October 29, 2015
Famous for its blend of European and North American cultures, with everything from authentic French cuisine and 18th century architecture to contemporary art galleries and international music festivals to enjoy, there are plenty of fascinating things to do in Montréal. But this is also a local’s city, with a gritty side that most tourists don’t get to see. Few neighbourhoods exemplify this coarse faÃ§ade more than Little Burgundy, located 1.5-miles southwest of downtown. Like most industrial zones, this former site of the Steel Company of Canada required foresight and fortuitous timing from a determined urban pioneer to transform into one of Montréal’s most interesting corners.
Enter David McMillan, who, along with partner Fred Morin, had been searching for a certain rough edged “˜hood to launch Joe Beef, a foodie-meets-longshoreman concept that would fit perfectly into New York City’s Bowery. Named after an eccentric 19th century barman and appointed with your grandmother’s cupboards sporting cast iron chattels, this bistro established Montréal’s modern culinary cred. The daily menu is written in chalk, though dependably features “Steak Joe Beef,” different spins on lapin and the signature lobster spaghetti.
When pioneers succeed, empires often follow. It’s fitting that the former Canadian Pacific rail yards reside not far away, because Joe Beef’s success now rumbles well down Rue Notre-Dame West. Liverpool House came first, with its raft of oysters wading along the bar beneath the critical gaze of taxidermy tacked high upon the whitewashed walls.
Recently, Le Vin Papillon dropped anchor on the corner, a stylish wine bar and raw lumber back terrace complete with picnic tables, open grill and a smoker. Taking no reservations, the back porch suggests a backyard barbecue filled with friends. As a visitor, one can’t help feeling comfortable inside the Joe Beef triumvirate.
Homey as the McMillan-Morin milieu may seem, Joe Beef hardly owns the meat monopoly in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood. Le bOucon Smokehouse messes things up with their drippy five-napkin burger, smoked salsa nachos and the “Pit Boss,” one of those carnivorous parades that would fill a Saskatchewan stockyard.
The Burgundy Lion public house boasts Québec’s trademark bire blanche on tap plus a broad roster of whiskies below TV screens partial to American, Canadian and especially, “European” football. As with bOucon, the world stops here when the puck drops, especially when pursued by la Sainte Flannel, aka the Montréal Canadiens; winners of 24 Stanley Cups.
Like many of today’s most popular places, Little Burgundy once stood independently from the city of Montréal. Remnants from the former town, called Sainte-Cunegonde, can still be seen today inside le Quartier des Antiquaires, Canada’s largest aggregation of antique salons. These arcades once dominated rue Notre-Dame West.
Milord Antiquities, located inside one of the area’s handsomest historic buildings, possesses European and North American collectibles from the past three centuries. Rowntree Antiques also imports from Europe, maintaining an impressive collection of 18th century country furnishings. Interior designers and DIYers also flock to see what’s new in upscale domestic, decorative arts at Surface Jalouse and locate mid-century modern gems inside Leo Victor.
Even with all of its culinary credentials, it may well be a converted industrial laundering factory that best exemplifies Little Burgundy’s modern metamorphosis. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Parisian Laundry has established itself among Canadian and global privately funded galleries with dynamic partnerships from New York to Berlin. The 15,000-ft2 space primarily shows painting, sculpture and site installation artists. Non-represented artists also show regularly by invitation.
Fait Ici represents slightly smaller, but no less curated, urbane sundries, children supplies and fresh foods with, as the name suggests, a “Made in Quebec” focus. Owner Lindsay Davis created one of those shops where it’s as fun to browse as it is to buy.
While the Parisian Laundry serves as a modern hub for the area, the historic Corona Theatre has remained a cultural anchor for over a century. Built in 1912, Montréal’s last remaining vintage movie house, like most of its surviving North American brethren, barely escaped the wrecking ball on several occasions. Renovated ten years ago and renamed the Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre, the stage welcomes many independent artists such as “The Story So Far“ and “Shakey Graves,” as well as films and special events.
Montréal’s dynamic cultural mélange also churns inside Atwater Market. The two-storey, year-round bazaar buzzes with boulangerie, butchers and flower stalls among scores of other diverse purveyors. Les Douceurs du Marché, with its broad display of olive oils, shelves of hot sauces and an anteroom dedicated to panoply of pastas provides museum-worthy appreciation.
With its blend of cuisine, culture and nightlife, Little Burgundy adds another argument in support of Montréal’s status among the premier urban destinations in North America.
Our partnership with Delta means we can connect you to and from a wide range of destinations across the United States and Canada, making it easier for you to explore Little Burgundy next time you’re in Montréal.
What are your favourite things to do in Montréal? Have you explored Little Burgundy? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Crai Bower