? A short walk away, “the Mountain” is only about 230 metres tall so following the trail up to the summit’s panoramic lookout is more of a stroll than a hike. Spanning 200 hectares, the park, created in the 19th century, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated landscape architect behind New York’s Central Park. Now it’s a hub for jogging, family walks and the Sunday Tam-Tam Jam, an informal weekly gathering of drummers, musicians and, as of last year, gourmet food trucks.