Roller derby, French fries and stalking Leonard Cohen… Charlotte Dingle enjoyed a very special LGBT tour of Montreal.
Three glorious days in Montreal began at the spectacular Hotel St-Paul, where I dropped off my bag and met our guide and the other journalists in the lobby. Showing us round was the lovely Tanya, Tourisme Montréal Media Relations Manager – and owner of the Girlports lesbian travel site.
I was rather peckish after my flight, so I was a little disappointed when Tanya lead us inside what appeared to be a nightclub... With tables in it. Genius! Le Saloon in Montreal Gay Village is, yep, you guessed it, a nightclub-come-restaurant where you can tuck into generous portions of food under strobe lights and booming bass. I’d been warned by a friend who grew up in Montreal that coming here as a vegan might be tough, so here was my first challenge. I opted for a vegetarian pizza without cheese, and gazed on a little enviously as my companions dug into plates of traditional Canadian dish poutine (chips and gravy). A taste of one of Le Saloon’s famous Martini cocktails, however, and the envy soon dissipated.
The next day we went on a tour of the city. By car, unfortunately, as the heavens opened soon after we left the hotel. Thankfully, they’d closed again by the time we got to Mont Royal – the highest point of Montreal, where you can look out over the entire city. After taking some snaps, we climbed back into the car and made a pilgrimage to the house of the great Leonard Cohen. Those of you with fewer years under your belt, or less dated musical tastes, may not have heard of him, but he wrote iconic classic Hallelujah, which has been covered by artists including k.d lang, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley and X Factor winner Alexandra Burke. I adore him… but my mother would probably roll backwards over broken glass for a million miles just to touch his sleeve. Needless to say, when I texted her to say I was outside his house, she almost wrote me out of her will.
After a quick visit to the farmer’s market to sample some stunningly tasty Montreal strawberries and maple syrup, we had lunch at lesbian-owned burger bar La Paryse. Decorated with the work of lesbian artists and photographers, it was a very stylish backdrop against which to enjoy an extremely flavoursome tofu burger and melt-in-the-mouth rough cut French fries.
Next stop, the We Want Miles exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I must admit, not being a Miles aficionado, I wasn’t sure I’d get much out of it... But I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was a fascinating – and very haunted – guy. The Museum of Fine Arts is running a series of such exhibitions: next up is a look at the life of Jean Paul Gaultier, kicking off in summer 2011.
Now it was networking time... We went for cocktails at Koko restaurant with the movers and shakers (pun intended) of the Montreal gay scene. I spoke at length to some of the women behind Diver/Cité (a gay cultural festival, which runs from 21 July to 1 August), Image+Nation (Montreal’s LGBT film festival, which happens in October) and Festival International Montréal en Arts (happening from 1 to 11 July) as well as various Montreal bar and club owners and promoters. After the third cocktail, some of my rusty French even found its way into the conversation. I found it hard to drag myself away, but I was glad I did, as a lovely meal at O’Thym awaited me. There was no stopping me now, and my linguistic prowess surfaced once again as I managed to pick out the components of a vegan meal from the French version of the menu.
What time was it now? It was party time. The girls peeled off from the boys and hit Sky club, where we drank cool beers on a massive open air roof terrace. A lot of cool beers, in fact. A few clubs down, the boys were doing the same... Next morning’s brunch at Le Cartet was wolfed down in record time by a group of very hungover journalists.
After a power nap at the hotel, we hit Picnic Electronique – a weekly al fresco electronic music fest, ideal for those who don’t want to let go of the weekend. It was certainly fun… but my mind was on the next attraction: a roller derby match. This was definitely where the hot chicks were. In fact, I can’t think of anything much more delectable than the sight of a bunch of tattooed girls in hot pants knocking each other out of the way with their bums. Win.
We spent the ride to dinner trying to think up roller derby names for ourselves (I dreamed up ‘Skate Bush’), and descended on Liverpool House restaurant still babbling excitedly about the match, much to the confusion of the male members of the group – none of whom had been tempted to join us.
After dinner, it was time to say goodbye. My farewells duly bid, I sank into my big comfy hotel bed and counted sexy roller girls until I fell asleep...
Festival International Montréal en Arts (aka FIMA, the Montreal queer arts festival)
1 – 11 July, 2010
Divers/Cité (gay cultural festival)
26 July – 1 August 2010
10 – 15 August
Image+Nation (LGBT film festival)
End of October, 2010 (exact dates TBA)
Edgy Women (women’s art and performance festival)
March 2011 (exact dates TBA)