The Village People

re:porter, October 2011

For most of the 20th century, Mile End was known as a tough but vibrant immigrant neighbourhood – a backdrop to Mordecai Richler’s novels and home to legendary bagels. In the ’80s, the artists arrived; by the ’90s, the hood became an indie rock epicentre, ultimately spawning bands like Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire.

The real starving artists may have left, but Mile End still buzzes with an energy that’s as evident in the creative shops and restaurants as it is in its residents, all of whom seem to know one another, and staggeringly few of whom seem to have day jobs. Residents complain that chatty neighbours can turn a coffee run into an hours-long affair, but, of course, that’s the charm of Mile End: the warmth of a small village – right in the heart of the city.

Eat/Drink

Le Filet
Earlier this year, Hubert Marsolais and Claude Pelletier, the pair behind Old Montréal’s Le Club Chasse et Pêche, took their talents uptown, opening this raw-bar-inspired restaurant. Le Filet has gilded ceilings and fluorescent fish portraits, but the food – snow-crab- and-asparagus risotto; scallops with avocado-and-beet salad; and oysters galore – steals the show. 219 avenue du Mont-Royal Ouest, (514) 360-6060, www.lefilet.ca

Em Café
When Anna Angelis opened Em Café, she received a clichéd bit of advice. “People said, ‘You can’t cater to everybody.’ I said, ‘Why not?’” Angelis and her team promptly defied the cynics, drawing an eclectic group of young mothers, retirees, artists and politicians with a menu of contemporary comfort food, including peanut-butter-and-flax-seed cookies, and a profoundly good beet- and-kidney-bean veggie burger. 5718 avenue du Parc, (514) 303-5735, www.emcafe.ca

Buvette Chez Simone
Buvette Chez Simone defies the laws of physics: it’s cozy, yet everyone seems to be there. Inspired by France’s humble wine-and-snack shacks (buvettes), Simone Chevalot, along with three partners, created this hangout with a focus on small bites – olives, fried zucchini flowers and charcuterie – and good wines. The ever-changing wine list includes a focus on small-scale producers like Domaine Gramenon and Domaine Lapierre, whose biodynamic, all-natural vintages, says Chevalot, taste like “happiness.” 4869 avenue du Parc, (514) 750-6577, www.buvettechezsimone.com

Wilensky’s Light Lunch
The Wilensky’s Special – grilled salami and bologna placed on a secret- recipe roll and then grilled again – is so very special because it’s not merely a sandwich; it’s an artifact of the ’30s, when Moe Wilensky invented it. It’s a tribute to Mile End’s Jewish history. And, like the soda – made-to-order with a ladle of homemade syrup – it’s a reminder that new isn’t always improved. 34 avenue Fairmount Ouest, (514) 271-0247

Shop

Les Montures
Contact lenses, laser surgery and narrow-minded bullies are the archenemies of Nicolas Hamel, the 24-year-old DJ who, this past June, opened this vintage glasses boutique – an ode to what he calls “the greatest accessory of the 20th century.” To stock his shelves, Hamel pesters grandparents, scours the web and sifts through piles from vintage dealers, seeking the finest tortoiseshell-armed Dunhills, leather Lanvins or Steve McQueen-era Persols. 174 rue Bernard Ouest, (514) 507-8282, www.lesmontures.com

Les Étoffes
Les Étoffes is not merely one of Canada’s finest boutiques; it’s one of the friendliest. “People can be intimidated by fashion,” says Christopher Girard, who opened the shop with his girlfriend, Diana Taborsky. Rather than raise their noses at customers unfamiliar with the shop’s admittedly rarefied labels – including Christophe Lemaire, the Hermès designer’s extracurricular line and Dana Lee, designer of wearable men’s basics – Girard and Taborsky seize the opportunity to tell a story. “We’re all about old-school service,” says Girard. 5253 boulevard Saint-Laurent (514) 544-5500, www.lesetoffes.com

Style Labo
To stock Style Labo, Corsica native Romain Castelli finds beauty in unlikely places, separating objets from mere objects. Here, a rubber diving brick becomes a modernist sculpture; a battered 75-year-old football becomes a pigskin trophy; and a world map from 1931 becomes a gallery-worthy work of art. The shop also carries Castelli’s own innovative creations, like a military telescope turned lamp, and a washing- machine drum turned side table, as well as a tight edit of contemporary brands, including Jieldé, makers of what Castelli calls “la lampe industrielle par excellence.” 122 rue Bernard Ouest, (514) 658-9910, www.stylelabo-deco.com

See

The Twilight Sculpture Garden
There are no heartthrob vampires here; rather, this unlikely sculpture garden, once the site of an Irving gas station, owes its name to its colourful history. When building the garden in 1998, Glen LeMesurier would wait for the sun to set before surreptitiously installing his unusual, post-industrial sculptures. The garden sits between warehouses – those who find it tend to feel slightly surprised and wholeheartedly delighted. “My goal,” says LeMesurier, “is to expand people’s consciousness about what art can be.” Avenue Van Horne at rue Saint-Urbain (514) 585-0295, www.sculpturegarden.wordpress.com

Galerie Simon Blais
As one of Québec’s most established gallerists, Simon Blais fills his gallery with works by the province’s contemporary art legends, from Jean-Paul Riopelle to Marcelle Ferron. But Blais also exhibits tribal art from sub-Saharan Africa – a personal passion – and young, emerging artists like Marc Séguin, whom he calls “Québec’s biggest rising star.” For Blais, the only thing more important than celebrating talent might be nurturing it. “My artists are like my children,” he says. 5420 boulevard Saint-Laurent, (514) 849-1165, www.galeriesimonblais.com

Sleep

Hotel Gault
Mile End lacks a proper hotel, so visitors seeking suitably bohemian quarters should retire to the Hotel Gault, a 140-year-old, five-storey building that’s been converted to house 30 unique loft- style units. With vast French windows and soaring ceilings, the bright units could pass for groovy artists’ studios if it weren’t for the decidedly luxe details, like custom oak cabinetry, loaner iPads, Italian Flou beds and marble bathrooms with heated floors. 449 rue Sainte-Hélène (514) 904-1616, www.hotelgault.com

Residents

Stéphane François
Chef, Le Comme Chez Soi
I’m from Lyon, France. Eight years ago, Iwasreadyforachange,soIwenttoa travel agent and said, “I want to go to Canada.” She laughed – I knew nothing. She suggested Montréal – they speak French! – so a half hour later, I had a ticket. And here I am. I’ve been in Mile End since I arrived. I kind of fell into it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a beautiful place.

Reema Singh
Baker, Cocoa Locale
This neighbourhood is so special because of its small-community feel. It has classic Montréal establishments, from competing bagel empires [St-Viateur and Fairmount] to locally run fruiteries and vintage boutiques. For me, it’s a blessing to be able to walk to work, to shop at small fish, bread and cheese shops, to have a real Italian coffee.

Ron Jamieson
Artist/Creative Director/DJ
Mile End has always been a naturally vital, cosmopolitan area. I’m 62, and when I started DJing here a few years ago, I worried people would think I’m some old guy. In fact, I feel I could be 120 or 18 and it wouldn’t matter – no one here cares. This neighbourhood is just a vortex of creative energy. That’s why, when I DJ, I call myself Pimp Vortex.