With its charming buildings and diverse neighborhoods, Montreal is a lovely and unique town, a little quasi-European outpost about 45 minutes from the U.S. border. Its music scene isn’t bad either, with the city hosting three major rock festivals—Pop Montreal, M For Montreal, and Osheaga—every year. This year, the fine people at Tourism Montreal were kind enough to send The A.V. Club up to one of those—Pop Montreal—plus send us on a bit of a Montreal-centric adventure, complete with lovely meals and all manner of walking tours. And though we went to Montreal a few years ago in November for M For Montreal, visiting in the late summer helped us see Montreal in a whole new way. Below are the eight best things we saw in Montreal last week, both musically and as a tourist.
Far and away the best thing we saw in Montreal this year was the Marché Jean-Talon. A massive outdoor food market full of both basic fruit and vegetable vendors and specialty goods merchants, Jean-Talon is the kind of place where you could spend the rest of your life, just eating oysters, sampling cheeses, and watching people walk by. It’s open 361 days a year, and it’s absolutely baffling why anyone who lives in Montreal would shop anywhere else. Seriously—it’s incredible. Go hungry, and with absolutely no shame.
Band reunions can be a tricky business, with some acts coming off as a pale imitation of their peak selves. That’s not the case with The Sonics, a Seattle garage act best known for songs like “Psycho,” “Have Love, Will Travel,” and “Strychnine.” Even now, 50 years after their debut, The Sonics still have it, and watching a sizable room packed full of sweaty Canadians absolutely lose their minds over each and every track the band played was, to say the least, a singular experience.
After we ate our way through a successful food tour earlier this summer at Sled Island, we were glad to see that Tourism Montreal had the same idea, sending us on the “beyond the market” tour put on by the hip company Spade & Palacio. After a night of headbanging and drinking, it was overwhelmingly nice to kick things off with pupusas at Resto Los Planes, a Salvadoran spot that’s been active in Montreal for over 20 years. It’s hard to explain pupusas, which are kind of these stuffed tortilla sandwich things that you put hot sauce and cabbage slaw on, but man, are they good, especially for a hangover. And cheap! Now we just have to figure out where to get them in Chicago.
It’s always nice to get out and walk the town a little, and see what local artisans and merchants are into. It’s a cheap way to find out how hip a town is, and Montreal makes it easy during Pop with Puces Pop, a sort of handmade good and craft marketplace. Similar to the Renegade Craft Fair, Puces Pop throws a bunch of cool merchants and goods in one building and then you can sort the whole thing out. There’s food, there’s soap, there’s stuff for kids to do, and given that the Canadian dollar’s kind of in the toilet right now, most of the prices are pretty good.
Seriously, the Arcade Fire frontman is everywhere in Montreal. You’re at a show, you turn around, there’s Win Butler. You’re somewhere else later, there he is again. It’s weird in that “that guy again” way, but it’s also kind of fun. He’s incredibly tall, too, so you can’t miss him.
Perched on top of the Société Des Arts Technologiques, Foodlab is an indoor/outdoor space that specializes in local food and a laid-back atmosphere. We gorged ourselves on duck, foraged mushrooms, and wine, plus some really excellent roasted cauliflower. Good stuff. Sit outside if you can. There are a few light-up art installations projected on nearby buildings, so the vibe is exceptional.
One of the all-time greats, Mikal Cronin never fails to deliver live. It was no different in Montreal, even though he sadly wasn’t playing to much of a crowd. Ripping through tracks off his latest record, MCIII, as well as his past works, Cronin served up pure garage pop, providing an energizing jolt to anyone in the audience who might have been feeling a little festival fatigue.
Though Ultimate Painting isn’t a household name yet, it might be soon in select turntable-owning abodes, especially if the group keeps putting out LPs like this year’s Green Lanes. Ultimate Painting doesn’t have the most dynamic live show yet, but the U.K. act has the songs that make even the most stoic set worthwhile.