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I <3 MTL: explore all corners of our city

by Béatrice Viens Côté February 3, 2015
I <3 MTL: explore all corners of our city

Côte-des-Neiges is a multicultural and student sanctuary

Montreal obsesses us, for its mystery and its joie de vivre; for its bilingual reality—but also its multicultural one; for its impossible yet joyful winter. Montreal is also a city of obsessions, from hockey to festivals, from food to potholes.

Montreal is not perfect, yet we promise to love it or to find ways to love it. We see its beauty; we see beauty in the ugly.

That is why, today, I am undertaking to celebrate Montreal, with its imperfection that makes us love it so much. Over the next weeks I will attempt to portray its neighbourhoods through an exploration of their specific attractions, whether they are restaurants, bars, sights, stores or activities. Vive Montréal!

On the corner of de la Côte-des-Neiges Rd. and Jean-Brillant St., day or night, people stop by the infamous and colourful Marché Les Trottier. Berries in the summer, taffy in spring, trees in December—the owners live to the beat of the seasons, to the great satisfaction of the customers. Besides the market, children giggle and scream as they play in the schoolyard. Not far from there, CEGEP students throw a Frisbee in the park, while a father pushes his child on a swing. Eventually, university students show up with their six-packs of beer and play pétanque.

What better place than Côte-des-Neiges to understand the common Montreal idea of vie de quartier? The neighbourhood, which shares a district with Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, is often claimed as the multicultural heart of the city. A quick stroll through the neighbourhood confirms this effortlessly, with numerous restaurants revealing flavours from all over the world. Developed on the northwest slope of Mount Royal, Côte-des-Neiges is only a 10-minute bus ride away from the city centre.

However, that is not its only positive feature. In fact, if Côte-des-Neiges is the neighbourhood it is today, it is probably due to its abundance of schools: Collège Notre-Dame, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Université de Montréal, HEC, and Polytechnique are found there. Every day, students flock up and down the streets. School life drives the neighbourhood; we could also probably claim it as the young heart of the city. With the other important factor of the hospitals (CHU Sainte-Justine and Jewish General Hospital), it is no wonder that the area is so dynamic and counts numerous 24-hour establishments. Indeed, the services at hand are a perfect reflection of the presence of schools and hospitals, and thus of the neighbourhood’s population.

So what does one do here? The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies in Côte-des-Neiges. As skeptical as some restaurants may make you—especially when they are located in basements—they will not disappoint, and you will be able to find quality at a reasonable price.

One of my favourites is Atami Sushi, at 5499 de la Côte-des-Neiges Rd. When you open the door at street-level, you will find yourself in a cold, grey and aqua staircase illuminated with neon lights. Don’t be fooled by the atmosphere of the stairwell, because upstairs is a hidden gem.

As you walk through the lobby, you feel like you are in a whole new world. A few customers wait for their takeout orders, sitting on white leather couches under warm purplish lighting. Others distract themselves by contemplating the gigantic aquarium where a few exotic fish swim. In the entrance of the dining room sits a counter where two or three pairs of hands are busy creating, carefully but rapidly, these small meals of raw fish, rice, and seaweed.

The dining room itself is warm and cozy, with a mixture of tables and red benches. The place is not ideal for big and loud parties, but it is perfect if you are looking for something low-key. Although it is probably not the cheapest restaurant of the neighbourhood (it costs at least $15 to leave with a full belly), it shouldn’t be dismissed, for the taste of its fresh ingredients, the immaculate presentation and the general ambiance. Let’s consider it a not-too-expensive luxury.

Another must is Armenian pizza restaurant Arouch. To call it a restaurant is perhaps an overstatement. Located at 5216 de la Côte-des-Neiges Rd., it would be more accurate to call the branch—because three other Arouch restaurants can be found in the metropolitan area—a counter. Here, people wait in line at lunchtime to get thin crust pita-like pizzas, designed to the taste of the customer. Indeed, after choosing their pizza style (zahtar, Armenian cheese, lahmajoun, soujouk (Armenian sausage), and so on), people can add on toppings and get salads such as tabbouleh or greek salad on the side. Moreover, the price will make you readers happy: a sandwich can cost less than $4! In brief, you don’t go there for the experience or the service, but rather for a good snack to eat on the run—and don’t we love that,  students? (Psst! You will also find a branch at JMSB, 1600 de Maisonneuve Blvd. O.)

Besides schools, parks, markets, and restaurants, there are, of course, bars. Most popular is, without a doubt, the festive Resto-Bar La Maisonnée at 5385 Gatineau Ave., which is a hotspot for students. Gather all your friends for the best beer pong, hockey, or karaoke nights in the neighbourhood.

For those of you who want to have a more relaxed and educational moment, I highly recommend La maison de la culture at 5290 de la Côte-des-Neiges Rd. The building also houses a public library, holds art exhibitions of all sorts, and presents concerts, films and theatre. Good news: access to these is also free most of the time.

Finally, it would be impossible to portray Côte-des-Neiges properly without highlighting its historical sites. Obviously, Saint-Joseph’s Oratory, at 3800 Queen-Mary Rd., is worth seeing. The imposing church, high up on the mountain at 300 metres, is a real work of architecture, inside and outside. The organs are worth mentioning, and so are the legendary steps, which number over 200! Whether it is for spirituality or physical exercise, the stairs offer a memorable climb and, at the top, a fantastic view of Montreal and its surroundings.

For a further exploration of Côte-des-Neiges’ patrimony, the 343 acre Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery at 4601 de la Côte-des-Neiges Rd. is also worth the visit. Said to be the biggest in Canada, the Catholic cemetery—open to all religious affiliations—is the resting place of important personalities. Far from being morbid, this site is a green oasis, favourable to peaceful and revitalizing excursions.

At the end of our journey, we stop by the infamous and colourful Marché Les Trottier, to the sound of children giggling and screaming in the schoolyard not too far away. In March, we will be able to get sticky and sweet taffy, as we enjoy the uplifting rays of spring sunlight. Everything in Côte-des-Neiges seems to be made for those passing by to understand what their vie de quartier is—and it is quite successful.

Next week, we will explore the home of Jay Baruchel and Loyola Campus. Yes, you have guess right: nothing else than Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, or NDG for those in the know.

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