A Guide to Discovering Montréal’s Gay Village
The Montréal Village is where many members of the local LGBTQ communities gather. But it’s a neighbourhood where everyone is truly welcome. Located directly east of downtown, the Village traditionally served as a safe space for gays, lesbians, trans folks and “others” — to live together, to celebrate together and to support each other. While the Village has positioned Montréal as a premier destination for LGBTQ travellers, these days, queer Montréal stretches beyond the Village into every neighbourhood. (In short: every part of Montréal is a wee bit gay.)
Still, the big gay spirit lives on in the Village.
Summer in the city
In the warmer months, close to 60 outdoor patios extend under a canopy of hundreds of thousands of multicoloured balls called 18 Shades of Gay (by Claude Cormier + Associates). Lounges, bars, karaoke joints, afterhours clubs and drag queens are all part of the entertainment scene. At any point during the year, it’s one of the city’s best spots for people watching. The Village also makes a great option to sip iced coffee and use the Wi-Fi network, which is free and available throughout the ‘hood.
Incidentally, what is often muted among the sparkle of drag queens and the allure of attractive locals is the sheer magnitude of the public art installations. The Village is one of the most art-infused neighbourhoods of Montréal.
Somewhere, Under the Rainbow
The balls of the Village have become iconic. (Yes, snicker if you wish.) Designed by internationally-renowned landscape architect Claude Cormier, the annual urban canopy began as a single colour, one that denoted queerness and nonconformity: pink. The colour spectrum, however, has evolved into its current incarnation, 18 Shades of Gay. The installation spans the entire length of the pedestrian zone, comprising of more than 180,000 resin balls. To call it mere “decoration” would be a wrongdoing; this is one of Canada’s most important pieces of public art.
Blanc is an outdoor gallery that enables pedestrians access to art — day or night, rain or shine, 365 days a year. The objective is to facilitate a merge between creativity and the public, making art accessible for everyone while simultaneously encouraging contemplation. The main gallery is located at the corner of Sainte-Catherine East and Wolfe Street. This year, discover 70 new illuminated works of art by five artists, and other pieces that are deployed along Sainte-Catherine Street East.
Eating, Drinking, Dancing
Montréal has an international reputation for being a great food city, and the Village is not exempt from this repute. Burgeoning restaurateurs have a history of setting up shop and experimenting with a receptive queer community. While the Village continues to evolve, what remains consistent is a high density of great food options. Since arriving on the scene a decade ago, sophisticated French bistro O’Thym has become the frontrunner among a competitive roster of “Bring Your Own Wine” restaurants in Montréal. Saloon is the Neil Patrick Harris of Montréal restaurants—loveable with a healthy dose of campiness. Fetching and self-assured, Magpie is one of the best places for pizza. Agrikol is an oh-so-sexy bistro and wine bar with a focus on Haitian food, drink and culture. Portions are small but shareable at Le Red Tiger (affordable southeast Asian street food), so order at least two items per person. For great espresso-based coffee, try indie cafes Pourquoi Pas or La Graine Brûlée.
After the sun has set, Complexe Sky is one of Montréal’s oldest and largest LGBTQ establishments, and patrons can lounge in the jacuzzi on the hugely popular rooftop patio. Though officially a club for bears, Bar Le Stud on the eastern edge of the Village welcomes all types of men, and all types go. Bar Renard is one of Montréal’s trendiest bars, popular with the artisanal-loving cocktail crowd (read: hipsters). Club Unity is another iconic disco, with international DJs, dancing and a rooftop patio that offers stunning vistas of Montréal.
Shante, you stay
You’ll know you’ve reached Cabaret Mado when you see the papier-mâché marquee of a woman in a lilac wig. (That’s Mado herself.) As the spot to watch local drag performers, Cabaret Mado offers a roster of hilarious acts and affordable drinks. Another Montréal drag legend, Madame Simone – renowned for her outrageous hats and headgear – often works as the self-proclaimed “door bitch” in summertime. In short: the cabaret is a “must” for all drag queen aficionados. At the other end of the Village, Le Cocktail is a red-lit lounge featuring karaoke nights, drag shows and traditional cocktails.
Daniel Baylis, blogger
Daniel Baylis is a writer and adventurer. Born in British Columbia, Daniel came to Montréal with the kooky bohemian notion that he would write poetry, learn to speak French and fall in love. Having achieved various levels of success in said domains, he now focuses his energy on a new hobby: artisanal pickling.
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