Romantic City Guide: L’Amour Montréal
Place Jacques-Cartier, Montreal (Tourisme Montréal)
You are Mordecai, Leonard, the Mountain, McGill. But you are so much more. You are culture, art, romance, a capital of culinary cool and a revivalist heat. Your citizens maintain a chic reserve, your visitors are in awe of your reverence to history, architecture and beauty. You’ve seen a few down and out years, but after your 375th birthday in 2017, you’ve emerged like a phoenix, shiny and new and on fire.
The museums are featuring captivating exhibits, including the Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) de Montréal’s blockbuster, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything (which will go on international tour starting in April 2019). Before or after, have brunch or lunch at Brasserie t!, super chef Normand Laprise’s “baby” Toque. The food is wonderful and light – see above – to match the light-filled glass box that the brasserie inhabits, just off a public park, right next door to the MAC. Hotels, such as the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth and her millions-of-dollars makeover, and Le Mount Stephen, new but also steeped in its annex’s neo-renaissance architectural and social history – it was a men’s club founded by Lord George Stephen in 1926 – have given the city a new lustre. Do stop in at the hotel’s Bar George for old-school, old-English cool.
Another hotel, Le Germain Montreal (above), an outpost of the Quebec-based Germain family’s business, above, which husband and wife team Victor and Huguette Germain launched in 1957, is a perfect stop for a little of the romance the city conjures in our minds.
Of course, it does help that it began with a real-life love story. And a love of food. Victor and Huguette were partners in more than just marriage, but in business as well. They started in the late 1950s with a simple convenience store that featured that ’50s staple, the lunch counter, in one of Canada’s most romantic cities, Quebec City. Their tastebuds led them to open more restaurants including the city’s renowned Le Fiacre. It was obvious that the Germain’s were on to something. Canadian hospitality done well.
And some say that leadership is in the Germain DNA. Christiane and Jean-Yves, the couple’s eldest children, expanded the business, into what’s now the Le Germain group of hotels. They were ground-breaking hoteliers, opening Canada’s first boutique hotel in 1988 and, now, Group Germain Hotels group features trendsetting properties in Quebec City, Toronto and Calgary – and, of course, our home base while spending a long weekend in Montreal.
The warmth and top-notch service that comes with a classically honed hospitality emanates from the lobby, especially when the fireplace calls. The perfect spot on the couch for Kir Royales – or even Café au lait, which is free to all guests via the DIY coffee maker opposite the fireplace. We spotted a très chic silver-haired couple reading the paper and sipping on martinis, chasing the chill away in front of the fire.
Rooms are modern and clean, with just enough of everything: space, storage, sound system; a gin and tonic mixer kit sits on the desk, with recipe and how-to note included for the locally made spirit.
A very well-appointed mini-bar, where the hotel’s General Manager insists on products that are local and Canadian (accept Pringle’s potato chips, naturally. Every well-appointed mini bar must have them, naturally!) The usual suspects – chocolate, nuts, booze of all sorts, sidles up to an intimacy kit to ensure that all guests are prepared for a little soupçon of je ne sai quoi.
Our concierge is completely in the know. He calls ahead and ensures our names are on all the best lists. Dinner, dancing, after hours, even cabaret, he knows it all. Of course, it helps that Hotel Le Germain Montreal is also home to Laurie Raphaël, an outpost of one of Quebec’s top chefs, Daniel Vézina.
While riding the elevator with other guests, a handsome, seasoned gentleman turned to me when he overheard we would dining there that evening. “The restaurant,” he said, “is one of the best in the city.” He was here for a weekend getaway with his wife, and they had dined there the night before. And he’s a regular. Vézina’s food is as flavourful as it is fanciful; a fusion of his connection with the land and locavorism and his love of cooking.
But back to our all-knowing concierge, André Cloutier, a double-key carrying member of Les Clefs d’Or Canada. That pretty much means he’s the ne plus ultra in the concierge world, sort of like having a Michelin star. You can tell if a concierge has been awarded this prestige when you see a double key brooch pinned to their lapel.
We couldn’t resist asking André to share a few of his Montreal favourites with you, too, dear reader. But don’t just use this list, André reminded us that Montreal is always changing and there’s always something new to go with the classics. For example, two of our favourites when we visited were Brasserie t! and Laurie Raphaël, in the Le Germain.
Check in to the Le Germain Montreal and ask André to create your own VIP itinerary. But, in the meantime, here are his must-do places to eat and drink, in Montreal.