It's our fourth edition of Gothamist's travel content, Gothamist Getaways. A few times a year, we'll have a week of posts featuring looks at travel, food, products and tips—near and far—for making your trips more enjoyable. So sit back, dream of your next journey and let us know if you have any hints for us—email


Ralph had beaten everyone else in the bar, and after he introduced himself and I shook his wet hand, I knew he’d beat me too.

Before every shot, after he chalked his cue, while he was telling me where I should aim my bank shot, Ralph drank gin through the straw of a perpetually empty glass, that loud suction noise imbuing him with a magnetic insouciance that never diminished, even after multiple refills.

I had a chance to defeat him, but I smacked my winning 8-ball too hard (“rednecking it,” as my friend Ben likes to say), and he dispatched me shortly after. I offered to go again (the pool table at Barfly is free), but Ralph flashed me a gap-toothed smile and declined. “I’d love to, but I gotta go to work. Table’s yours.” It was 11 p.m.

Ralph spoke some French to the bartender, stepped over the Velvet Underground cover band that was setting up their instruments, and shuffled out onto Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Montreal: even the pool sharks are pleasant.



Montreal, because I needed to get out of the country as quickly and cheaply as I could. The quotidian slapstick of my life was rapidly veering from Only In New York quaintness to jaw-clenching incredulity to Farrelly Brothers Blu-Ray Extended Clips. Somewhere between smearing my infected eyeball with expensive, noxious ointment and casually tussling a cockroach out of my hair, I resolved to break the cycle. I had to leave.

Plus, I had a car (more on that later).

As the title suggests, this entire trip cost me around $300, which I find is the right amount of money necessary to enjoy myself for a few days without feeling daggers of guilt or panic press against my usual utilitarian impulses. $350 wouldn't have killed me either.

Before you go, have your bank exchange some money into Canadian dollars (for a small fee) to avoid paying insane ATM charges. Most credit card companies will charge you a small percentage on overseas purchases (Yes I surrendered. Mine charges me 3%.)

Fleeing to Montreal by car from New York City takes a little over six hours; nine hours or so by bus, and ten or more hours by train, which is almost always preferable to a bus ($144 round-trip) and if you book far enough in advance, cheaper ($136). The more adventurous among us can also use a carpooling site. Two full tanks of gas cost me around $70.

The first six hours of my trip would have been uneventful if my passport hadn’t expired in March. My three companions and I passed the melancholic beauty of upstate New York mired in a debate over sovereignty and international law, our talking points culled in real-time from Yahoo Answers and That Time That Band Got Pulled Over But They Didn’t Find The Weed.

We pinned our hopes to a story published last year in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, its headline promising a plain deal: “Traveling To Canada With An Expired Passport? It Can Be Done.”

It can.

I must not have a meaningful criminal record, and I believe this has something to do with the Canadian border agent’s willingness to wave me through after a brief admonishment. It also probably helped that I was driving a 2015 Lexus CT “luxury hybrid” on loan from the company in hopes that those preceding words would find themselves on this website. “Built to cross borders,” a gravely voice might intone, as a group of white guys shrug at a Customs Officer with an Everlast chinstrap. If you have a criminal record and aren’t driving a brand new luxury vehicle, you may want to get a passport or renew your expired one (you can do the former at the library).

After briefly checking our privilege, we drove another 30 minutes to meet our host in Le Plateau.


The Airbnb we booked was on Avenue Henri Julien. The top floor of a warm little duplex with two bedrooms and an ample couch cost $120 a night after taxes and fees, a smidge pricier than the going rate for other options in the neighborhood.

Our host gave us a list of places to eat and drink (we later learned that they were all a tad too precious—small plates joints and wine bars) and nervously asked if we were interested in any “adult entertainment,” which we took to mean one of their infamous strip clubs. We all laughed and blushed and she wrote down the name of a place and then left us four strangers inside her home. Adeline, if you’re reading this: we did not go to any strip clubs. I promise.

The neighborhood feels a little bit like the East Village, in that if you discover a bar or restaurant or bookstore you don’t like, keep walking. You’ll find another within a few blocks.

Dieu de Ciel! is the first place you want to plop down after your journey. They have meats and cheeses and an exhaustive list of beers they brew in-house. All of the six or so variations I tasted were good. Late in the afternoon you can stretch out and greet everyone who needed to get out of work early and drink three large glasses of beer ($5-$7). By the early evening, the place is jammed with old people and young people all talking in loud, satisfied voices, so the room hums. It’s cozy.



Montreal is known for having many beautiful parks scattered across town, but I was struck by its alleyways, which are a novelty in New York. The alleys in my Virginia hometown were shortcuts or suburban sledding paths or places where you saw your neighbors when you took out the garbage. The ones in Montreal seemed spooky and kind of sad.



My friends and I joked about doing a travel piece on Montreal in which the writer eats poutine for every meal. French Canadians must require a lot of delicious, bullshit calories to deal with the frigid winter weather. Poutine is their Pizza. Sit at any one of their puke-brown counters in their puke-yellow diners and wolf down whatever breakfasty abomination they put in front of you. Feel the sublime rush of pure scandal: you’re eating gravy and french fries and cheese with a fork!

Fameux Viande Fumee et Charcuterie had superb late-night offerings. This plate of breakfast food was $10 plus tip (coffee included). Same for their standard plate of poutine.



We hit the The Green Spot in Little Burgundy in the afternoon; a hamburger with sauteed onions cost around $4. Fries and a Coke were $3 and $2.


Montreal really has two seasons: Bixi Season and Snow. Though the temperature was never above 35 degrees during our stay in early November (“warm,” several locals told us), there were many people still biking around town. If you come during Bixi Season (spring through late November), a 24-hour pass only costs you $5. Unlike Citi Bike, we never encountered any problems with busted kiosks or finicky docks. Bring gloves (unless you’re into bleeding, numb hands).

Biking along the Canal de Lachine is a scenic way to justify eating all that food. Every 30 yards there seemed to be another luxury development under construction. I wondered if the residents of The Edge would someday Airbnb apartments in Le Canal Griffintown. Atwater Market is a good place to stop for a snack.







Montreal was far enough to supply the psychic distance I needed from New York, but home had funny ways of piercing my landscape. At an upstairs dance club on St. Denis and Rue Rachel that seemed to exclusively cater to 18-year-olds, the bouncer out on the sidewalk had approached us with, “Do you want to dance?” The cover was $3, which seemed too low to refuse. I carried a round of $3 shots to my companions who were all staring out a massive window. We sat and watched the driver of this truck filled with bad pizza negotiate this turn for what seemed like 10 minutes. “HEY, OVER HERE,” America yelled. “HEY.”


The two best bagel factories in Montreal are located a 10-minute walk from each other. That would be Fairmount and St. Viateur. The key to both is to ask for their freshest bagel and eat it immediately—if there are four of you, splurge on a dozen ($8). There will be foodies from San Francisco and smartly dressed women exclaiming “ooh, chaud!” as they tear the steaming bagel flesh with their manicured hands. Neither produce bagels that are as good as a fresh New York bagel. Do not ask them to add cream cheese or lox or anything that a normal human would want on a bagel. Buy a tub of Philadelphia and eat them on the street. Walk to Café Olympico down the street from St. Viateur and have the nice Calabrian men make you a $2 latté.

Fairmount (Gothamist)

This did not taste very good (Gothamist)

St. Viateur (Gothamist)

Much better (Gothamist)

There’s currently a nifty exhibit on Modernists at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, which costs $12 if you’re 30 or under and $20 for everyone else. Their small, manageable permanent collection is free. For contemporary art, try DHC / ART. We were told by a local that Drones Club books good live music, but there was nothing we wanted to see.

That same local also recommended that we eat dinner at Bethlehem XXX, a restaurant run by a musician who serves a different menu from a different country each week. When we arrived the place seemed empty, but a host told us they were all booked up for the night. Apparently it has been featured by Anthony Bourdain, but it still seemed to maintain its scruffiness despite being designated as a Destination.








We walked a few blocks and found Dinette Triple Crown, a place in Little Italy that serves heavy duty soul food and booze in Mason jars. “Fuck,” I thought, not wanting to eat in Brooklyn. It was delicious. The $14 fried chicken (with 3 sides) was enough to fortify me for an evening out at Bar Notre-Dame-Des-Quilles (NDQ).


NDQ’s fable is that the owners wanted to sell booze, but liquor licenses are exceedingly difficult to obtain. Their solution: build a bar with a bowling alley, because for some reason bowling alleys automatically get liquor licenses.

As their puny duckpin “bowling alley” attests, this seems too easy to be true. Throughout the night, different groups would drunkenly hurl the ball at the hapless person perched above the pins (you have to keep score and set the pins yourself) before gravitating to the dance floor. Our servers at Triple Crown met us for a few drinks; their commitment to our enjoyment of their city was admirable.


On our final day we headed up the town’s eponymous mountain. You can hike or drive (or unicycle), but the best views are from an overlook off the road.



Right before you cross back over the border into America, Canada helpfully places a liquor store where you can burn the remainder of their brightly-colored currency (we also passed a t-shirt/fireworks store, which I regret not pulling over for). We stopped so my passenger could get a bottle of wine, and a raven landed on the car. It stared at the human fumbling with his cell phone camera, then hopped up on a fence.

Was this a portentous sign that my expired passport would lead to my undoing? Was I about to be barred from my home country?


The border agent turned out to be even more courteous and indifferent than his counterpart. Everything was fine. The raven was Canadian.