There’s a strong case to made for making Griffintown your Montreal home base: It’s centrally located, but arguably more charming, vibrant and youthful than the districts that surround it
By Isa Tousignant | Billy in Montreal
Of all Montreal’s “it” neighbourhoods, Griffintown has got to be the most mysterious – mind you, part of the mystery is owing simply to its nebulous delineations: Even locals get confused about where it starts and where it stops.
So, bam! Here’s the answer: Griffintown is squeezed between Old Montreal and Little Burgundy; in other words, to the west of Rue McGill and to the east of Rue Canning. On the north-south axis, it’s between Notre-Dame to the north and Lachine Canal to the south.
Now, why should you go? Because in contrast to fancy-schmancy Old Montreal and hipster Little Burgundy, Griffintown is a neighbourhood filled with interesting one-off experiences. It’s that kind of quarter that remains industrial and grungy at its core, and full of history – but the former factories are now inhabited by architectural firms, ad agencies, designers, publishers and tech companies (which have kept the buildings intact).
Travellers will easily find Airbnbs in the condo towers that are continually going up, and there’s the spiffy Alt Hotel on Peel. Griffintown makes an ideal starting point for a trip to Montreal when you want to be central – close to downtown and the Old Port – while also enjoying a little bit of an off-the-beaten-track experience. Here are some of Billy’s picks for things to check out while you’re there.
Courtesy Le Germain Hotels
Can you see the potential?
The cream-coloured, high-ceilinged McGill Street space of vegetarian resto LOV is only half of the reason people love it – the second half being its deliciously creative take on plant-based cuisine. The celery-root steak is meaty and satisfying and the brilliant green gnocchi is a knockout.
SoupeSoup on Wellington is a bustling soup-and-sandwich spot – this is the nicest of the chain’s locations, and it’s a fun place to people watch at lunch. Weekend brunch is always lovely and generous at Le Cartet on McGill, where the Illy coffee is included (and refilled). If it’s a weekday, stop by Griffintown Café on Notre-Dame West for breakfast (Cartet only serves it on weekends) or a hearty burger – or salad, if you’re feeling fresh.
Also on Notre-Dame West, Bird Bar has rewritten the book on fried chicken for Montrealers, offering farm-fresh, finger-licking-good chicken (as well as a veggie version), plus tacos, wagyu corn dogs, creative poutines, salads and sides.
Prepare for an experience if you order the five-course tasting menu at the warm Mercuri Montréal, tucked away on Wellington, where you can watch your baby back ribs get grilled on the huge stone-framed open fire.
Le Serpent, opened on Prince Street by the folks at Le Filet, is a see-and-be-seen hot spot in the city any night of the week – and practically impossible to get into when it’s the weekend and you don’t have a reservation. Its pasta dishes are glorious (especially bucatini with pork flank confit and black garlic).
Le Local is a perennial favourite, meanwhile – a hopping locale on Rue William that suits both business lunches and dinner into the small hours of the morning. At any time of day, the dark décor is filled with cosy nooks and crannies. The beet salad with chèvre is practically as famous as the wine list (which, alas, you can’t preview online before visiting).
All organic all the time (or nearly), HVOR endeavours to offer a farm-fresh experience from its sleek space on Notre-Dame. Its six-course tasting menu is endlessly sophisticated and creative, and it pays special homage to vegetables, including some wild-sourced ingredients. Dishes might include something along the lines of, say, grilled lettuce served with smoked scallop, or cavatelli with swiss chard and miso.
Drinks and nightlife
Courtesy Le Germain Hotels
A lounge with a view at the Alt Hotel
“Bureau” can mean desk, but work is the furthest thing from the mind of the crowds gathered in the black leather booths at Le Bureau Bar & Tapas on Notre-Dame. The classy take on bar favourites on the late-night menu (smoked-meat filled grilled cheese, for example) makes the delicious cocktails go down even smoother.
Grinder is beloved for its tartares, tatakis and carpaccios of everything from deer to duck. The folks here know their meat – which makes sense, as they also have a butcher shop next door. The auburn-wood walls create a warm environment for carnivorous grazing.
Nestled on Rue Ottawa, Brasseur de Montréal is the spot for homemade brew and a burger with the crew in a casual setting. Meanwhile, think Italian at the giant, industrial chic Le Richmond, where pasta and a steak is followed by a second bottle and good times ensue as the music gets progressively louder.
Got dance fever? Montreal’s house of EDM is New City Gas on Rue Ottawa, host to international and local DJs every weekend for parties that don’t stop until the sun comes up.
Wikimedia Commons User Gates of Ale / Shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
New City Gas, an EDM club in a former industrial space
Arts and culture
With rents rising and space limited, the downtown gallery scene centred around the Belgo building (a multi-storey former office building jammed with private galleries, reminiscent of Toronto’s 401 Richmond) has slowly been migrating away, and Griffintown has become a popular alternative.
Arsenal on Rue William is one of the city’s most spectacular cultural buildings: a huge, cavernous space that hosts a private collection filled with stunning David Altmejd and Allison Schulnik pieces, temporary exhibits and private events and conferences like the hopping C2 Montréal.
Around the corner on Rue Payette, the small Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran is where collectors can scoop up works by early- to mid-career Canadian artists (and you can bet some will prove to be a good investment). Galerie René Blouin on King Street is one of the city’s best established and respected commercial galleries, representing Quebec greats ranging from Geneviève Cadieux to Pascal Grandmaison.
Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran
Fitness and lifestyle
The Lachine Canal, which marks Griffintown’s southern edge, is a jewel in the city. A pedestrian walkway hugs the St. Lawrence, starting downtown and running westward all the way to Lachine and beyond.
Cycle it, walk it, bring a picnic – it’s a wonderful way to get a sense of the city and spot landmarks on the other shore, including Habitat 67 and the Farine Five Roses building.
For pilates and yoga devotées, the Griffintown location of Studio Breathe and its vast studios overlooking the Lachine Canal is just the place to practise. For a more vigorous workout, get a day pass to either Multi Gym on Rue Queen or Blackout Fitness (specialists in Crossfit) on Barré.
Finally, for a restorative primping session afterwards, Blome Blow Bar on McGill will do your ’do like you do – but better.