by Mark Bain, Guest Blogger
For many of us, the true heart of a city is where the creative arts flourish.
On a recent visit to Montreal, I found that city’s beating heart – the vibrant, chic and slightly shabby Mile End district. This neighborhood has shunned the dull sameness of chains, instead emphasizing original and local proprietors, most with a modern sensibility.
One of the first shops I visited – Jamais Assez – offers high quality and reasonably priced furniture and furnishings, including several cabinets that are perfect for storing National Geographic magazines. Genvieve is passionate about crisp, clean, fresh, modern design – and in this instance, design that’s truly within reach.
Boucherie Lawrence is no old-school butcher. It offers specialty meats from small area producers, along with cold cuts, sandwiches and more for upscale locavores.
Olam Interieur blends contemporary furniture and furnishings with a small café, tea shop and selection of scented oils. You could spend hours there.
Kastella handcrafts modern furniture nearby using local materials and craftsmen. I was really impressed by the design, quality and functionality of every item in their collection. Ask for Mathieu, a designer there.
It wouldn’t be a chic and shabby neighborhood without a shop offering shabby chic knickknacks for those who cultivate that look.
Vertuose turns plants into inspired design statements. Their attention to detail, contrast and composition is simply incredible.
The neighborhood has several traditional and contemporary boulangeries for man’s – or dog’s – daily bread.
Throughout the district, you’ll find more traditional shops and restaurants with a Portuguese accent.
This traditional building has seen better days, but what a sturdy, masculine and imposing structure.
But whenever and wherever gentrification gathers momentum, tensions rise. This building just off Boulevard Saint-Laurent is the neighborhood’s tour de force of tagging.
Murals, a more orthodox cousin of graffiti, are seemingly everywhere in Mile End and throughout Montreal.
This costume shop for adults puts the “fun” in funky.
Vegan? There’s a table for you at Aux Vivres.
I chose L’Express, a classic bistro, for lunch. It’s in an unmarked, crème-colored building on Rue Saint-Denis, so look for this tile work at the entry. Highly rated and highly recommended!
To work off calories, walk the quiet, tree-lined side streets where second floor residents reach their flats via these graceful exterior staircases.
Finally, visit Old Montreal, about a mile south of Mile End, if only to pay homage at Maison Christian Faure. I’m sure there are many great breakfast options in Montreal, but why go anywhere else? This tiny patisserie turns out the best croissants I’ve tasted anywhere in the world, including France, where Mr. Faure has been recognized as a leader in his field.
Mark Bain heads upper 90 consulting LLC, a leadership development firm. He and his wife, Tina, enjoy travel, food, wine and design.