Montréal has a nickname around NYC, “the closest European city.” Between its French speakers, its Gothic Revival architecture, and it’s European cuisine, it’s easy to imagine you’re in an unknown French city rather than a few hours North of New York city. This is my guide for what to eat, drink, and do while you visit Montreal.
The Best Bars in Montreal
This is the place if you’re looking to feel a little chic, but you’re not too fancy to have fun. On weekends for brunch and other occasions, a DJ sets up under the chandeliers of the elaborate wood-paneled room. The setting is one from the distant past when gentlemen may have convened by candlelight to discuss politics and philosophy, but the crowd is a thoroughly modern mix of hotel guests, tourists, and locals.
I had a blast at Bar George, but recommend it for classic cocktails and snacks rather than a full meal. The prices are high (CAD$15-20 for a cocktail, CAD$26 for a burger and $40+ for dinner entrees) but you’re certainly paying for the intricate glassware, the attentive bartenders, and the maintenance of the scenery all around you. (Yes, staff needs to replace those real wax candles every other hour or so!) I found the signature cocktails to be more muddled than elegant, but I had one of the best espresso martinis of my life here, as well as a perfectly balanced Negroni in a heavy crystal cup.
Also, come for a pre-dinner drink, so you can see the stunning bar room illuminated by natural light. Beyond the extravagant carved wood paneling on the walls there are detailed paintings large and small, real candelabras, and eclectic wallpaper accents throughout.
Atwater Cocktail Club
This bar is also a scene unto itself, but in a completely different way than Bar George. It’s like a funky take on a speakeasy with a healthy dose of moody Brooklynite tossed in. Neon pink bar stools press up against an emerald bar. Hundreds of sculpted glass bottles containing bitters, syrups, garnishes, and other cocktail magic line the bar.
Atwater certainly lives up to the classic speakeasy from the outside, it’s tucked at the end of a dingy alleyway between an abandoned restaurant and a Western Union. Grasping the graffitied door handle seems like it could be precarious, until you open it of course.
This place is a cocktail lover’s delight! There is an extensive and detailed menu of thoughtful (and tasty!) cocktails, a menu you should definitely order from. However, the bartenders aren’t shy to create a bespoke cocktail to fit your tastes from the hundreds of eclectic bottles behind the bar. I was curious about the rhum collection and found myself with a twist on a classic daiquiri using agricole rum and a touch of rhubarb syrup in place of the traditional simple syrup.
The bartenders here were ultra knowledgeable and friendly when they had a free minute, if you’re curious about a specific liquor or cocktail style, they might be the perfect guides to assist in your discovery.
I stopped by this Montreal bar just before dinner, so I didn’t try any of the food, but the beef tartare next to me looked tempting and spaghetti seems to be a signature.
One last tip, come early if you don’t want to wait for a seat!
There was a time, a short time, when the location of Coldroom was a mystery. The founders conceived this mixology-focused as a true speakeasy marked only as a cross-eyed duck on a black wall in Old Montreal. But as with all good secrets…this one got out. Now, Coldroom is easy enough to find that wait times sometimes reach the multiple hours. Yet, thirsty patrons are willing to wait, partially because of the mystery, what lies behind (and beneath) the heavy black door?
I’m here to tell you: a subterranean hang out with low wood beams and exposed brick centered around a gleaming wood bar. The cocktails are great, the food is small, and the crowd varies drawing revelers on Friday and Saturday nights and curious tourists all week long.
There are no reservations at Coldroom so to get a peak at this underground bar you’ll have to stop in for an early drink, or do what I did while I waited…
El Pequeno Bar
The trust: I only discovered this Montreal bar because I wanted to go to Coldroom. Alas, 9:30pm on a Sunday is just about the worst time to grab a table there. While I was looking for a drink to enjoy while waiting on my drinks, I turned to El Pequeno Bar, which is conveniently located right next door . It is a creative rum bar with an impressive collection spanning the rums of the Caribbean and the world.
The bar is tiny, it feels just big enough to house the crystal chandelier that hangs overhead. Because of its small set up, there are wood planks attached to the exposed brick walls where you can enjoy your tiki drinks and cocktails standing.
There are also Cuban snacks and a frozen drink machine if you really want to pretend you’re in the Caribbean as opposed to the cobblestone streets of Old Town Montreal.
My recommendation: ask the bartender what is new and interesting behind the bar. Try it in a daiquiri and then go for a classic like a mojito with a Cubano sandwich.
Le Vin Papillon
From the team that started Joe Beef and Liverpool house comes a rustic wine bar focused on natural wine and idiosyncratic cocktails. This is a hot spot for fashionable types so you’ll likely need a reservation to enjoy the farm-centric fare from Le Vin Papillon.
Where to Eat in Montreal
Pub Wolf & Workman
Wolf and Workman is modeled on a charming English pub, but it has far more flair and natural light than its inspiration. The dining room is flanked with huge windows that let sunshine fall on the British art and collectibles hanging from brick walls. The comfy upholstered chairs and booths are a worthy place to park yourself for brunch. Just like the space, the menu is English inspired while also offering some sophisticated Mediterranean French choices.
The bar offers the full selection of classic British beers including the expected Pub Ales and Irish-style Stouts as well as a few options that are hard to find on this side of the Atlantic like Extra Special Bitter. The bar staff is knowledgeable and can mix you up any classic cocktail you request, but the signature cocktails on the menu are quite good here.
Wolf & Workman also has events like trivia night which I stumbled upon later in my trip when I popped into the bar for an appetizer and an English ale. If you’re looking for some entertainment to go along with your meal, check out their events schedule. I would have happily spent some time with this rowdy crowd and lively host at trivia night.
Some might call Liverpool House Joe Beef’s little sister, but I would call it (her?) Joe Beef’s cool coastal cousin. Maybe, my seat at the back oyster bar influenced this impression. One thing is for certain: I had many delicious oysters in Montreal, and the oysters I had at Liverpool house were the best. Cold, delicately shucked and with a variety of flavors (one very clean and salty, others with more funk and less brine, and a couple that were perfectly sweet) it was hard to order anything else on the menu.
I was happy to tear myself from the oysters though, especially for a plate of thinly sliced ham accented with herbed mayonnaise.
We didn’t get the signature dish at Liverpool House, a “breakfast sandwich” doused in hollandaise and maple syrup, though our server did remind us they could make it as a dessert course. We were stuffed with that evening’s specials including halibut wrapped in lardon and braised sheep’s tongue, yum!
Fleurs et Cadeaux
The facade of Fleurs et Cadeaux blends in so well with the rest of Chinatown that I walked right by it, twice! Keep an eye out for a bubblegum pink building. Inside, the restaurant is modern and angular with a centerpiece bar encircled by backless stools. There are also a handful of tables and booths in the front and at the edges of the dining room.
By far, the standout at this restaurant was the Nanban fried chicken. It was difficult to resist ordering a second plate of crispy, lightly spicy, tender chicken to dip in a pungent black garlic mayo. I’ll freely admit to licking a chopstick dipped in the black garlic mayo several times long after the chicken had been devoured.
Drinks focus on natural wines and sakes with a few signature cocktails. I got to taste them all. and while each drink has something to offer (the highball is classic, the paloma is intense) the Mugi Sour was my favorite. It was perfectly frothy from an egg white and tart without being pungent. I had two, possibly because it was just so beautiful to look at on the table.
You could certainly eat a full meal composed of Fleurs et Cadeaux small plates but I think it makes an ideal part of a two restaurant evening. A chilled plate of sashimi, some crunchy chicken, and sake and then on to another spot to split an entree or dessert. However, if you’re into music discovery, maybe you’ll want to linger here all night. The staff clearly put effort into curating a vibe through their thoughtful playlists.
Terrasse William Gray
The rooftop of the William Gray is a sophisticated take on familiar foods and drinks. Everything is prepared nicely even if it isn’t remarkable, and that’s no surprise because even the restaurant’s website notes this place has views “perfect for your Instagram.”
If you’re looking to get a bird’s eye view of Montreal with the comforts of clever cocktails and approachable food, this is the place. Rooftop bars can be crowded, loud, and less than relaxed but that’s not the case on this 8th-floor restaurant. Everything from the music, to the drinks, the natural finishings on the light fixtures are curated to put you at ease and remind you: this is vacation!
A note: to many a food-focused traveler rooftop views mean brunch, however, the Terrasse William Gray does not consistently offer brunch. If you really want that eggs benny, check the menu before you visit, or have a mimosa or two on the roof and head downstairs to Maggie Oaks, the hotel’s other restaurant that serves up the essential egg dish seven days a week.
This spot is on the list for dedicated boozy brunch lovers only. Dandy doesn’t take reservations so to get a spot at the vibrant sceney restaurant you’ll have to show your dedication by waking up early or waiting in line. It will be hard to spot a table without a mimosa or five. Brunch staples like avocado toast and piled high pancakes reign over the menu.
St. Viateur Bagel
There are two foods considered unmissable in Montreal: Poutine and bagels. In my opinion, there is only one food that is unmissable: the distinctly chewy, golden yellow, poached then baked Montreal bagels. St. Viateur Bagels has five locations spread throughout Montreal, so you really have no excuse to miss it. Some locations are simple pick up counters while others are full cafes built in dedication to the bagels.
This Argentinian restaurant plays up the Spanish and Italian influences found in that cuisine. It is in a quiet residential neighborhood far from the other restaurants in the more bustling areas. However, it is worth the trip. Empanadas and tapas are highlighted on the menu. The drinks program is careful to have non-alcoholic options. Beba’s creative yet comforting food is equally equipped for a celebratory meal and a weeknight meal with friends.
Montreal Things to Do and See
Hike Mount Royal
It’s impossible to visit Montreal without seeing Mount Royal. The nearly 800-foot mount is a constant companion looming on the horizon at every point in the city. However, though you’re destined to see Mount Royal, it’s worth getting acquainted up close.
There are several hiking paths in and around the mount, as well as a couple cozy cafes for a mid- or pre-hike cappuccino break. It’s a little difficult to know where to go on the Mount so direct your ride share driver here, or park here for easy access to the most popular trails.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The draw for this museum is its stellar line up of traveling exhibitions. I visited the Basquiat exhibition in their traveling hall on the top floor. The exhibition was paced perfectly for easy flow through the styled rooms with plenty of space to pause and ponder. This feeling didn’t apply to the rest of the museum has a bit of a haphazard organization.
To find the art made by indigenous Canadian populations, we had to walk across the street underground up four floors to a small single room space. Then, we were unable to exit the building on that side of the street and had to traverse back the other way, and though the walk was nearly ten minutes long, we barely passed any art along the way.
If you’re interested in one of the exhibitions on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, it is worth a visit, but don’t plan to spend much time in the permanent collections.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
This gothic church dates to the early 1820s and towers over the modern buildings nearby. There are regularly concerts and other events held inside the Basilica so check their schedule for the dates of your visit. I wouldn’t pass up the chance to see a performance in this one-of-a-kind venue. Even without an opera or ballet in the background, the dynamic stained glass windows and ornate ceiling are sites to behold on their own.
Bop to the Jazz Music at Modavie
It is worth noting that I put a visit to Modavie in the things to do category rather than highlighting them for their food or their drinks. The music is fun and the expansive space has plenty of room to relax and enjoy it. However, the food and the drinks are nothing particularly special. (In fact, I found the food quite bad. Perhaps steak frites is not their specialty.)
This would be a great spot to grab Canadian beers from St. Ambroise or Unibroue and bob to the soothing jazz tunes after dinner.
Shop the Marché Atwater
This indoor market offers artisan foods and handmade gifts from the local area. Merchants include butchers, chocolatiers, cheesemongers, bakers, and purveyors of the freshest seafood from Canadian waters.
Where to Stay in Montreal
Where to Stay In Old Town, Montreal
Hotel William Grey
I wanted to be in Old Town and the Hotel William Grey was my pick. To be upfront, I was influenced it’s status as a member of the American Express Fine Hotels program. Using my card meant I got a few perks like a dining credit and a room upgrade. However, in a neighborhood as busy as Old Town there isn’t much reason to spend time in the room!
The Hotel William Grey has a few things going for it: a happening rooftop bar, a tranquil pool, and a solid restaurant open late were the biggest draws for me. The location right next to Coldroom and 24/7 valet parking didn’t hurt!
Hotel Neligan was my second choice in Old Town. The historic building has the old world European charm that drew me to this neighborhood in Montreal. The hotel’s inviting coffee shop serves St.Viateur bagels and at night it shifts to a leisurely wine bar. The french doors on several rooms look out over the cobblestoned streets of Vieux Port, sounds like a magical sight to wake up to.
Where to Stay in Downtown Montreal
Hotel Le Germain Montreal
Clean and modern the Hotel Le Germain is right in the hustle and bustle of downtown, but also very close to the natural beauty of Mount Royal. Abundant natural light bathes each of the rooms, which I always love in a hotel. Another stand out perk: the hotel is flexible on check out times, no more rolling out of bed to quickly back before a 10am check out. Go ahead, sleep in before you travel home.
Le Mount Stephen
Look, there is no way around it. This is a splurge. If the intricate design and stylish offerings of Bar George are any indication, Le Mount Stephen has thought out every detail for the enjoyment of their guests. From a pillow menu (yes, really) to a shower fitted with light therapy, you’ll be right in the lap of luxury here. I can’t afford it, but I’ll meet you at the bar!
Stay in Montreal Near the Little Burgundy Neighborhood
The best option near the food-centric area called “Little Burgundy” is a rental like an AirBnB or Vrbo. Please, don’t forget to check for recent reviews on these sites as recently they’re littered break ins and scams.
Repos & Mana B&B has great reviews but availability seems limited. It seems the opportunity is ripe for someone to open a boutique hotel in this burgeoning food and drink paradise!