Hangout Handbook A Montreal Day with Jean-Michel Blais

Hangout Handbook A Montreal Day with Jean-Michel Blais
Photo: Isis Essery

In our annual Hangout Handbook, Exclaim! asks some of our favourite artists to discuss their favourite hometown haunts. Here, Jean-Michel Blais outlines a perfect day in Montreal.

"It's not about the quantity, nor the quality, it's about the way you relate to objects and subjects: how you discover something, who you get to know."

8h. A mixture of sunbeams and kids' shouts convinces me that it's time to get out of bed and enjoy the great day to come.

9h. Thank God it's not Shabbat! First, I pass by Hassidic bakery Cheskie's (359 Rue Bernard O.) and ask for their chocolate Russian babka, always hidden somewhere behind the counter...

9h30. Hungry for real, I head towards Le Dépanneur café (206 Rue Bernard O.). It's the place where I started improvising piano in public, and which I still frequent weekly! Honestly, it's neither its café nor its food that draws me there, but rather its convivial atmosphere, where a mixed crowd of artists, workers and families chill out and exchange ideas. Everything is comfy there: used furniture, casual staff, and homemade food. If there's live music, I sit in the front, and if not, I dig myself a spot on the secretly kept and intimate back terrasse.

10h30. On my way out, I walk down Bernard Street. It's quite possible I stop by Drawn & Quarterly (211 Rue Bernard O.), Phonopolis (207 Rue Bernard O.) or Dragon Flowers (159 Rue Bernard E.) to respectively check for some comics, LPs or refreshing smells…

11h30. Time to discover the city. Montreal being of a human size, it's best to simply get lost in it, between streets and ruelles. Inserting some unpredictability in one's day may bring as much errors as errance: talking to people, entering some artist lofts on Gaspé Street, pratiquer son français or visiting the Champ des Possibles (5605 Avenue de Gaspé), a green space at the edge of the Mile End neighbourhood.

13h. It's time for lunch. I take my bike. Guess you'll need to rent a Bixi bike. Depending on my mood, I pick one of three places: there's a tiny and authentic pupusa place in Rosemont called Los Planes (4115 Rue Saint-Denis); a socially responsible restaurant in Hochelaga named Le Jubé (1500 Avenue d'Orleans); or we could get some raw vegan food at Crudessence (several locations).

15h. Time to enjoy the weather. Still savage and vivid, Parc du Mont-Royal is our Central Park (same designer, by the way). I usually choose any entrance and try to reach the top via a self-created path: the best lookouts are not the typical tourist spots, but rather the self-discovered ones! Your cell may not work for a while, you may get dirty, you may even feel lost at times… Fine! You'll meet an animal, splash in some creek and love a tree. Suddenly, that view you've been looking for will come to you. If you feel sweaty after this, I'd recommend enjoying one of the many free public swimming pools we have! Piscine Laurier (5200 Rue du Brebeuf) is a great one.

17h. Time for shopping? I must admit, I'm more of a minimalist shopper, not into big brands, therefore I am always trying to get second-hand stuff. Away from upraised hipster prices is a well-kept secret: many churches will sell cheap stuff to raise money for charities and lower income families. The place I like to go is underneath the Sacré-Coeur-de-Jésus Church (2000 Rue Alexandre-DeSeve) in Centre-Sud. Fewer choices make your discoveries feel more unique too.

20h. Since we're in the area, why not enjoying an amateur wrestling show under the Très-St-Rédempteur Church (3530 Rue Adam)?

21h. Hungry for dinner? Here's where I bring the people I like: a) a sympathetic Greek restaurant named Ouzeri (4690 Rue Saint-Denis) where it's not uncommon that waiters break plates and offer Ouzo shots for any reason (take the lamb and the moussaka) or b) to the less fancy but just as great Qing Hua (1019 Boul. St-Laurent) for some incredible soup dumplings.

22h. Almost every night, the Cinéma sous les étoiles presents politically engaged films in a free and open-air context, each time in a different park. Bring food, alcohol, and a blanket to sit on. If it's rainy, grab some beers at local microbrewery Dieu du Ciel (29 Avenue Laurier O.).

24h. Tipsy and ready to dance? I cross the street and get into the not yet overrated Datcha (98 Avenue Laurier O). This place never disappoints me with its excellent choice of minimal elektronische musik.

2h. Looking for something to do after hours? In the area where Durocher, Beaubien and Parc Avenue meet, there's always a great, hidden, and low-cost party waiting for you. Simply walk around, find where the people seem to meet, and get into that building to discover Montréal's post-night-life.

4h. Going back home, and not wanting to spend 30 minutes waiting at La Banquise for poutine, I simply grab some fresh and warm bagels at St-Viateur Bagel (several locations). Don't forget to grab the green onion cream cheese in the fridge on your right while you wait in line.

I'd invite you home for some shots after all this, but I've been advised not to give out my address.

Jean-Michel Blais recently released his debut album, Il, on Arts & Crafts.