Destinations

Acclaimed Montreal Locals Share Their Essential Spots

An insider’s guide to Quebec’s largest city.

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Georgia All Over

Touring the sensory experiences of a state that refuses to be neatly categorized.

EVERY CITY HAS shared spaces and well-known places. But each person’s map of their city is unique, a web of individual needs, tastes, and desires. In our ongoing series “One City, Two Sides,” we tap two residents to learn about the spots they love — the ones they return to and recommend — from the best morning coffee to the most breathtaking view.

This issue we head to Montreal, the largest city in the Canadian province of Quebec, with just under 2 million inhabitants. We talked to Saleema Nawaz, writer and author of the 2020 novel “Songs for the End of the World.” Nawaz has taught creative writing at McGill University and writes a regular column for the Montreal Gazette.

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We also spoke with Emma Cardarelli, a chef and owner of beloved Montreal restaurants Nora Gray and Elena, both of which serve Italian fare. At Nora Gray, it’s more traditional Southern Italian cuisine, including homemade pasta; and at Elena, it’s antipasti and a glorious range of wood-fired pizzas.


Saleema Nawaz, writer

Your favorite secret spot in the city?

I love small streets and back alleys since they each have their own secrets you can usually only find by walking — like the staircase leading down to St. Christophe from Sherbrooke Street that has a slide running down beside it!

Best book/film/song about your city?

“Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. It’s set in the Old Port and alludes to Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel.

Favorite thing in your city that never changes?

The warm-weather tradition known as Tam-Tams — a huge, communal drum circle and informal gathering of dancers, picnickers, LARPers, and sunbathers every Sunday at the base of Mount Royal around the monument. Apparently it has been going strong for at least 40 years.

Best thing to do with kids in your city?

The Biodome.

What food exemplifies your city, and where is the best place to get it?

Montreal is famous for poutine and smoked meat, but number one is bagels. There’s a rivalry between Fairmount and St-Viateur, but either way, you can’t go wrong.

Best bookstore?

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly
. The premier comics publisher in North America also has an impeccably curated flagship bookshop in Mile End.

Most fun neighborhood to hang out in?


The Plateau. In the summers, the main road becomes a 33-block, pedestrian-only street fair.


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Emma Cardarelli, chef and restaurant owner

What food exemplifies your city, and where is the best place to get it?

Most people would say poutine, and I would say my favorite poutine is from Paul Patates. But really, for me, it’s classic French food, and nowhere does it better in the city than L’Express.

Where is the best view of your city?

From the top of Mount Royal after having walked up, preferably in the spring right after it has rained.

Best bar or late-night spot?

My friend just reopened a long-time sports bar called Champs, with various owners. I know what you’re thinking — a sports bar? But they are an LGBTQIA2S+-friendly sports bar with many interesting special events like comedy nights, dance parties, and trivia. They also have a private room in the back if you need to rent it out for a party. It’s awesome.

What is your favorite hotel in the city?

Le Germain. Last year during Mural Fest, artist Michelle Hoogveld painted the entire facade in the most beautiful and vibrant colors. It’s so cool. The rooms are unique and amazing.

Best place to buy a special gift in your city?

Given my profession, I generally give food as gifts. I like to go to Boucherie Lawrence, where they sell a variety of goods from local farms and restaurants, like different kinds of honey, etc.

Most fun neighborhood to hang out in?

I love my neighborhood, Mile End, but Little Italy is a close second with Jean-Talon Market, Mon Lapin, and Pumpui.

What do you wish more people knew about your city?

It is the best food city in North America.


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Our Contributors

Nina Renata Aron Writer

Nina Renata Aron is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.

Annabel Briens Illustrator

Annabel Briens lives and works in Paris. Using various media including oil paint, watercolor, and pen/ink, she has collaborated with fashion, luxury, and publishing clients. Her elegant and spontaneous style captures the essence of the subjects she paints. Her work has been shown at galleries in Paris, Amsterdam, Gdansk, and London.

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