Almost seven years ago, Montreal’s city government began widening the sidewalks and installing new benches and planters on a section of Rue Bernard west of Boulevard St.-Laurent that had been lined with musty convenience stores (“dépanneurs” in the Quebec vernacular), greasy spoons and vacant storefronts. The surrounding neighborhood of Mile-End had become a prominent spot for local music, with bands like Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor having come up through its clubs and practice rooms. But the area’s cachet had somehow eluded Rue Bernard — until construction on the sidewalks was completed in 2006.
“The street was dug up for two or three summers, and after that the street started to change,” recalled Daniel Sanger, a writer who’s lived in the neighborhood on and off for 25 years.
Rue Bernard’s improved pedestrian friendliness brought with it a new generation of hangouts and shops, and cost a few of the old standbys. One of the longtime tenants that survived the face-lift is D’Un Sport à L’Autre (173, rue Bernard Ouest; 514-278-1909), a sporting goods store that sells a chaotic jumble of used and new equipment. After more than 15 years in business, it feels like an overstuffed garage, and the chaos is much more playful and encouraging than your average Nike store.
Arterie (No. 176; 514-273-3933; arterieboutique.blogspot.com), a nearby boutique, sells the work of Montreal designers alongside a collection of used clothing. Highlights include endearingly odd jewelry, vegan shoes and dresses by Valerie Dumaine from 130 Canadian dollars, about the same in U.S. dollars.
The work of Montreal designers is also the focus at Montréalité (No. 51; 877-254-8676;montrealite.com) farther down the block. Most of the screen-printed apparel here contains references to the bilingual life, including one T-shirt that says simply “Ouash,” a distinctly Québécois expression for “yuck” (15 Canadian dollars).
For design of the nonwearable sort, graphic novel enthusiasts from around the world make pilgrimages to Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (No. 211; 514-279-2224;drawnandquarterly.com); the headquarters of the successful publishing house that spawned it are nearby. The shop sells a delightful variety of graphic novels, art books and fiction — like “Hot Potatoe,” a new anthology by the Canadian graphic artist Marc Bell (44.95 Canadian) — and hosts book launches and workshops.
On a recent evening, the front room of the HELM Brasseur Gourmande (No. 273; 514-276-0473; helm-mtl.ca), a gastropub that brews six varieties of its own beer in the back, was full of young people trying to converse over a loud soundtrack. HELM’s name is an acronym for the ingredients of beer: houblon (hops), eau (water), levure (yeast) and malt. The menu offers tapas-size pub food with an emphasis on local ingredients, like the wild boar shepherd’s pie (13 Canadian dollars). Although the spot’s varnished-wood design is slicker than the homespun aesthetic you’ll find elsewhere in Mile-End, the food is homey and an excellent foil for the beer.