The MLS Travel Series, Entry #2
James Grossi can’t get any love from the Toronto FO on covering his home side…so he takes to Montreal.
Salut mes amis et bienvenue à Montréal,
As a Torontonian, obvious barbs aside, I could not be more chuffed to have Montreal be the nineteenth club in MLS and its third Canadian side. It’s a wondrous place and it’s nice to have a local rival and relatively close opponent that does not require going to Columbus – sorry Crew fans.
I’ve already taken the opportunity to head over to Montreal on three occasions, though time and finance have meant that I have had under twenty-four hours combined on the ground – each time making only a day trip including the six-hour bus journey each way.
In order to introduce you to what the city has on offer, I’ve enlisted the assistance of some local experts, who will lead us through a myriad of options to ensure your time in one of the more unique urban centres in North America is well spent.
But first a brief introduction to our guides:
Philippe Germain (@SoccerPlusEN), World Soccer’s Canadian correspondent and Canadian Soccer News’ Montreal-based contributor ; he is the host of SoccerPlus, the first French-language soccer podcast in North America and has been the voice of the Montreal Impact on radio and television for a decade prior to this season.
Olivier Tremblay (@OliTremblay), MLSsoccer.com’s Montreal beat writer and weekly contributor to Radio-Canada’s Sports Extra; audio files of which are available along with additional examples of his writing at his website, Mise au Vert, loosely translated as “Pre-Game Retreat”.
Both were very generous with their time and I recommend in particular getting a few podcasts under your belt before travelling; SoccerPlus includes English-language interviews – usually when the subject is more comfortable as such, while both offer those of us out of practice with our French education a chance to retrain our ears to the meter and parlance.
I sent round a list of a dozen or so subjects, what follows ties their recommendations together.
Food & Drink
A bit of travel always works up a sizeable appetite and one of the easiest ways to dip your toes into the water’s of another culture is to sample their cuisine.
That’s not to say one has anything to fear, it is still North America, if McDonalds or a simple pizza is your thing, then you will find it available in abundance.
If you’re in search of something near the stadium, Philippe recommends heading north along Sherbrooke Street – “Across from the Olympic Village you’ll find a bunch of options – Grill, Asian, Deli – even a Belle Province the institutionalized hot-dog joint with poutine as greasy as Uncle Joe’s hair”; if you go to Belle Province for the poutine, grab a couple of steamé – steamed hot dogs – as well. Cheap, plentiful; all-dressed or Montreal-style, gets you mustard, chopped onion, and sauerkraut.
Olivier offers – for those looking for something quick and easy – Brit and Chips (433, McGill St.), adding “Fish. Chips. Goodness. Lots of variety too; haddock in a maple syrup batter and hake in an Orange Crush batter are two delicious examples.”
For those looking for something a little more sophisticated he suggests Tapeo (511, Villeray St.) “Lovely, LOVELY Spanish food. Book in advance or you’ll need to get a quick burger somewhere else.”
Philippe suggests hunting along St. Laurent Boulevard, north of Sherbrooke back towards the downtown core and offers this bit of wisdom, “Downtown Montreal is filled with great places to eat, whatever the type you are looking for. Bad restaurants don’t survive long in this city.”
A recommendation from me, for the foodies amongst us, check out Au Pied du Cochon (536, Duluth Av. E) Chef-Owner Martin Picard is a bit of an icon, having hosted his own Food Network show, The Wild Chef. Rustic Québécois cuisine with plenty of foie gras can’t go wrong with that.
If you find yourself in need of a coffee, Philippe – a confirmed Starbucks dude – calms any concerns, “Name your spot downtown; there it is.” If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, Olivier suggests SoupeSoup (1228, Saint-Denis St. & five other locations) “Not just for the coffee, but for the overall experience – convenient location, excellent food and drink.”
For the tourist in you, Olivier recommends a Montreal landmark, Schwartz’s Deli (3895, Saint-Laurent Blvd.) “Food again. Schwartz’s has been written off by some, but I think it’s still the very best smoked meat sandwich in town.” And really you can’t travel all the way to Montreal and not have some smoked meat.
Whether a bistro, brasserie, or deli; an old-fashioned Cabane á Sucre (Sugar Shack) for some tourtière or just a healthy dollop of poutine, Montreal has just what you’re searching for.
Pints, Pubs & Sport
Getting away for the weekend doesn’t mean you have to fall behind on your regular soccer viewing. Montreal has several soccer-friendly establishments where you can grab a pint and catch up with the latest international action.
Philippe suggests Champs Bar (3956, Saint-Laurent Blvd.) “A three-story building always full for big matches,” while both our guides also speak highly of Burgundy Lion (2496, Notre-Dame St. W) Olivier adding, “Excellent British pub – crumpets for breakfast while watching Newcastle thrash Sunderland is a must.”
Noel Butler (@thesoccernoel) host of Oranges@Halftime, Montreal-based TSN 990’s soccer radio show chimes in with Les Trois Brasseurs – a microbrewery-gastropub with several locations around the downtown core and beyond.
For those solely with refreshment in mind, Olivier points out Dieu du Ciel! (29, Laurier St. W) “A brewpub with a great selection of ales, stouts and other varieties of good stuff – really crowded at times, but good fun nonetheless.”
For those unfortunate souls riding the bus into town, head North from La Gare des Autocars (Coach Station) on (Rue) Berri St., turn right and walk East along (Rue) Ontario St. to find a cozy wee spot called Le Cheval Blanc (809, Ontario St. E.), perfectly located a quick jaunt away from the station for those in need of a pint, but short on time and concerned about getting too lost in the more far-flung marvels of the city.
When pressed for other sporting events – should you feel so inclined – Olivier recommends the Montreal Alouettes, “Local Canadian Football League (CFL) side. They still play second fiddle to the NHL’s Canadiens, but it’s a popular night out nonetheless.” And as the saying goes, ‘Our Balls are Bigger’. In October there will be some overlap between MLS and NHL action, if hockey is of interest.
Philippe retorts with a straight-forward “Who cares?” – A purist after my own heart.
Both fellows chose to suggest some live music for a little post-match entertainment, as with all vibrant cities, Montreal has a lot to offer.
Philippe goes for Jazz – “Montreal is a North American jazz hub, so you’ve got to stop by House of Jazz (2060, Aylmer St.) - where the live bands are simply awesome
Olivier suggests Le 2 Pierrots (104, St-Paul St. E) “A boîte à chansons is a venue where bands and solo guitar players play songs everybody knows and drunkenly sing. Le 2 Pierrots is a great way to hear classic Québécois songs – and you can drink on stage if it’s your birthday. “
If neither of those is to your taste, Philippe has this advice, “Check out the daily papers for all sorts of live music.”
If a more straight-forward night out on the town is your thing, Philippe adds this, “Crescent Street, St. Denis Street and St. Laurent Boulevard, north of Sherbrooke in downtown are known for their trendy bars.”
History, Walks, Nature, Family Time, Shopping, & the Tourist Thing
For the historically inclined, Olivier recommends Pointe-à-Callière Museum (350, Place Royale) “Museum of archaeology and history – The exhibitions are pretty much always interesting and examine different angles.”
Philippe suggests the town itself, “Old Montreal is an important historical source. Walk on St. James Street (the original Wall Street of North America) and go to Notre-Dame Basilica, a reproduction of Notre-Dame-de-Paris in…. Paris! The plaza there is quite a sight.” I can attest to that myself, it is stunning; you and that special someone can share a horse-drawn carriage ride along the cobbled streets.
“Downtown Montreal and Old Montreal are two great spots” for a simple, leisurely stroll about according to Philippe, while Olivier chooses Avenue du Mont-Royal, “For a bit of Montreal chic. Lots of interesting shops, bars, restaurants and, yes, people. Hip people.”
Had enough of the hustle and bustle of the city? Need some fresh air in a green space? Unanimously recommended is Mount Royal.
Olivier – “The obvious, the largest park around town. Les tams-tams du Mont-Royal, an informal gathering of musicians at the George-Étienne Cartier monument, is a welcome bonus on Sunday afternoons.”
Philippe – “A combination of nature and sights – great view of the whole city from there,” adding, “There’s also St. Helens’ Island to the south, where the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix is held, offering a great view on downtown Montreal.”
If you’re bringing the whole family with you, a few recommendations for the kids:
Philippe suggests the Montreal Science Centre in Old Montreal located at the foot of the St-Laurent Boulevard, on the King-Edward quay.
Olivier goes for Biodôme (4777, Pierre-de-Coubertin Ave.) - “Located in the 1976 Olympics Velodrome, the Biodôme is a quite unique museum where different ecosystems have been recreated. Kids love it and soccer fans like the fact it’s located between the Impact’s two stadiums.”
If it’s shopping you’re after look no further than the Montréal souterrain or Underground city (RÉSO).
Olivier – “Downtown shopping malls are all connected by underground passageways. Everything you need – or don’t need but buy anyway – is right there.” Philippe – “The largest network of underground malls in the world,” adding, “Pick your choice downtown, or for a more classy experience, you can go around Sherbrooke Street, West of Peel up to Victoria Street in Westmount.”
Two words – Montreal Metro (subway)
Olivier says “Lots of Montrealers literally stay away from car dealers because an automobile wouldn‘t be of any use. The Montreal Metro is safe and rather affordable. Three-day passes are a good solution.”
Philippe chimes in with the key bits, “Great subway system taking you from all parts of the island to downtown and Saputo Stadium (Viau Station) or Olympic Stadium (Pie IX Station).”
The Local Tongue & Advice
When pressed for a line of the native tongue that will come in handy, Olivier keeps it simple – “Merci beaucoup – French for ‘Thanks a lot’. Sounds silly, but really, a quick ‘Merci beaucoup’ to French speakers will mean a lot to them. (I know. I’m one of them.) By the way, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” will get you slaps across the face, not laughs.”
Philippe offers something a little more advanced, “’Excusez, mon français, j’aimerais mieux le parler, mais je manque de pratique’ (sorry for my French, I’d like to do better but I lack practice… then the conversation will switch to English).”
To ensure a safe and friendly spell in town Philippe has a few pointers, “Don’t make frogs jokes East of St. Laurent Blvd. Do your best to avoid confrontation with people on politics or language issues, unless you really want to pick a fight“; sage advice to be sure.
Olivier brings us back around to the start with a final bit of food for thought, “Try poutine, but choose wisely. La Banquise (994, Rachel Street E) is a sure bet, and the “regular” helping is enough. Really, that large poutine will kill you – especially the T-Rex variety (fries, cheese curds, sauce, pepperoni, ground beef, bacon and wieners – absurd recipe).”
A final point to consider, depending on when your team will be in town, Montreal has a variety of festivals that run at various times throughout the year. June sees the Jazz Festival, a Beer Festival, and the Grand Prix; July the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival; and August the World Film Festival and the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, to name but a few.
Be sure to check out Tourism Montreal to see what’s happening and find out more about the city.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what the town has to offer; vibrant, colourful, and multicultural, you will have a good time.
So dust off your French-English dictionaries, save up your loonies and toonies, and enjoy your time in Montreal. It’s a great city, perfect for a weekend away from the everyday grind of real life.
Be sure to bring home some proper maple syrup, a Canadian delicacy to be sure.
A hearty merci beaucoup to both our local guides and to you for reading along.
Au revoir and adieu.
James Grossi (@grawsee)