MONTREAL – A NEW BEGINNING FOR MILE END
A new beginning for Mile End
The former immigrant neighborhood Mile End has developed from a multi-cultural district into a hot spot. In addition to artists, designers and young families, people who could afford a mansion on chic Mont Royal also live here.
January 2021, Reading time: 13 minutes
Montréal is considered the most European city in Canada, and the Mile End neighborhood lives up to that image.
Every city in the Canadian province of Quebec has a Rue Principale. Montreal doesn’t. When locals say “The Main” or, in French, “La Main,” they mean Saint-Laurent Boulevard – a perceived main street with no official title. The eleven-kilometer “Main” starts at the Vieux Port and runs through Old Town, Chinatown and the Quartier des Spectacles to Little Italy. About halfway up, beyond the wide Sherbrooke Street, the hippster country begins with cafés, exotic eateries and small stores. But the real excitement starts at Mont-Royal Avenue, in Montreal’s hippest district: Mile End.
This used to be the neighborhood of the Italians, the Greeks, the Portuguese and the Jewish community. Today, a polyglot mix of Hasidic and creative people live here, making the ten or so blocks of Mile End one of the most interesting and artistically active corners of North America. What’s more, the area is also visually attractive. Old Victorian townhouses with their externally mounted metal staircases flank long streets, and the small front yards are mostly idyllically overgrown. IT companies converted former textile mills into head offices and street artists painted the large-scale facades. Bars, vintage stores and art galleries have moved into garages and warehouses.
Geographically, Mile End is part of the Plateau district, which lies north of downtown and at the foot of Mont Royal. The iconic Canadian artist Leonard Cohen lived here, and Rufus Wainwright – singer, musician and composer – grew up in Mile End with his sister Martha, who also sings. Clearly, the neighborhood exudes a certain artistic potential.
Nevertheless, no one is alone here. The pleasant thing about Canada, Montreal and Mile End is the unagitated nonchalance with which people live and work. Italians, Greeks and Portuguese still run their cafés and restaurants – sometimes in premises that have remained unchanged for 50 years. And if Saint-Laurent Boulevard satisfies the needs of trendsetters, the parallel Parc Avenue is the street for all things practical: there’s still an old quincaillerie (hardware store), a stationery shop and the historic Rialto Theater (above, photo: Charlie Ciliberto – Inhouse Studios Inc) – all genuinely vintage and, for that reason alone, really cool.
Pasta e basta:
The place is small and more for a quick meal, but the pasta dishes on offer are excellent: lasagna, linguine alle vongole, campanelle with mushrooms … All the pasta is homemade, as are the sauces, which change almost daily. Locals like to pick up the dishes, but you can also enjoy your ravioli at the long central table or at the dining counter in front of the window.
5235 St-Laurent Blvd, tel. +1 514 360 3069, ilmiglio.ca
Photo: Dominique Lafond
Costas Spiliadis is considered a pioneer in the field of upscale Greek cuisine. His first restaurant was established in 1979 and featured a then-revolutionary open kitchen and a now much-copied “fish market.” Mediterranean fish from tuna, swordfish and dorado to scallops and calamari are served, prepared in the best Greek-Mediterranean style.
5357 Parc Ave, tel. +1 514 272 3522, estiatoriomilos.com
Bread and More:
Montreal’s finest restaurants – Toqué, Le Club Chasse et Pêche, Joe Beef … – order their bread from Jeffrey Finkelstein, because his bakery makes the city’s best baguettes, ciabattas and whole-grain breads. You can also have breakfast or a bite to eat in the front area of the thoroughly styled store, while sampling a few typical Jewish specialties.
4524 St-Laurent Blvd, tel. +1 514 649 7991, hofkelsten.com
Photo: Paul Labonté
La Panthère Verte
Most diners come for the delicious falafel, sold plain, in pita bread or as a “bol” with green sauce. But the large eatery, with its greenery, wooden tables and crystal chandeliers, is also popular for the shawarma, vegetarian burgers and incredibly delicious brownies. Plus: fruit juices and smoothies. Almost everything is also available as a “take away.”
160 St-Viateur St E, tel. +1 514 508 5564, lapanthereverte.com
The latest addition to the Mile End, which is not short of cafés, is a snow-white, ultra-modern, minimalist mini-location that doubles as a bookstore. There’s just one long communal table and a few seats out front, but the best espresso and filter coffee, delicious viennoiseries (including eclairs, of course), and lots of hip visitors with laptops.
12 Maguire St, tel. +1 514 495 7880
Big in Japan
A former Portuguese low dive with ATMs has become probably the nicest bar in town. It’s hard to find, entered through an unmarked door, and scores with decadent decor, leather seats, velvet curtains, and seas of candles. Serving extremely delicious cocktails, sakes and Japanese whiskies combined with delicate shrimp ceviche and the sound of Johnny Cash.
4175 St-Laurent Blvd, tel. +1 438 380 5658
Photo: Dominique Lafond
Dieu du Ciel
For lovers of exotic home-brewed beers, this is “the place to be” – the chic brewpub overlooking the steel tanks and the terrace in front of the door is correspondingly full. The famous Imperial Stout “Péché Mortel,” the kumquat-flavored Indian Pale Ale “Disco Soleil” and the gently flower-scented “Rose d’Hibiscus” are the specialties of the house.
29 Laurier Ave E, tel. +1 514 490 9555, dieuduciel.com
Built in 1912 in French Renaissance style, this villa was first a private home, then a Jewish clinic. Now it’s a charming bed & breakfast with five all-white rooms with bay windows, beautiful hardwood floors, tall windows and freestanding bathtubs. Breakfast is “organic,” of course, and you can order a yoga instructor to the house.
4351 Esplanade Ave, tel. +1 514 312 3837, casabianca.ca, double rooms from about 90 euros.
Called “Mont-Royal,” “Atwater,” or “St-Zotique,” the products are made of sturdy American and Canadian leather processed by mostly small, long-established tanneries with an eye to environmental compatibility. Design and production of the bags and backpacks take place in the heart of Montreal, reflecting the city’s character, which is at once zeitgeist-oriented and close to nature.
5298 St-Laurent Blvd, tel. +1 514 544 6518, lowellmtl.ca
Vintage stores are quite common in Mile End, but Annex was the first when it opened in 2008 and remains one of the best places to buy a floral dress, high-waist denim shorts or a pair of platform shoes from the ’90s. The displays also feature vintage pins, choice jewelry and locally produced skin care products.
56 St-Viateur St, tel. +1 514 903 4404, annexvintage.com
Opened in 1924 as a movie theater, this grand palace has been used for all sorts of things over the past few decades with little success. Then a savvy investor found it, bought it, renovated the marble staircases, ceiling murals and gilded stuccos, and revitalized it with live concerts, dance performances and private events. With a little luck, passing visitors can sneak a peek inside.
5723 Parc Ave, tel. +1 514 770 7773, theatrerialto.ca
Beaux-Arts des Amériques
The gallery’s expansive space features contemporary works by artists from Canada and Quebec, as well as North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. The artists are sometimes more, sometimes less well known, their works reflecting their time, environment and culture. Regularly on view are works by Lyne Bastien, Craig Hood, Susan G. Scott, or Barry Gealt.
5432 St-Laurent Blvd, tel. +1 514 481 2111, beauxartsdesameriques.com
Of course, you can just wander around – Mile End is manageable and finding your way around is easy. You can stop in here and there and order something on the off chance. But if you don’t want to just explore and eat, but also want to learn about the places, their owners and backgrounds, book a guide from Local Food Tours. He/she will not only lead you to the most interesting places without any detours, but also knows exactly what should be tasted there. localfoodtours.com/montreal
Montreal’s local mountain isn’t in Mile End – it’s far too big for that – but it’s right next to it. Not only does the royal mountain offer a green oasis, tranquility and lots of space, but it also has arguably the best views of the city. There are a variety of sports and outdoor activities, an artificial lake, an observatory and a chalet with room for over 700 people. lemontroyal.qc.ca
My Mile End
folk-rock singer and musician
My mother (singer Kate McGarrigle ed.) had bought a house in Mile End in the late 1990s, and my brother Rufus and I grew up there. Back then there weren’t all the cafes and stores, we lived in a charming immigrant neighborhood among Greeks, Italians and Portuguese. Today Mile End is the hippest part of Montreal. Many artists live here, there is a young and very avant-garde art scene. I myself have just opened URSA (5589 Ave du Parc), a kind of artists’ meeting place with a café. It’s not quite finished yet, but I want to organize music and art events there. Just around the corner is the famous St-Viateur Bagel (stviateurbagel.com). The bakery and store is open around the clock and there are always people lining up to buy the sesame or poppy seed sprinkled squiggles. My favorite street is Bernard Avenue. There are two good record stores there – Rama Records (larama.ca) and Sonorama Disques (sonoramadisques.com) – the great bookstore Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (drawnandquarterly.com), and the cool café Le Dépanneur (206 Rue Bernard O), where someone is playing music at almost any time of day. With friends, I like to go to French bistro Leméac, (restaurantlemeac.com). It’s fine but very casual – like our whole neighborhood. marthawainwright.com
Sonorama: treasure trove for LP lovers.
Art of Bagel: St-Viateur has been serving
the city’s best since 1957.