Montreal is a short 5+ hour drive from Portland, Maine. Five hours may seem like a long time for you city slickers, but in Maine, 5 hours is nothing. It takes 2 hours to get to Bangor or 3.5 hours to get to beautiful Bar Harbor and Downeast Maine. Hell, it takes 7+ hours to drive from Portland to Fort Kent. Five hours is nothing to many of us! Anyway… We left Portland around 5:30 pm and I navigated our driver through the back roads to North Conway, NH where we hopped on Route 302 north towards Vermont and ultimately the Canadian border.
The ride was pretty uneventful. We stopped a few times to grab a snack and use the lady’s room. We did get pulled over for speeding near the Mount Washington Hotel on Route 302, but the nice young officer let us off with a warning and a suggestion to hit up the casinos in Montreal. I think he secretly wanted to jump in the SUV with us and escape to Montreal because what guy wouldn’t want to party with 4 girls in Montreal?
We arrived in Montreal around 11:30pm. The city was just waking up for a late night of partying. Our trusty GPS was sending us towards Toronto because poor Jane didn’t realize that “Ouest” means “West” in French and the Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville was located on Sherbrooke West and not just “Sherbrooke.” It was a minor error that we quickly corrected and succeed in making it to our hotel in grand time.
We checked into our hotel and quickly changed to go out. Two of the girls were pretty hell-bent on finding the bars. At this point it was past midnight and all I wanted was food. This old girl can’t handle staying out late drinking! We walked around the downtown area in search of the bars and food. Unfortunately almost all the food joints were closed for the evening, unless I wanted McDonalds. I’d rather eat trash then McDonalds! Once I finally threw in the white flag for finding food, myself and D went back to the hotel. Good thing I never travel without snacks! J and B headed out towards the bars and wouldn’t be back to the hotel until 3 am.
I was up by 9 am and ready to eat! After some coaxing of the other girls, we finally made our way to Breizh Café (3991 Boulevard Saint-Laurent) for some crepes. Gosh, I LOVE crepes. In college I actually had the nickname “crepes” after a drunken night of wanting to go to Denny’s for crepes while in Washington DC. But that’s a story for another time. The crepes were delicious! On our way back we spent some time looking in all the back alleys and above the rooftops for Montreal street art. Art was all over the old buildings around Saint-Laurent.
After a short break in the hotel, myself and two of the other girls hopped on the Bixie bikes and rode past McGill University towards Parc du Mont-Royal. The girls didn’t want to hike so we split ways and I began my short climb to the top of Mount Royal. I spent some time photographing the city from above and people watching. After working up a bit of a sweat, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening’s festivities. We grabbed a taxi from the hotel and headed to La Banquise (980 Rachel Est) for the best poutine in Montreal!
The line was long and we quickly deciphered the French sign stating they don’t take credit card. Off to find an ATM to get Canadian dollars. La Banquise is located in a residential area of Montreal so finding an ATM was a little tough. Get Canadian dollars before coming here if you have an American debit card. There is an ATM machine in the restaurant, but because America sucks you need a card with a chip. J and B were able to get cash next door at a small dive mom-and-pop store so we were back in business of waiting in line for poutine.
I’m not going to lie, poutine is pretty darn good. Why hasn’t this taken off in the US? We love fattening things! If you don’t know what poutine is, it is essentially French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. It is sheer bliss! The girls and I just got the classic poutine plate, but La Banquise offers a very diverse menu of different combinations of poutine, such as Mexican and bacon. Because everything is better with bacon!
Now, here is the trouble of La Banquise. As I mentioned it is located in a more residential area making finding a taxi a little tough. If we were smart we would have asked for a card from taxi driver so we could call him to bring us to the bars! Learning moment. We wandered around a little bit and by an act of God an open taxi drove by us! We soon learned that the Montreal taxi drivers are allowed to work as Uber drivers too. Our poor taxi driver was called by a lady through Uber who cancelled the ride as soon as he arrived to pick her up! Her lost, our gain! We had a nice conversation with our driver. He is originally from Lebanon and is actually an interior designer, but works as a taxi driver in Montreal. Jane practiced some of her French skills and I would occasionally break out in random Spanish words. Don’t ask.
He dropped us off near the bars in downtown Montreal on Rue Bishop. Rue Bishop is a street packed with various bars and clubs. We went to several different bars that had drink specials. I chatted with a few of the bartenders asking them where they are from as their English is excellent and seemed to have no hint of the French Canadian accent. Several of the bartenders mentioned they were themselves or had a parent from the Maritimes provinces of Canada. One of the bartenders also mentioned that the Rue Bishop area is very anglophone and the primary language was English. Looking around I could tell this is where a lot of the 20-something American tourists party.
My favorite bar of the night was the Irish Embassy. J and B had a couple of beers there the previous night and highly recommended it. We found spots right on the bar and sat down. Once again I was hungry so D and I split a plate of chicken fingers and fries. They had a special German Beer Fest menu, but no pretzels! I really wanted pretzels! Anyway, I digress. The beer was good, the bartender was awesome, and the live band was even better! I think the highlight of the night was a very drunk guy kept tapping my shoulder with a smirk and a handful of Canadian bills. I thought he wanted to buy us a drink, but would just go to the end of the bar and stare at us. It was very odd!
Next up was a night club. However, D and I left because they told us there was no cover charge, but you can’t wear your jacket in the club. It cost $3 CAD to check your coat. Bullshit, that’s a cover charge! I got pissed and left with D. We hightailed it back to the hotel with a very full bladder. We were about a couple blocks from the hotel when the Timmy Horton’s appeared and I quickly dodged into the shop for the bathroom! The other two girls once again returned to the room around 3am.
Sunday was definitely a sleep-in morning. I was up and showered by 10am. The other girls were a little slower, but we needed to be out by noon. Once we were packed and back in the car, we headed to the world-famous Montreal bagel place – St-Viateur Bagel (263 Rue Saint Viateur Ouest). Holy amazeballs! I would 100% drive 5+ hours to Montreal just for the bagels! Yum! After stuffing ourselves silly with delicious hand-rolled, oven-baked bagels, we headed to Old Montreal for our last stop of the day to see the Notre-Dame Basilica. It was one of the top 3 things I really wanted to see in Montreal. I grew up Catholic and went to an all-girls Catholic high school, but I am not a practicing Catholic. I have my issues with religion in general, but that conversation is best held over a glass of good wine. And maybe some poutine.
I’ve seen the Sistine Chapel and many beautiful churches in Italy, but the Notre-Dame Basilica was absolutely stunning and worth the $5 CAD admission fee. But people, please don’t let your children run around screaming in a church. One father was letting his 3-year-old run around the church while people were praying and taking in the quiet tranquility of the church. It’s extremely rude and inappropriate! I so wanted to slap off the dumb smile on the father’s face. But I played nice and just gave him the stink eye.
Okay, now that I haven’t taken a deep breath and stepped off my soap box, Montreal was a blast. The food was excellent and the beer was good. My travel companions were the best, but then again isn’t any group of good friends the best? But, I will admit, I didn’t really love Montreal. Perhaps it was the time of the year or perhaps we only stayed in the more touristy areas, but there was something about Montreal missing for me. It reminded me too much of New York City, which I enjoy visiting for a couple of days, but could never live there. However, I always believe in second chances, so Montreal, I will be back!