15 ways to experience the retro side of Montréal

Gibeau Orange Julep
Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant

This article was published on February 24, 2023.

Nostalgic for the bygone days of pop coloured décor, disco roller derby and swing dancing? You’ve found your mecca! Montréal has got a loving relationship with the past, from its spicy days in the 1930s to its time on the world stage during Expo 67, to its 5-ring celebration of the 1976 Olympic Games. Read on for 15 incredible ways to experience the good ole days right here and now.

Habitat 67 - Bonjour Québec

1. Design your own architectural tour

Pick exactly the memory lane you want to stroll along. If none of Montréal’s great guided tours hits exactly your area of interest, choose your own adventure: walk through the Quartier des Spectacles for a taste of Montréal’s past as Sin City North during the American prohibition era of the ‘30s. Or head to Parc Jean-Drapeau and tour the pavilions of Expo 67, including the Casino de Montréal! For a unique eyeful of architecture, take a stroll in Cité-du-Havre for a peek at Habitat 67.

 

Société de transport de Montréal (STM) - Métro Place-Saint-Henri

2. Become a metrosexual

Head underground! Montréal’s metro system was built in time for the 1967 Expo, and many of the stations have remnants of that pop coloured, retro-tiled interior décor past. There are incredible pieces of original art that were commissioned by big names in the local art scene, plus it’s a great way to access the famous Underground System.

3. Look the part

Vintage shopping is a veritable art form in Montréal, where locals truly live the lifestyle of reuse, restyle, recycle. There are big charity shop chains like Village des Valeurs and Renaissance that are fun to comb through, but you might prefer the highly edited collections in vintage boutiques. Certain areas of town – like the strip of St. Lawrence Boulevard up in Mile End – produce new vintage stores every year! Some favourites include Seconde, Ex-Voto and Inédit.e. In Saint-Henri, swap some clothes at Shwap Club, where you can find clothes but also vintage home goods.

4. Put history on ice

Step where some of hockey's most important historical moments happened by visiting the Montréal Forum, now an arcade, bowling alley and movie theatre but previously home to the Montréal Canadiens until 1996. You can sit in some of the old arena seats, still preserved in place! 

 

BoulZeye, Pub & Attractions

5. Get strikes to spare

Speaking of bowling, the Forum is a very fun spot to get the ball rolling, and so central it’s easily paired with a day out downtown. In the east end, not far from the Olympic Stadium, Le Darling is an alley that revives the 1960s retro vibes of the sport with its 24 refurbished lanes. In the Rosemont-Villeray area, Bowling G Plus is a happening place on weeknights and weekends. More low-key, Notre-Dame des Quilles is a small friendly pub nearby on Beaubien that has two small bowling lanes. Located on the East side of Montréal is BoulZeye, Pub & Attractions, which has not only has 16 bowling lanes, but also arcade and escape games, and a bistro-pub.

6. Play your hand at an arcade

It’s official: there’s a revival of pinball halls and arcades all over the city. North Star Pinball on St. Lawrence Boulevard in Little Italy has great microbrasserie brews, snacks and a proud collection of beautifully restored pinball machines. Arcade MTL on St-Denis is a gaming mecca, with thematic drinks like the Donkey Kong (vodka, banana liqueur, bitters, brandy and fruit juices) and a ton of retro games like Pac-Man and the Street Fighter II. Pair your craft cocktails with a few rounds of play at bars Apt. 200, Cobra or Chez Serge. Finally, but most spectacularly, Arcade Mile-X Arcade can be rented for parties to remember. 

7. Groom for improvement

Revive the lifestyle of a gentleman (or at least a hipster) at one of Montréal’s renowned barbershops, where pomade and straight razors will leave you shipshape and sharp. Maison Privée is an expert place to start. 

8. Swing, baby, swing

Make like Kevin Bacon and set those feet loose! Swing dance is alive and swingin’ in Montréal dance clubs like Cat’s Corner, which offers regular intro classes for beginners and in the summer, brings its swing outdoors with open air classes in Atwater Market or along the Lachine Canal. Studio 88 Swing offers swing classes as well as Latin and other social dances for all levels. Studio Jive, in the heart of the Plateau, revives the 1950s full and proper. For a monthly rock 'n roll dance party, head to the Wheel Club.

 

Fantômes du Red Light - Secret Montréal - Café Cléopâtre

9. Enjoy life as a cabaret

Burlesque has had a wonderfully rich history in Montréal since the days of the American prohibition, which brought lots of attention and rowdy good times to Montréal, especially in the area now known as the Quartier des Spectacles. Revel in that heritage at Cabaret Cléopâtre, a remaining bastion of that burlesque era, or enjoy a night out at the Wiggle Room. You can also get your fill at the annual Montréal Burlesque Festival

 

Marilyn Basbous, roller skating

10. Roll with the punches

Roller skate your way down memory lane, why don’t ya? Montréal Roller Derby is a spectator sport full of thrills, spills, chills and incredible skill—and it’ll leave you on the edge of your seat. Follow them on socials to know when you can buy tickets. Strap on your own wheels for a go at the Friday Night Roller Disco, or follow like minded rollers at Rolling Tribes to join their next event (like their Magic Sundays).

 

BoulZeye, Pub & Attractions

11. Play like it’s 1989

Go nuts at one of Montréal’s grownup play zones, whether it’s Putting Edge (helloooo, glow in the dark mini golf), Boulzeye (arcade meets bowling alley meets escape rooms meets laser tag!) or Action 500 (everything from paintball to go-karting).

12. Break some records

The Montréal music scene is legendary, so it only makes sense that it translates to a healthy music-collecting scene too. Explore some of the many vinyl shops, from L’Échange to Sonorama to La fin du vinyle. Some also have cafés, so you can browse even more leisurely: try Café Got Soul, Le 180 g (specialized in local sounds) and Marché Saint-Laurent in Old Montréal, who has all kind of Montréal retro products.

 

Randolph Gaming Pub Quartier-Latin

13. Never get board

Picture yourself in a basement rec room (or in a scene from Stranger Things) and get your board game on at Randolph, Le Colonel Moutarde or Le Joker. Just book a spot and show up with friends and pick one of the hundreds of games onsite for a high spirited night. (Oh, didn’t we mention there are drinks?)

 

Les Quartiers du Canal Streets

14. Find period souvenirs

There are so many little pockets of vintage furniture and décor shopping in Montréal, including Amherst Street in the Village and along Notre-Dame Street in the Quartiers du Canal. Some one-off shops with beautifully curated collections of mid-century modern pieces include Style Labo, Morceau and Bien Beau. For a veritable emporium of period accoutrements for the home, from original 1930s door handles to 1950s medical cabinets, head to Spazio.

 

Gibeau Orange Julep

15. Take a bite of the past

If your ideal meal is something out of the musical Grease, then pick one of the burgers off this list! Or just head straight to Orange Julep, where the next-level casse-croûte delights are served out of a giant orange. Plus, every Wednesday night in the warm-weather months, the parking lot fills with vintage cars – the perfect #TBT photo opp. 

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant is a Montréal-based editor and storyteller with a curiosity that runs deeper than most. She has chatted life philosophies with celebrity chefs, gemologists, arena rockers and furries. (All were transformative.) Her free time is spent designing jewellery and laughing at her husband’s jokes.

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