If I have learned anything in 48 hours, it’s how genuinely and vivaciously Montreal lives at night. Last night, after a day of typical tourist fare (though typical neglects how magnificent the historic churches, mansions and museums are…), I set off to discover the real Montreal, beyond the flashy brochures, sedately plodding horse-drawn carriages, and hordes of tourists swarming the uneven cobblestones and sidewalk cafes. I hopped a Metro train to her heart and soul.
Upon a recommendation from a friendly barista and fellow Death Cab for Cutie fan (the power of a t-shirt choice in guiding my feet!), I ducked into Hurley’s Irish Pub. Packed to the gills with locals, not a tourist to be seen. All around the assonance of French conversational cacophony weaving a tapestry of stories I was not equipped to hear, interspersed by the odd Irish bartender, a thick honest brogue of the recent immigrant. I claimed a hard-won spot at the bar and settled back with my Guinness, fresh from the tap.
Irish pubs outside of Ireland seem to be the same decorating cliche the world over. But not at Hurley’s. The building is old, the rooms a maze of tiny cubbyholes for intimate conversation, and the wood and brass gleaming. It’s warm, cozy, and doesn’t try too hard.
Friday night means foot-thumping live music, and the local legends Solstice did not disappoint, with a driving fiddle, furious harmonica, and a lead singer guitarist who threw himself into Irish classics, old and new, with a voice to melt every woman’s heart. They kept us clapping and dancing throughout the night, through several sets. Amidst the din I met Nadia, a Parisian recently relocated to Montreal for a nursing job. Good brews and music make for fast friendships.
Montreal is a modern metropolis, a bubbling mix of languages and cultures. In Chinatown, weekend lunch means dim sum with the entire family. And is it ever a loud, fast-paced feast of strange discoveries! As a party of one, I sat at a table with two other groups, listening and observing. Servers wheeled between the forest of tables, teeming with happy, chatting Chinese. Not a lick of French here! You choose your food by the plate, from the carts, everything from fresh steaming dumplings to steamed sauced vegetables to more adventurous seafood creations that stumped my primitive use of chopsticks. (De-shelling shrimp turned to messy fingers.) Each plate is marked on your check by the passing server and you take your check up the register when you’re too stuffed to try any more.
Today’s journey to the heart of real Montreal took me in the opposite direction, out to the Olympic Stadium, where the Montreal Impact took on the New York Red Bulls. The fans filled the stadium with chanting and a buzz of energy unique to soccer, an undercurrent that ebbs and flows in swells of human excitement – another symphony of the human soul. I decked out in blue and black, joined the roars and groans, and commiserated with my section mates as Montreal fell to New York 1-2.
If you’ve forgotten all your high school French like me, just head to a Montreal Impact MLS match. You’ll be singing Allez, allez, allez and screaming in French by the end.