29 Avr VOGUE MAGAZINE
KAREN BURSHTEIN http://www.vogue.com/13402582/mile-ex-montreal-new-neighborhood-travel-guide/
Mile-Ex: The Hidden Montreal Neighborhood That’s Winning Over the Creative Set
It’s just a stone’s throw from the vibrant, colorful Jean-Talon Market, in Montreal’s Little Italy, and an equally short hop from the boho-verging-on-bourgeois Mile End neighborhood, but Montreal’s Mile-Ex feels like a lost enclave, a bubble unto itself. When the creatives started getting priced out of Mile End, it became time to look for newer pastures, but there seemed to be a psychological barrier to moving west. “This was a weird part of town, like a no-man’s-land,” said Guillaume Brisson-Darveau, an artist now living in that once “weird” part of town. Today, the Mile-Ex is now the most interesting area in town, with cafés, restaurants, art-filled factories, and all the things that nurture and cultivate a creative crowd.
Long a largely industrial area, for years the neighborhood didn’t even really have a name. It has been called Marconi-Alexandra. Some tried WeLIta (West of Little Italy), but that didn’t stick. Because many of the homes here were slated for demolition, it also became a beacon for experimental contemporary architecture and has been called the “quartier des architectes.” But it was a restaurant that opened in 2012 with the name Mile-Ex that ultimately stuck.
It’s a neighborhood as nonlinear in spirit as it is geographically, with streets of weirdly designed fits, starts, and dead ends. On a short stretch you may see a single scruffy home and an old brick warehouse sharing a backyard. Businesses that are marked use blink-and-you’ll-miss them signs. You could walk by a garage and never know that behind it is Montreal’s grooviest bar. It’s a place that asks you to do a little hunting and foraging for its treasures.
Here, a guide:
Grégory Paul gave the neighborhood a name when he opened restaurant “Mile-Ex” in 2012. “There was absolutely nothing here but the rent was so cheap I signed up for 10 years. It was a coup de poker,” he says in his Montpelier-comes-to-Montreal accent. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and in the early days, if you came and didn’t want to wait in line, there was virtually nowhere else in the neighborhood to go. Now people drink a glass of wine outside while waiting for a seat at one of Mile-Ex’s three generous communal tables to dine on the southern-France-meets-L.A.-street-food cuisine. The pocket-size restaurant is made more homey with the abstract paintings by his friend and artist Patrick Charbonneau, and “les années nostalgies” music that plays while, in the open kitchen, Paul prepares dishes like the cutely-named Staff Meal Salad, a fragrant bowl of seafood chowder, or his play on a lobster roll: made with squid, stuffed with a merguez sausage, topped with lemon confit, and served in a delish brioche bun.
Emporium looks straight out of Williamsburg with its homey-chic aesthetic, vintage swivel chairs, and hipster barbers in their top knots and-or beards. It’s certainly charming, the design is spot on, and—of course—the cuts are on point. Owner Alex Sirois and his team do fine cuts using Merkur razors, and pamper with products such as the locally made Groom. Like other places in the neighborhood, this feels less like a place of commerce and more like a spot where friends come to hang out. Chet Baker and New Order are on the playlist, and clients drink craft beer from the neighborhood brewery while getting primped.
You’d never know that hidden behind the garage door of this old brewing factory is Montreal’s hippest bar. When the longtime Brasserie BVM stopped bottling their beer in favor of canning, it freed up space in their sprawling brick brew house. Bernadette Houde—a former member of the indie band Lesbians on Ecstasy—jumped in and opened the Alexandraplatz. Bernie, as she is known, was inspired by the similarly named Berlin square, a meeting point of east and west, and people who have transformed abandoned patches of urban sprawl into creative hubs. (She and her partner feminized the name of their bar, as a gesture to two intersecting streets in the neighborhood, Rue Alexandra and Avenue Alexandra.) The bar is closed in winter but come spring the garage door opens, the communal tables come out, and the place gets packed. More tables fill up the adjacent parking lot, food trucks park there and chefs from the neighborhood set up barbecue stations. The crowd, a mix of French and English, architects and woodworkers, hipster and long time locals together watch long and beautiful sunsets over scruffy old knitting factories and street mural art. It’s like the fantasy of a never-ending summer backyard party, for real.
Through his food truck, Chris Durning was on a mission to get everyone to drink good coffee. “The thing about coffee is it’s democratic,” he says. “The best of it is still accessible by people who still drink the worst of it.” At night, Chrissy Durcak, the Founder of Dispatch Coffee, used to park her truck in an old garage in the Mile-Ex, and now that garage has become the site of her brick-and-mortar cafe. Here, head roaster Chris Durning is on a mission to get everyone to drink good coffee. “The thing about coffee is it’s democratic,” he says. “The best of it is still accessible by people who still drink the worst of it.” They roast fruity Ethiopian beans, or whatever else is season, and regulars sit at front tables drinking his craft espressos and cortados made with milk from the last independent dairy farmers in Quebec.
Dépanneur Le Pick Up
Dépanneur is the Québécois term for a neighborhood corner store and this proper working class staple, with its fake wood paneled walls, Formica counter, and shelves of penny candies and combs, has kept the same look since it opened in the 1970s. And alongside convenience store staples like milk and eggs, it also sells hyper-local offerings like honey from urban beehives located next door and dandelion and burdock soda. Plant yourself on a swivel stool at the bar or grab the tiny table in the corner underneath the shelves of ketchup and paper towels (there are picnic tables outside in warm weather) and feel like one of the neighborhood regulars when you order one of the scrumptious pulled-pork sandwich or its delicious vegetarian equivalent made of fermented tofu skin.
Dinette Triple Crown
There are no prominent signs at Dinette, just tiny lettering that tells you it’s a little more than a scruffy, forgotten corner diner. But partners Beaver Sheppard and Colin Perry—who include time at Martin Picard’s nouvelle Québécoise restaurant Au Pied de Cochon on their resumes—took over this tiny space and serve delectable Southern Barbecue. Tiny is the operative word. There is just about enough room for the menu above the counter, some vintage family photos on the walls, pickled vegetables in the window, and the aroma of their Memphis-style barbecue chicken, succulent brisket, and divine pumpkin pain perdu, but not for any tables or chairs. The solution to the lack of space? Dinette packs a wicker basket for you, complete with tablecloths and all of the fixins, and sends customers to the small park across the street to eat.
What do you do if you’ve had no experience in the restaurant industry but are so inspired by, say “a walk by the sea in the Gaspésie, wearing rubber boots, smelling the salt water, feeling the gray feel when it’s rainy” and those days “when you forage your own cockles and crabs and build a fire, boiling the seaweed in the water and making a soup that smells like smoked sea” that you are positively moved to open a restaurant? Horticulturist Elisabeth Cardin embraced those visceral inspirations and teamed up the restaurant of her dreams with furniture restorer Simon Cantin. With its cedar bark ceilings, long bar of resin-covered burnt wood, and garage door that opens onto a back garden where prairie grass grows, this restaurant declares its manger sauvage ethos. It’s all about fishing, hunting, and foraging here. Chef Michael Dalla Libera has also added a touch of Little Italy to the menu with Wednesday pasta nights that adapt to the esprit of the restaurant, think: fresh spinach cavatelli with braised hare and spruce powder.
Le Ritz PDB
Locals argue whether this pocket-size indie music bar Le Ritz PDB (“Punks Don’t Bend”) is actually in the Mile-Ex. It’s a 5-minute walk away, and the borders are loose, so most say yes. Le Ritz is the former Il Motore, a cult dive bar beloved of city’s indie scene. It’s co-owned by Montreal concert promoters Blue Skies Turn Black, who are known for their five-star indie music rolodex. The venue has been newly redesigned since its Il Motore days—its much more pleasing aesthetic includes walls of colored wood strips—but it’s still the place that hosts some of Montreal’s most memorable music soirees like Pawa Up First and Solids.
The 12,000-square-foot, not-for-profit gallery is a brand-new hub for creativity, bringing emerging multidisciplinary artists together under the roof of a renovated industrial building turned residence turned software company headquarters. The software company’s owner, Dax Dasilva, was behind the Never Apart project. Art happenings, dance parties, backyard pool chilling (there’s a swimming pool on the property), shows devoted to ’90s rave flier art, and film screenings are just some of the things you can expect to find and this dynamic community-fostering gallery.
Short for Dominion Modern, this store sells vintage artifacts from Montreal’s game-changing Expo 67 (graphic art, vintage travel bags, collectible paraphernalia), art books on Canadian and Québécoise design, and design items celebrating Montreal’s ultracool metro system.
Opening any day now is Le Diplomate, a restaurant by Aaron Langille, the young Montreal chef who claimed fame at Nordic-tinged Café Sardine and Orange Rouge in Chinatown, and Kyle Croutch of the noted Little Italy bistro Salmigondis. The duo became fixtures on the Mile-Ex scene when they started selling savory waffles at Alexandraplatz. Now they’ve staked out a spot in an old refrigerator repair shop on rue Beaubien Ouest for the roughly 20-seat Le Diplomate, and everyone is waiting for opening day and their new prix fixe menu. The menu looks to be a surprising (or perhaps not surprising given their divergent culinary backgrounds) mix of cuisine terroir, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines that will change with the mood of the chefs, and apparently, their guests.
129 Rue Beaubien Ouest; 514.303.9727