SURE, THE international French-flavored city to our north always brims with high-end this and four-star that. But thanks in no small part to the pervasive cultural Franglais frappe, its less expensive pockets manage to roll out equal elan. That means the best deals (not to mention the most fun) are found at the many independent, subtly hip hotels and the bar-cum-nightclub-cum-restaurants that populate the city. Moderately priced and filled with locals, the latter are the most direct route into the life and energy of the city.
In that vein, the “supper club” is a uniquely Montrealais phenom — a little bit restaurant, a little bit dance club, with a tendency to become an all-out bacchanal on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. (Arrive for dinner before 9 p.m. if you’d rather not become party to a, well, party.) Housed in an old Art Deco bank, Time (514-392-9292, timesupperclub.com) is where everyone from college kids to fiftysomething artists grab tables for eccentricities such as agnolotti with mascarpone and asparagus in rose sauce (three-course dinners here average $40 to $50 per person), and then linger to rock out until 3 a.m.
Meanwhile, the minuscule brick-walled Garde Manger (514-678-5044, crownsalts.com/gardemanger) has been a local favorite for years — and not just for its funky vibe and audaciously oversize chandelier. It’s also home to Food Network chef Chuck Hughes, who changes up his blackboard menu pretty much constantly while still offering his famed lobster poutine and short ribs (dinners average $60 per person).
As in Paris, excellent bistros are found everywhere here — although in Montreal, they cost less than half as much. Case in point: Restaurant Lemeac (514-270-0999, restaurantlemeac.com) serves up personal touches right and left, from its gleaming tin bar to those wide, pretty windows facing the expanse of Avenue Laurier. Drop in after 10 p.m., when menu prices plummet to $25 for a starter and entree (and don’t miss the soul-warming Mediterranean fish soup with Emmental cheese and rouille, or the duck confit with roasted fingerling potatoes).
Whole-animal enthusiasts find nirvana at Au Pied de Cochon (514-281-1114, restaurantaupieddecochon.ca), which gives pigs the snout-to-tail cooking treatment on its everyday menu. The results range from pickled tongue and boudin tart to trotters. Stay away from the pricier foie gras dishes and you’ll walk out having undergone a singular dining experience for less than $40 per person.
Many of the town’s boutique hotels offer a similarly high charm-to-price ratio — and unusual amenities. Take, for example, the seriously impressive contemporary art collection found throughout LHotel Montreal (514-985-0019, lhotelmontreal.com); it includes works by everyone from Warhol to Chagall to Lichtenstein. And somehow it manages to blend seamlessly with the more formal Victorian decor (arguably because the oversize windows and high ceilings keep any of the rooms from feeling cramped). Add all of that to the coveted Old Montreal address, and it’s a steal — particularly if you book in advance on the hotel’s website, where superior rooms with a queen bed start at $137.
One of the most romantic inns within the city limits is Auberge Bonaparte (514-844-1448, bonaparte.com). The 1886 building, perched on a small cobblestoned street in the historic district, holds 30 impeccable rooms featuring huge windows and decked out with old oak doors and Louis-Philippe furniture (there’s also one suite). What it doesn’t have is a bloated price tag: Standard rooms average $150 until May 1, and $189 after that until November. That includes breakfast, plus access to a gorgeous rooftop terrace with gasp-inducing views of tout Old Montreal.