From electronica to emerging chefs, from DJs to drag queens, this city’s festivals keep the party going all year long
- Last Updated: 11:16 PM, August 15, 2012
- Posted: 2:49 PM, August 13, 2012
The first notes of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” boomed from the giant outdoor speakers, and the sweaty crowd on Montreal’s Jacques-Cartier Pier cheered and whirled their glo-sticks. On stage, dancers in neon Lycra pranced in unison behind the fluorescent pink-bewigged singer. Except it wasn’t Ms. Minaj. In fact, it wasn’t even a woman.
This was Mascara, La Nuit Des Drags (Night of the Drags), billed as the biggest drag-queen show on earth. The three-hour-long glitterfest, with female impersonators channeling icons like Marilyn, Liza and Britney, is the highlight of Montreal’s weeklong celebration of LGBT diversity, Divers/Cité. It’s one of more than 100 festivals taking place in the city year-round — with the season peaking in the summer. After those long, cold, dark winters, Montrealers are looking for any excuse to get outside and party.
On a recent visit, we couldn’t walk a city block without bumping into a festival-goer. Indie and emo disciples crowded onto subways bound for Osheaga, a three-day music extravaganza at Parc Jean-Drapeau; clothes-horses lined the outdoor runways of Montréal Fashion and Design to catch a glimpse of the latest “mode”; drumbeats signaled Land InSights, a celebration of Canada’s indigenous peoples; hordes of outrageously dressed teens were milling outside of Otakuthon, for anime and manga fans.
And those who weren’t on their way to a festival were on their way to eat — because if there’s anything Montrealers appreciate more than a good festival, it’s good food.
You’d have to look pretty hard to find a bad meal in the city; even in touristy Old Montreal there are several gems. At Les 400 Coups — which GQ’s Alan Richman named 2012’s Best Restaurant “North of America” — the menu is hyper-seasonal and hyper-local; summer specialties include a velvety chilled cucumber and avocado soup and a “green” dessert concoction of apples, pistachios and cilantro over white chocolate yogurt.
An even unlikelier culinary oasis can be found inside the TGI Friday’s-like Mechant Boeuf, steps from the Old Port on Saint Paul West. Skip the meat- and poutine-heavy items and grab a seat at the raw bar, where you’ll find young chef Jason Nagy whipping up an assortment of homemade cocktail sauces and mignonettes, including a sweet chili, ginger and cilantro and a raspberry and mint that pair unexpectedly well with freshly shucked oysters.
One of the newest (and priciest) hotspots on the culinary scene is Daniel Boulud’s Maison Boulud, part of the revamped Ritz-Carlton hotel on Sherbrooke Street West. The best tables are on the flower-filled outdoor patio, where you can dine on beautifully plated fare such as grilled octopus with piquillos and marcona almonds, and veal filet with delicately fried sweetbreads. Desserts here are architectural wonders, like the wedges of pine-nut biscuit topped with goat yogurt sorbet and finished with a triangle-shaped sliver of crystalized violet.