Once thought of as a pit stop for bagels on the way out of town, this quirky Montréal neighbourhood’s being called the hipster capital of Canada. Sure, it’s home to cutting-edge fashion boutiques, cult-status brew pubs and award-winning restaurants, but what really makes Mile End special is the blend of artists, musicians and culturati who, most of the time, live harmoniously together. The fourth generation Portuguese families, orthodox Jews, and Greek shop owners mean that it’s not unusual to hear three languages spoken in one conversation. And where else would citizens band together to block a new Starbucks from opening? Property values be damned.
Check out the 8 reasons why Mile End’s the bastion of cool:
1. COFFEE KLATCH
Before the hipsters arrived, mainstays Café Olimpico (aka Open Da Night after its worn signage) and Café Club Social were frequented by old, Italian dudes playing poker and sipping espressos under flags of Italia. Other than free WiFi, not much has changed since the 1970’s, only now you’ll see wunderkind director Xavier Dolan or members of Arcade Fire propping up the bar.
The cafés are a block apart from one another on St. Viateur’s main drag and people are staunchly loyal to one café or the other. Whether you think the foam is better at Olimpico or the staff is friendlier at the Social Club, it’s ‘see and be seen’ on both terraces where freelance and artsy types are known to camp out for entire sunny days.
2. THE ICE CREAM IS BANANAS
People here are crazy for ice cream, especially since AC is rare in those old Montreal triplexes. Come summer, you’ll find most people who are too-cool-for-school lining up at Kem CoBa on l’Avenue Fairmount. Before it opened, people were forced to get their cone fix five blocks away in swanky Outremont (which may as well be another planet). The handmade molle maison is to die for and the swirled Lait d’amande and Griotte is truly bananas. Sadly, Kem CoBa is only open from early May until Christmas, so plan accordingly.
3. VINTAGE IS KING
There are at least a dozen friperies for clothing, furniture and music in just a few square blocks. As every self-respecting sartorialist knows, you’ll need some key vintage pieces if you want to stand out from the madding crowd. On Bernard Street alone, you can pick up an original 1978 Herbie Hancock record at Phonopolis, a pair of 80’s Esprit eyeglass frames at Les Montures and 90’s style mom jeans from Annex Vintage.
What was once a small Mile End company specializing in underground comic books has become one of the most influential publishers of graphic novels in the world. Authors invited to speak at Drawn & Quarterly’s rue Bernard shop are given instant street cred and tickets sell out fast. Plan a lengthy browse while stocking up on classic Tin Tin, Art Spiegelman, and (our favourite title) A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting by Quebec cartoonist, Guy Delisle.
5. MEN’S DANDY FASHION
Mile End boys don’t wake up perfectly rumpled. Their looks are carefully curated at one of several cooler-than-thou boutiques. Bearded guys love the traditional barbering at Atelier Frank & Oak, which is also the flagship location of its classic menswear collection.
Clark Street Mercantile feels like an old-fashioned general store selling swish utility bags, field flannel ball caps and luxury skate shoes that every man needs. And then there’s Savoie Fils: the place for manly Opinel knives, Baxter grooming products and strong espressos from the custom-made Kees van der Westen Spirit machine.
6. THE BAGEL WARS
This ‘hood was founded on the back of a good bagel. Whether you prefer dark seed or white, with cream cheese or plain, there’s no denying Mile End produces the best bagels in the world. Line-ups can be long but time passes quickly when you’re watching them rolled, seeded and baked in wood-fired ovens.
In this town, there are two players: Fairmount Bagel and St. Viateur Bagel. The former is older and the latter has cool t-shirts emblazoned with dancing bagels. Once you’ve picked a team, you’ll stay loyal for life.
7. IT’S VEGGIE HEAVEN
Mile Enders love their organic kale. One of the city’s first veggie basket delivery services started here back in ’95, so it’s no quelle surprise that the area has so many meat-free food joints (at least nine within a 15 minute walk alone). Be sure to try souvlaki-style tempeh at Aux Vivres (the first vegan restaurant in Mtl), Yemen-style falafel balls at Le Panther Verte and the legendary kale and chocolate fusion cake at Invitation V.
8. THE OLD WORLD FOOD
There’s only so much kale one hipster can eat, but Mile End also has enough ethnic food to keep the fussiest foodie happy. At Clark and Fairmount, Wilensky’s was immortalized in Mordecai Richler novels and romanticized by expats all over the world. Don’t expect the warm and fuzzies but, for some awesome reason, the décor hasn’t changed since 1932. Plus, you’ll get a mouthwatering salami and bologna sandwich for just over four bucks.