Montreal's gay clubs boast indefatigable DJs who succeed in being inclusive; their true audience is anyone craving an over-caffeinated rave.
For gays and lesbians, Montreal has historically been a getaway destination; its annual pride parade is said to be among the largest in North America. The weekend I visited, the city was also hosting Black & Blue, an annual dance music festival that attracts some 70,000 people every year to raise money for HIV/AIDS research. The event is so big it's held at the Olympic Stadium. When I went Sunday, it was clear that among the throngs of shirtless men, there were also many young men and women who came just for the experience of getting lost to trance music in a vast clubland.
Montreal, though, is not a city just for those traveling life on the fast lane. Its attraction comes from the occasional brush between young and old, from seeing strolling tourists take pleasure, for instance, in The Village's outrageous excess.
Breakfast starts out with bagels — Montreal's St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel shops are famous. Instead. I chose a pear, goat cheese and cranberry crepe, with a side of vanilla ice cream — the No. 4 at La Bouche en Folie, a casual cremerie in the village run by a French-Canadian woman whose American husband might regale you with stories of watching the Orioles as kid.
Then on to the Musee d'Art Contemporain de Montreal, which is hosting the second annual Quebec Triennial, an eclectic showcase of regional artists that spills over eight exhibition galleries.
Many of the artists here are young, inventive and sometimes silly. There are some standout pieces — in particular, "Loveland," a hypnotic video by the Canadian conceptual artist Charles Stankievech that features an arctic landscape slowly consumed by a purple haze. The Montreal art collective Seripop also built a walk-in, Gatorade-orange miniature city made out of cardboard that recalls a kiddie Occupy Wall Street.
Twenty minutes away from the museum and the downtown area is the Jean-Talon Market. With hundreds of farmers setting up their lush, plump fruits and vegetables and fishes and cheeses , the market has the appearance of a multicolored Benetton ad. For under $10, you can have a pork sausage sandwich from a a food cart and a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream from the out-of-this-world Havre Aux Glaces.
Montreal's dining scene is generally as bountiful as the food on display at the market, and can even be described as playful. The chefs here mix classic French cuisine with a New World, American decadence best embodied by poutines, french fries bathed in brown sauce and cheese curds.
At Kitchen Gallerie, which has locations in Old Montreal and by the Jean-Talon Market, the chefs, Mathieu Cloutier and Jean-Philippe St-Denis, improvise menus daily with what they've bought from the markets. At the Old Montreal location, a chef on break took my order from the bar, and the cooks' boisterous laughter spilled out to the dining room, to the obvious delight of the front-of-house staff.
And then there was dinner, which was also a mix of high and low but that nonetheless made a credible argument for food as religious experience: fried shrimp, served with tartar sauce in an ample bowl, and a foie gras with candied fruit. ($39.30 for the full meal, not including wine.)
I hadn't intended to go to Mass on vacation, but after my four days in Montreal, it seemed the sensible thing to do. It's easy to be sinfully indulgent here. The city encourages taking pleasure in the food, the eye candy — in maximizing the joie in joie de vivre. The markets are brimming with fresh fruits; the streets crawling with beautiful people. Even Notre Dame popped, its ceiling an iridescent cerulean.
If you feel the need to atone, the church offers guided tours throughout the week.
Or you could do what I did: listen politely to the service, nod where it seems appropriate, cross yourself when everyone else does. Then walk down the street to Les Glaceurs, where they serve an ice cream that will make you see heaven.
If you go
Mixing it up in Montreal
Canada's second-largest city offers historic architecture, exceptional dining, nonstop music, and that inherent Frenchness.
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