The Plateau and Mile End, Montreal Travel Guide
The Plateau and Mile End Summary
- A truly local-feeling district that's far from the tourist crowds of Old Montreal
- Great shopping, from one-of-a-kind finds to vintage and designer goods
- Fantastic nightlife includes burlesque shows, cinema, theaters, and speakeasies
- Vibrant ethnic atmosphere and diverse dining scene, especially in the Mile End area
- The coffee shop scene is strong around here
- Home to the city's most famous bagel shops -- Fairmount and St-Viateur
- Far from downtown and major sights
- Some parts are hard to access on public transit
- If you’re not into hipsters, it might be a bit much
What It's Like
Other than Old Montreal, the Plateau is perhaps the most celebrated and lively part of the city. It's also the most youthful -- a large swath of the neighborhood is under 35, and a recent census showed 50 percent of the Plateau's population has immigrated here from elsewhere. Situated east of Mont Royal and to the north of Rue Sherbrooke, it's the most densely populated borough in Canada, and is chock full of restaurants, cafes, bars, music venues, bookstores, speakeasies, independent cinemas, street art, and burlesque shows. It consists of Montreal’s most picturesque apartment buildings and Victorian homes, and has been home to artists for decades. Leonard Cohen once owned property on Rue des Vallieres and is known for walking over to Bagel E.T.C. on Boulevard St-Laurent every morning that he was in town.
The Plateau -- named after the flat swath of land on which it sits -- has a little of everything, which is part of its charm. You'll find nary a chain store or cafe across the district, even along its main thoroughfare, Boulevard St-Laurent (which is known as The Main by locals). In the summer, the street is often pedestrianized, with shops bringing their wares onto the curb and mobs of people picking through the goods. Some of the most famous spots along The Main include Schwartz’s, where lines for smoked meat sandwiches are long even in the freezing cold, and Moishe’s, a pricey steakhouse, with delectable cole slaw and pickles (one of Leonard Cohen’s favorites).
However, there are plenty of other don't-miss spots elsewhere on the Plateau, though -- above all -- it's a foodie's paradise. Montreal’s famous bagels -- considered by many to be the world's best -- are found at Fairmount Bagel; the best poutine is at Patati Patata; the best ice cream is at Kem Coba; and the most massive and original sandwiches that you can fathom are at Cafe Santropol. After you've stuffed yourself silly, work some of those calories off on a long stroll. Part of the joy of visiting the Plateau is simply wandering its side streets -- Duluth, Avenue de L’Esplanade, Rue Jeanne Mance -- and stumbling across vintage clothing stores, antique shops, and hidden playgrounds.
About eight blocks east of Boulevard St-Laurent is Boulevard St-Denis, the other major thoroughfare on the Plateau. Like St-Laurent, it's full of restaurants and cafes, but it also has a rich cultural life. This is where you’ll find Theatre du Rideau Vert, one of Montreal’s most prominent French theaters, as well as several galleries, concert halls, and smaller venues. In fact, the Montreal Jazz Festival got its start along St-Denis.
Mile End is perhaps the most famous of the Plateau's many corners, and it's often spoken of as the Brooklyn of Montreal. This hipster neighborhood begins just north of Boulevard Mont Royal, reaching up to Avenue Van Horne and extending almost to Boulevard St-Denis to the east. The neighborhood is peppered with nightlife and has a nice vegetarian and raw food scene, including restaurants like Aux Vivres and La Panthere Verte. St-Viateur Bagel -- one of the best bagel shops in the city -- is worth checking out as well. There’s also amazing Korean food (Omma), fun late night drinks (Sparrow), and great coffee (Gamba). Higher-end finds include Hotel Herman and La Petite Maison, which are go-to spots for cozy, fine-dining experiences. During the summer, Mile End has a public outdoor space called Marche des Possibles (loosely translated as Market of Possibilities), on Rue St-Dominique, in a park maintained by local residents. It presents free cultural programming, including films, music and activities for kids, a biergarten, barbecues, and a market. Want to catch a live show? Head to Casa del Popolo for cool indie acts on almost any night of the week.
Where To Stay
Staying in the Plateau means living like a local, as it's far from the touristy crowds of downtown and Old Montreal. That gives the area a huge advantage when it comes to culture and style, but means that hotel options are limited in the extreme. Additionally, this isn't the quietest part of town, as much of the city's most famous nightlife is found on many of its side streets. In any case, Boulevard St-Laurent, Avenue du Parc, and Boulevard St-Denis will be the loudest and busiest thoroughfares, but many side streets are also packed with nightlife. Additionally, keep in mind that Montrealers are desperate to be outside in the summer, so you're likely to hear some street noise wherever you end up in high season. The metro isn't exactly easy to access from all corners of the neighborhood, but the two major stops -- Mont Royal and Laurier -- are less than a 10-minute walk east of St-Laurent, and just a block east of St-Denis.