Roch ‘n’ Roll

re:porter, Autumn 2010
The story of St. Roch, an emerging neigbourhood about a kilometre west of Québec City’s Old Port, is a kind of parable for the modern city. Settled around 1620 by Récollets – Franciscan missionaries from France – St. Roch had its first flourishing in the late 19th century, thanks to a robust shipbuilding industry. By the turn of the 20th century, the compact waterfront community had become the city’s commercial centre. Then, in the 1960s, shopping malls arrived, drawing people out of St. Roch and into the suburbs.
Local businesses, along with the municipal government, suggested a creative antidote to this urban flight: in 1970, they barred cars from the neighbourhood’s main drag, St. Joseph Street, and began construction on a half-kilometre-long roof overhead. The outdoor mall concept, it turned out, worked best on paper: the sheltered promenade soon became a gathering place for drug dealers and prostitutes. Businesses faltered and the neighbourhood fell into disrepair. In 1989, Mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier took office. In short order, he established the award-winning St. Roch Garden, restoring the neighbourhood’s soul, and setting in motion a process that included the revitalization of countless historic buildings and, ultimately, the removal of the dreaded roof. Meanwhile, the neighbourhood’s stunning century-old architecture began attracting an influx of cultural organizations, schools and businesses.
The commercial heart of the district still beats most loudly on St. Joseph Street, where business regulations dictate that any new store must offer shoppers something they can find nowhere else in town. The result is an emerging strip of interesting boutiques, many of which are run by local residents who are passionate about their businesses and their neighbourhood.

Eat/Drink

Brûlerie St-Roch 
Not really a morning person? Start your day with an Orgasme at this sun-filled coffee shop, and you’ll learn how chipper you can truly be. The drink, served hot, combines two shots of espresso with milk, dulce de leche and, for good measure, a large dollop of whipped cream. Score a table on the third floor of the open-concept, brick-and-steel roastery, and spend some quality one-on-one time with a lighter-than-air pain au chocolat, courtesy of master pastry chef Pascal L’Heureux.
375 rue Saint-Joseph Est, (418) 529-1559, www.brulerie-st-roch.com

 

Le Clocher Penché
At Le Clocher Penché, Éric Fontaine and Mathieu Brisson use locally sourced ingredients to create sophisticated yet down-to-earth bistro fare. Their weekend brunch will turn any blood sausage agnostic into a believer; the boudin is served with a piglet terrine and a soft-boiled egg, atop crispy veggies. Dinner offers similarly swine-heavy options, but the highlight at night: delicate salmon tartare, served with grapefruit, will leave you wondering if you’ve ever understood before what fresh truly means.
203 rue Saint-Joseph Est, (418) 640-0597, www.clocherpenche.ca
Versa
Locals craving a taste of PEI or New Brunswick head to Versa, a lively oyster bar with superlative cocktails and a cellar stocked with 225 different wines. Sommelier Christian Veilleux, who earned a Wine Spectator Award last year, is always keen to suggest a pairing for chef Benoît Poliquin’s eccentric menu, which bounces from foie gras doughnuts to Scotch eggs to whiskey-soaked General Tso chicken. “We serve French bistro classics with a Québécois touch, and some global flavour,” says Poliquin. “We focus on food that is simple, delicious and honest.”
432 rue du Parvis, (418) 523-9995, www.versarestaurant.com
La Barberie
Partake in Québec’s most sacred ritual – the cinq à sept – on the vast, sun-soaked deck that flanks this microbrewery. Founded in 1996 by three bearded buddies, La Barberie (“the barbershop”) offers a rotating selection of a dozen-plus beers, including, sometimes, a lime-and-ginger pale ale, an organic blonde and a malty stout. Indecisive tipplers should order the carrousel de galopins – a wheel holding eight varieties in five-ounce taster glasses. Once you pick your favourite, you can take it home: La Barberie offers handled mason jars to go.
310 rue Saint-Roch, (418) 522-4373, www.labarberie.com
Shop

Boutique Philippe Dubuc
Colours are unwelcome at Boutique Philippe Dubuc, where a stark palette of gray, black and white informs both the decor and the clothing. The celebrated menswear designer’s first non-Montréal outpost, located improbably in a former Zellers department store, does not disappoint; polished concrete floors, exposed-brick walls and steel beams – covered for years – have been restored and repainted to minimalist perfection, serving now as a fitting showcase for Dubuc’s slightly shiny, slim-cut wool-blend suits, flat-front trousers and cotton skinny ties.
537 rue Saint-Joseph Est, (418) 614-5761, www.dubucstyle.com
Maison de Thé Camellia Sinensis

Slurp loudly and proudly at this warm, welcoming tea shop; allowing the molecules to pass over your lips and tongue more slowly makes it easier to appreciate the tea’s nuanced flavours. Indeed, much of the Camellia Sinensis experience is about subtlety and education. After a tasting session with passionate owner Jasmin Desharnais, you’ll not only know your qian li xiang from your da hong pao (or one of 200-plus others), but you might also wind up being quite handy with the zhong. Unless, that is, you prefer a senchado?

624 rue Saint-Joseph Est, (418) 525-0247, www.camellia-sinensis.com
Benjo
The VIP entrance to Benjo – Québec’s answer to FAO Schwarz – is about four feet high. The message is very clear: in this establishment, kids rule. Still, few grown-ups will have trouble accessing their inner child once they enter this flashback-inducing megastore. It’s all here: elaborate model train sets, Star Wars figures, storybooks, board games galore and enough stuffed animals to fill Noah’s Ark twice over. Of course, there’s a traditional candy shop in here, too, complete with a self-serve Pucker Powder station, and what is surely St. Roch’s largest gumball machine.
550 boulevard Charest Est, (418) 640-0001, www.benjo.ca
See

Méduse
Méduse is a modern, sprawling multi-disciplinary cultural centre comprising four restored, now-connected historic buildings, which house 10 not-for-profit organizations. Visitors may roam the hallways, poking their heads into working artists’ studios and residences, several galleries, a theatre and even a functioning radio station. Our favourite destinations include Antitube, a gallery focused on images from Québec’s past and its future, and La Bande Vidéo, a hub of contemporary video art.
541 rue De Saint-Vallier Est, (418) 640-9218 www.meduse.org
St. Roch Garden
For local residents, there is no greater symbol of the neighbourhood’s revitalization than the St. Roch Garden, which was established in 1992 on a vacant industrial lot. Now the meticulous gardens buzz with activity as flâneurs idle on shaded benches and nine-to-fivers zen out around the 40-foot-high cascading water fountain. Local art students, meanwhile, come here for inspiration, courtesy of the iconic Canadian artists René Richard, Alfred Pellan and Horatio Walker, whose busts dot the square.
Corner of rue Sainte-Hélène and rue du Parvis

Sleep 

Hotel Pur
Luxury takes an understated form at Hotel Pur, where ultra-modern, minimalist suites offer maximal comfort in the form of luxe, pillow-topped mattresses, 300-thread-count linens, Aveda bath products. free Wi-Fi, and wall-mounted LCD flat-screen televisions. The gray, black and white colour scheme – complemented with hits of tangy orange – is a departure from the building’s previous aesthetic (it was once a Holiday Inn), but the most dramatic change came to each suite via floor-to-ceiling windows, offering the upper levels stunning views of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Île d’Orléans and the majestic Saint-Roch church.
395 rue de la Couronne, (418) 647-2611, www.hotelpur.com

Residents

Bruno Blais 
General Director, La Barberie Microbrewery 
What I love most about St. Roch is its diversity; the population here ranges from the well-to-do to the poor. In recent years, video game companies have arrived, and so there’s been an influx of young professionals. But there is still a strong collective will to continue the revitalization project started by the team of Mayor L’Allier, and to stay focused on reviving St. Roch as it reclaims its place at the centre of Québec City.
Marianne Thibeault 
Director, Materia Gallery 
This is an ideal neighbourhood for artists; there are so many studios and galleries here. It’s accessible, too – you don’t need a car to get around. In addition to artists, we have business people here during the workday, an immigrant community, and the working-class residents who’ve been here for many years. There are great new stores that – I hope – will promote Québécois creativity, while allowing the neighbourhood to retain its character.
Jean-Daniel Lapierre 
Owner, Boutique Philippe Dubuc 
I’m originally from Québec City, and when I left to study in Montréal, I swore I’d never come back. But I moved back and I love it now. I live just above my shop, so I’m always in the neighbourhood. It has such a great mix of modern and rustic; it’s incredible to have this boutique in a building that looks like it was built in 18th-century France. The city is so committed to preserving its historic character; they don’t even want to replace the old parking meters!

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