I’ve just arrived home from ten days in Montreal with some of my treeplant besties, a complete contrast to the last time I spent three days in Montreal, crying in the hostel bar over bottles of Trois Pistoles and watching Don Hertzfeldt films with the indifferent bartender. Before I delve into activities and shenanigans, I’d just quickly mention how different life is having mostly conquered crippling anxiety- a few years ago, I kept myself up all night with vivid nightmares in anticipation of having to drive on the DVP in my in-law’s car the next day. Last week, I drove by myself to Montreal without blinking an eye on the rush hour 401. I struggled with some minor anxiety about the usual topics- mediocrity, inadequacy, social misfires- for a few hours before stuffing them away and getting on with my week.
The first thing about Montreal that absolutely trumps Toronto is the free street parking. In most neighborhoods outside the downtown, there’s 24/7 free street parking (if you can get past the multitude of one way streets and the frequent need to pull off impressive feats of parallel parking.) Even within the core, street parking is free after a certain time on certain days. We managed to go to a bar on the main strip of Sainte Catherine (L’escalier ) after finding free street parking. Traffic is also relatively tame compared to Toronto, unless you’re trying to head out of the city toward Ile Perrot or Laval (which, unless you’re dumping your asshole dog at your friend’s parent’s house for the weekend because he won’t stop barking) you shouldn’t need to do.
L’escalier is a fantastic, eclectic, dive-y warren of shabby chic rooms at the top of an unassuming staircase on Sainte Catherine Rue Labelle. There’s often live music- I suffered through every single note of a fusion jazz performance with the worst hangover in recent memory, nursing a cheap pint and a plate of wonderfully garlicky nachos. We ran into several people around the bar whom my friends knew- it was obviously a popular local spot.
The hangover came from the night prior, when I met up with yet another local friend and former treeplanter and proceeded to ‘get shitty’. He asks me at the Brasserie Des Patriotes “So we’re getting blackout drunk right?” while pouring drinks from the pitcher that sits before us. I shouldn’t be surprised- my first memories of him include the raunchiest game of truth or dare I’ve yet witnessed, and puking out a bus window, disspiritedly spitting bile out the crack after a triumph at boat races the night prior. I disagree with the Google Reviewing asserting Anglos would not be welcome there. My pitiful attempts at ordering in French were received well and the server patiently engaged with me rather than immediately switching to English, which is not very useful when one is trying to learn. There’s also a karaoke night. We quickly downed two pitchers at 14.25 a pop and proceeded on our way to the Metro. A friend of his works at a bar, he says, we’ll pop in for a quick pint. Transit is easy to negotiate in Montreal, even if your French is poor. It’s more affordable than Toronto at 3.25 a ride or 6.00 for ‘deux passages, s’il vous plait.”
Couche Tard (I know, I know) is the Quebecois version of a Mac’s Milk. It translates literally to ‘open late’. Montreal trumps Toronto point #2- not only can you purchase alcohol at any local deppaneur or corner store, but the variety of delightful, local craft brews put Ontario’s finest LCBO’s to shame. We slam tall boys on the way to the brewery his friend works at, pausing on a park bench to drain the dregs. It’s familiar, it’s something I’ve done before, it’s a communication across gaps of time and space. His friend works at Siboire Saint Laurent , the third outpost of a local brewery, located in le Plateau. The atmosphere is more upscale, with a variety of house beers on tap (mostly high percentage), unobtrusive service and good snacks.
From here, we stumble on to Les Katacombes, a metal bar offering a swing dance night on Wednesdays, accompanied with a live music ensemble, including stand up bass. I wish, dear reader, I could tell you how much it costs, but the night got a little blurry at this point, and I can only assume by the entry stamp on my hand the next day that read “Les Katacombes” that I paid something to enter. I won’t pretend that I can dance, even a little bit, however, we obnoxiously fumbled about the floor of competent and graceful dancers, stepping on each other’s toes and twirling more often that would be called for in any tasteful choreography. When we finally parted ways to go in opposite directions, he to Lachine by metro and I to Hochelaga via my sober friend’s car, I dropped my phone in the street and a kind passerby picked it up and called my friend, who later retrieved it for me. (Montreal kicks Toronto’s ass #3.)
To be continued.