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Montreal: A European getaway that's close to home
by Kirk Williamson

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Flying in the face of everything you thought you knew about geography, a quaint European-style getaway can be had with a two-hour flight directly east to the Great White North: Bienvenue a Montréal!

The first thing you might notice about this charming French-Canadian metropolis is just how French it is. Local statutes provide that all signage on all businesses and public accommodations must appear only en Français. Around 50 percent of Montreal's resident are Francophones, that is they speak only or primarily French. Never fear, though. If your high-school French has faded, you'll find plenty of Anglophones to get you where you're going. Many residents speak both languages fluently and with indistinguishable accents.

Choices of modern, chic accommodations abound in Montréal. The design of Hôtel St. Paul ( 355, rue McGill; ) combines abstractions of fire, ice, earth and sky to create a palette of Canada's most basic natural features turned luxe. Opus Montréal ( 10, rue Sherbrooke Ouest; ) , which was built in 1914 by Joseph-Arthur Godin, is created in the Art Nouveau style and was the first poured concrete structure in North America.

Once you're settled in to your room, you'll want to pick up something gorgeous to wear for your nights on the town. The city of Montréal is quite fashionable and you'll certainly want to dress the part. For a kicky daytime look, look no further than Rooney ( 395, rue Notre Dame Ouest; ) for a carefully curated selection of clothing, footwear and accessories from emerging designers. As recommended by Forbes Magazine, Clusier Habilleur ( 432, rue McGill; ) will set you up with a smart dinner look from their racks of quality menswear. Evolution ( 1359, rue Sainte-Catherine Est ) is the place to create your clubbing outfit that will distinguish you on the dance floor.

Getting around Montréal can be a journey all its own. In keeping with the heavy European influence, Montréal is a walking town. What cannot be accessed by foot ( time and/or stamina permitting ) can be easily reached via the Métro, a state-of-the-art system of four subway train lines reaching all corners of the city. Bixi, a public bike-sharing program which began in Montréal just last year ( and which is just starting to spring up in Chicago ) , offers over 5,000 rental bicycles city-wide which can be picked up and dropped off at Bixi docking stations all over the city. It offers an economical—and green­—way to explore the sights.

Montréal is also a city which prides itself on fresh, local cuisine, which runs the spectrum from upscale swank to late-night poutine ... okay, let me explain. Poutine—a mixture of frites, gravy and cheese curds—is the unofficial national dish of Canada and can be found in many variations, all of them delicious. No trip to Montréal would be complete without sampling a variety of poutines. It's like coming to Chicago and not trying the deep-dish pizza, Chicago hot dogs, Italian beef, etc.

O'Thym ( 1112, boul. de Maisonneuve Est; ) provides rustic flair and a solid selection of timely dishes, like the rack of lamb with fresh herbs, honey and garlic sauce or the salmon boucané with wakame butter.

Brunch at Le Cartet ( 106, rue McGill ) is a modern Montréal classic featuring five main brunch plates. The Brunch Sante comes with organic granola, yogurt topped with berries, two poached eggs on top of bread and a mesclun salad. Add a side of luscious, thick-cut fruit, cheddar cheese and dried, stuffed figs for an extra bit of sweet surprise.

Liverpool House ( 2501, rue Notre-Dame Ouest; ) is the newest offering from a small group of up-and-coming chefs who firmly believe that a meal was meant to be savored in comfort and with good friends. The cottage-like atmosphere of the restaurant, complete with dark-stained bookshelves, sets you at idyllic ease as you choose from a menu of French-bistro inspired plates with a Québecois twist.

Should you choose to go for a drink—or six— after dinner, head up to see the people of the Gay Village, the name given to the stretch of Rue Sainte-Catherine which is home to many gay and lesbian nighttime diversions.

For a raucous show, see Mado at Cabaret Chez Mado ( 1115, rue Sainte-Catherine Est; ) . Mado Lamothe is the drag godmother of Montréal and performs her mix of variety and sheer spectacle each Tuesday night to a mixed crowd. Even when she is not performing, she can be seen holding court throughout the street. Look for the most ostentatious headdress, look down a bit and there will be Mado!

Most bars in the Gay Village are multi-level and feature lounge spaces, dance floors and rooftop terraces. Club Unity ( 1171, rue Sainte-Catherine Est; ) offers up a world-class mix of local and international DJs, live shows and top-of-the-line lighting and sound systems. Le Drugstore ( 1366, rue Sainte-Catherine Est; ) , Montréal's main lesbian club, is a playground of beautiful ladies, classic bar diversions such as pool and pinball, and kitschy decor. Sky Club ( 1474, rue Sainte-Catherine Est; ) is one of the city's oldest gay and lesbian clubs, and remains one of the most popular. With three floors, a rooftop terrace and four different dance spaces, Sky is popular from the 5 p.m. Happy Hour until closing time at 3 a.m.

If you're not into the bar scene and rather more enjoy seeing hot women knock each other down, then the Montreal Roller Derby ( ) is more up your alley. The season goes April through August, so you'll have to wait until next summer to see which team dethrones the 2010 champions Les Contrabanditas.

October brings two huge and homo-positive events to Montréal that you won't want to miss. BBCM Foundation's Black & Blue Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary weekend, with the Black & Blue Ball on October 10 ( or 10/10/10 ) . Boys and girls flock to Montréal each October for this thumpingly hot, searingly cool circuit party which also features the Leather Ball on Fri., October 8, the Military Ball on Sat., October 9 and the Recovery Party on Mon., October 11. Visit www. for more info and DJ lineups.

Cinemaphiles will want a seat for the 23rd annual Image+Nation, Montréal's LGBT film festival, October 21-31. Part of the ever-growing international LGBT film fest circuit, Image+Nation offers all the first-class queer cinema from around the globe that people will be talking about for the next year and beyond. Find a schedule of films and more information at .

So sip, dance, ride, dine, enjoy in North America's most European city, Montréal.

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