How to Have a Seriously Cool Girls Weekend in Montreal
No men? Check. A couple of credit cards? Check. A healthy appetite? Cheque! We mean check. You’re ready for a girls weekend in Montreal. Because as a rule Montrealers are pretty much allergic to Barbie pink and appletinis, it’s the perfect town for a getaway with the gals where you can really catch up and do all the indulgent things you want (cue the paraffin mani-pedi) without it seeming like you’re in a scene from Sex and the City. Let the good times roll!
All good things start with brunch
Nothing gets a weekend going like a long, lavish brunch. If you’re in Old Montreal, let the gabbing begin at Le Cartet, where choices range from healthy (poached eggs on greens) to decadent (crêpes topped with fruit coulis and nut-and-maple French toast with apple butter and blueberries). If you’re in Mile End, don’t miss the breakfast poutine (breakfast potatoes topped with cheese, béarnaise sauce, sautéed peppers and a poached egg) at Fabergé, a lively spot with lots of space for a gang. Head a little more northward to explore the neighbourhood of Villeray and its gem, Santa Barbara, known for its scrumptious creative brunches. The ever-changing menu always has a veggie option and the morning cocktails are renowned.
A spot of shopping
The city’s designer shopping mecca is Old Montreal, with a focus on local and alternative international brands. St-Paul Street havens like U&I (for stylish winter coats and international designer ware), SSENSE (home to high-end minimalism), Quai 417 (specializing in local labels), Espace Pépin (boho chic at its best) and Le Rhinocéros, a super fun store inside the Phi Centre, ripe with glitzy accessories and indie finds by local geniuses. Other hot spots around the city include posh Laurier Street, between De l’Épée and St-Laurent (Agatha jewellery store, BCBG, designer labels at Henriette L, amazing silver at Argent Tonic), and Mile End, on the stretch of St-Laurent between Laurier and St-Viateur. There you’ll find indie goodies at Unicorn, Lowell and Les Étoffes. Finally, go the Westmount way for great shopping along Sherbrooke Street West: the WANT Apothecary, ChouChou shoe store, and James Boutique, among many others.
Oh hell, let’s primp
Settle into the lap of luxury on pretty Victoria Street for a primping session at Victoria Park Spa, where you’ll find a facial fit for everyone in your gang (try the Bio-Swiss Oxygen Facial, a medical-grade oxygen treatment infused with organic Swiss plant extracts, peptides and hyaluronic acid customized for your skin) and a mani-pedi station big enough to comfortably fit six at a time. Rouge nails bars, all around town, are another great option is all you’re after is a mani-pedi – they play rom coms all day so you can really girly it up. To get coiffed, head to one of the cool Plateau salons, like Hed, Helmet or the Aveda Intitute.
Conveniently located right downstairs from the Victoria Park spa, Park is easily Montreal’s most renowned restaurant nowadays, and the ideal pace for a group gab that lasts for hours. This is a place for incredibly creative sushi and amazing specialty cocktails with a Korean twist – the stewed plum martini is scrumptious. For a French experience, head to Laurier Street to Leméac, splendid in the summer for the terrasse but an altogether wonderful spot year-rund for a steak tartare and a crisp bottle of white. Feeling more British? Head to Lawrence in Mile End for one of their UK-inflected specials like stewed leeks, toast and goat’s cheese – with steamed lemon pudding for dessert.
Recuperation done right
There are few viewpoints that will give you a better sense of the heart of Montréal than the one from Bota-Bota dry sauna, or the outdoor hot tub that gives onto the Old Port, particularly spectacular in winter. Enjoy the benefits of the hot-cold water circuit at Spa Scandinave nearby, or choose a treatment each from the extensive massage menu (how about the Lomi-atsu, a mix of Hawaiian healing and shiatsu?). Or explore Nuns’ Island, across the shores of downtown, and bliss out at Strom Spa with one of the body treatments: the Vitality Body Wrap will give you the energy you need for the night to come.
Sit-down dinner time
Le Local in Griffintown, just west of Old Montreal, is a giant and happening restaurant filled with cosy nooks for smaller groups. Tuck into a plate of their famous beet salad with truffle oil, bacon, goat cheese and panko egg as you decide about the next dish. At Le Filet, steps from Mount Royal on the Plateau, you and your besties can share small flavour-packed plates like wagyu tataki and smoked duck with maple glaze. Pastaga, in Little Italy, isn’t actually Italian – it’s French-influenced French-Canadian cuisine with a changing menu of delicious creations like sautéed Quebec scallops with celery-root carpaccio, bacon and maïtake mushrooms or grilled octopus with potato cake and rouille. All three of these restaurants have wine lists nearly as lauded as the food.
This calls for a celebration!
There are many, many places to clink glasses in Montréal, but few places do beer as well as the brewpub Harricana. Located in Mile Ex, this hopping bar and eatery is great for a few pints (or something off the great cocktail menu) in a handsome setting of peach leather and Carrara marble. If you’re more of a wine group, nothing beats the blackboard selection at La Buvette Chez Simoneon the Plateau, just around the corner from Le Filet. It’s a lovely warm place with narrow tables and a large crowd of regulars, so be ready to rub shoulders! The late-night eats are also delicious. In Old Montreal, any night ends well at La Champagnerie, located on a cobblestone street (beware, stiletto-wearers!) right across from the historic Marché Bonsecours. This hopping bar specializes in champagnes proseccos, cavas – you name it, and it’s great for a few flutes (the bubbly menu offers over 100 labels) in a festive environment that invariable turns into a dance party. Let the bubbles fuel the plans for the next great get-together.
(Originally published on March 22, 2016)