Monday, 4 June 2012

A Sunday Afternoon in the Plateau

This Sunday afternoon was beautiful. The sun was bright, the breeze was cool and the temperature was just right. So I walked for over 5 hours straight. What a day. My legs are like spaghetti noodles now and I can barely stand up, but it felt good to walk.

I had a whole afternoon to myself and I thought I'd do my usual run of climbing up the Saint-Laurent Boulevard. I thought I'd start in old Montreal and see if there were any fun stuff going on there. The neighborhood was so busy, the noise and the heavy crowd just got on my nerves. I think they're shooting a movie of some kind there. I saw no parking signs that said something about the Smurfs 2. I also heard that Neil Patrick Harris is in town for that movie. Anyway, I turned on Saint-Paul to try to get away from the chaos of the movie trucks and the white screen carrying cranes and suddenly found myself in Europe. Cars, motorcycles and scooters had European licence plates. When the chaos died down I went back to Saint-Laurent and walked north towards my destination: the Plateau.

The Mazda 3 in Europe is called the Mazda Axela. Can't fool me!

The Saint-Laurent boulevard is also known as La Main because it used to be Montréal's Main street and it's the line that divides the city into its east and west parts. That explains why you have many streets like Sainte-Catherine, René Levesque, Sherbrooke with est (east) and ouest (west). Also, if you look carefully, you'll notice the address numbers increase both ways heading east and west starting from Saint-Laurent. Therefore it is possible to have the same address number appear twice on the same street, so you have to check if the address is on the east side or the west side of the city. But, lets leave the trivia aside and continue on with my walk to the Plateau.

Starting from the bottom of the city in Old Montréal heading north, I first pass through Chinatown. It's not very big, there are many specialized Chinese grocery stores with weird produce all labelled in Chinese and packages of stuff that just looks plain alien. Which is why grocery shopping there is so exciting. There's also music, book, anime and movie stores that sell kick-ass classic shaolin kung-fu movies like the many movies released by the Shaw Brothers movie production company. There are some Chinese bakeries there that sell some very good stuff as I have mentioned in a previous post and of course many, many restaurants.

Once I reached the giant Chinatown gate and crossed the René Lévesque boulevard, I passed through what used to be Montréal's red light district. The corner of Sainte-Catherine and Saint-Laurent used to be a very dirty spot. You'd find hookers, biker gangs with their bikes all lined up in front of strip clubs and a couple of porn theaters and peep shows. I remember feeling uncomfortable and intimidated in that area as a teenager, especially late at night after I went to see one my favorite electronic bands of the 90's play at the Metropolis. Nowadays the place has been cleaned up a lot. It's become the Quartier des spectacles (entertainment neighborhood), and we're not talking adult entertainment anymore. While there is still one strip club left and one or two sex shops, we now find a clean paved street with new stores and fancy restaurants and a new university radio studio. The Club Soda and Metropolis performing arts centers are still standing and are busier than ever.

Even the sex shops look fancy now.

Between Sainte-Catherine and Sherbrooke you get into this weird run down area with shady looking Asian imports stores, thrift stores, anarchist book stores, army surplus stores and a heavy metal club called Katacömbes. Even though the people there try to project this tough punk hardcore metal head image, they're actually some of the coolest people on earth. And if you ever plan on starting a revolution, you might want to start by checking out this area.

Finally crossing Sherbrooke street, I get into this little douchey part of Saint-Laurent with some fancy modern looking bistros. restaurants and bars. Honestly, I don't like that area much. Seeing the self-entitled arrogant douchebags and brats there just makes me feel angry so I just walk on past that area as fast as possible.

Finally I get to the cool part, rue Prince Arthur, where what I consider the Plateau really begins. Prince Arthur street is a wide pedestrian street lined with many fine restaurants such as Mazurka, which serves some pretty damn good Polish food. There are also a couple of Greek restaurants, Mexican and others. Eventually, at the end of the street, you end up at Square Saint-Louis park with its great big lush trees that make lots of shade. And in the middle of it, there's a little concrete gazebo-like structure that sells delicious home made gelato. It's a great summer spot to hang out during a hot sunny day.

A great thing about the Plateau is the unique architecture and street art. Zig zagging in the streets between Saint-Laurent and Saint-Denis, I found some beautiful and colorful old apartment buildings there and lots and lots of amazing murals. The sad thing though is that there are many new condo projects that threaten the charm and beauty these buildings bring to this neighborhood. The modern angular looks and colors of the new buildings clash with everything else around them and I feel sad at the thought that these damn condo projects might be all that we see in this city one day.

You can see there was a lot of work put into these buildings.

These buildings obviously stick out like a sore thumb.

Duluth street is a quaint narrow little street that's just packed with great restaurants, more murals and beautiful buildings. One place that caught my attention a while ago on that street was this restaurant called Chez José, cuisine de quartier (José's place, neighborhood cuisine). I can only describe this place as small and cozy. They have a very simple menu that's great for a small lunch in the afternoon while strolling around the Plateau. They offer freshly squeezed fruit juices, sandwiches, soups and coffee. It's simple, cheap and delicious and the staff is very nice.

It's a little cramped in there, but you might be able to sit outside
on one of the many park benches.

Speaking of food in the Plateau, this area is renowned for two things: Shwartz's and the Portuguese chicken rotisseries. There's a lot to say about Shwartz's. It's a world famous Jewish deli that serves the best smoked meat in the world. For anyone who doesn't know what smoked meat is, it's basically smoked beef brisket similar to New York pastrami, but a million times better because of curing proces, the smoking and the mix of spices.

Rumor has it, it's really the grime from all these years 
of smoking and preparing the meat that gives it its flavor.

The Portuguese rotisseries have some of the juiciest most flavorful chicken you'll ever have, and the area is full of those rotisseries. You can get a plate of delicious chicken with a side of round roasted potatoes, which were roasted under the chickens to absorb all the fat and juices, at a very good cheap price. Some places also offer ribs as well with home made bread to accompany your meal. I swear to god I can smell the chicken roasting in my mind as I am typing this. I feel so hungry all of a sudden.

I eventually reached Mont-Royal avenue and headed east to finally make a turn on Saint-Denis and go back south. Saint-Denis is a great street if you want to sit on a terasse (a patio on the sidewalk) and sip on a local beer or cold fancy drink and eat some great food. There's a lot of coffee shops and a few candy shops that sell fine chocolates, boutiques that sell all sorts of objects, toys, decorations and many many local designer stores that sell unique clothes you will not find anywhere else.

I've been thinking of decorating my apartment lately to make it look a little less utilitarian and more colorful. So it's no wonder I took notice of this store called Zone on Saint-Denis. I can only describe this place as some kind of Urban Outfitters for your home. They have some cool stuff in there for your home, from furniture and bedding, to lighting, decorations to kitchen and bathroom equipment. They even have jewellery and watches, toys, books and many other things. But, since I already invested in my apartment lately, I am now completely broke so I will have to come back to that store when I have some extra cash.

As I stepped back out on the street I noticed it was getting late in the afternoon and I wanted to go west of downtown for a bit to look for yet another belt to go with my awesome fleur de lys western-style buckle in the many shopping centers. So I walked all the way back down to Duluth, went back on Saint-Laurent and walked down to Sainte-Catherine and crossed downtown to the Eaton Center. After a disappointing search, I was getting hungry so I thought I'd walk towards the Concordia area for some cheap food. There was this place I always wanted to try but never had the chance: Buns hamburger house. This place is as big as my closet, and I live in a small one bedroom apartment. They just have a small counter and a grill with one person taking care of the place. They do burgers and shakes. That's it. So I went there and I ordered a double cheeseburger, all dressed (that's one with everything for all you non-Quebecois), with a chocolate shake. The total for a burger and a shake? 10$ It's super cheap. They were pretty quick at making the burger. The ingredients were fresh, including the bread which seemed to be from a local bakery. But the best part was the beef. I was surprised at how tasty, juicy and full of flavor it was. This was one of the best hamburgers I've had in this town just because of how good the beef alone was. I could definitely taste some Montreal steak spices in there along peppercorn and some other spices. It was so juicy it just dripped everywhere. Man, it was delicious! And the shake was good too, and just the right size. If you ever get a craving for a burger, you should definitely head over to Buns.

It looks ordinary, but tastes extraordinary.

Finally, I headed back east all the way to Place des Arts, got in the metro and went home with my legs shaking from all the walking and my thighs chaffed red and burning. I think I walked for 6 hours total almost non stop without ever sitting down. Maybe I went a bit too far. Whatever it was fun!

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