Long Weekend: Oh, Canada!

Coupled or single, velly French Montreal is sophisticated, sexy, and gay, gay, gay.

It’s hard being a travel writer who’s been to dozens of countries who’s dating someone who refuses to go overseas. Canada was our compromise. Toronto we found too orderly, but Montreal was another thing entirely. The buildings older, grayer, the streets sensual, lightly rain-slicked that spring day we arrived. A place we both could love.

We stayed in Hôtel Sainte Catherine, whose rooms are small, simple, cheap ($69 a night for a queen), and cool with unfinished brick, its beds comfortable retreats where we’d wile away, planning the next day. The hotel is in the middle of the Gay Village, with its rainbow-colonnaded Beaudry Metro Station. Looking back, maybe a bad choice for a couple with jealousy issues, but it put us in the middle of everything we’d been told by friends was worth seeing.

The hotel is on one of Montreal’s main boulevards, an asphalt spine running from low-rise neighborhoods through a downtown fighting the sky before surrendering here. The eastern end is a place gay men have been calling their own for decades. Once abandoned, it now pulses with shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs; we even went to the kinky shop Priape, laughing at the meaning of the store’s name (basically, “erection”). We bought a whip.

We wandered into Old City Montreal, a half-hour walk. It’s tranquil and moody, cobblestone streets winding around 200-year-old buildings, floral vines bursting into bloom on their chiseled granite and brick facades, worn by the extremes of Quebec’s chillier seasons. There are exquisite boutiques for window-shopping and cozy French restaurants, all overlooked by the silvery domed Bonsecours Market looming over the Saint Lawrence River.

Unfortunately, while Montreal remains, my relationship does not. Now when I go, in my current single state, sometimes my group will hit Campus, the notorious strip club where it all comes off. (There’s nothing quite like a nude stripper cooing in French.) In legal-gay-marriage Canada, you see a lot of bachelor parties here.

Le Drugstore is one of the largest gay entertainment complexes in the world, a kitschy place that reminds me of an Old West saloon on steroids; its restaurant is named J’m La Frite (which literally means “I love the french fry”). Billiards is a popular choice with the lesbians, while the boys go dancing. But for me, the beauty of Le Drugstore lies in its levels of open terraces that look out onto Sainte Catherine — especially enticing when spring hits and the street fills with hordes of the Gallic men who caused so many arguments in my relationship years before.

I can’t say which Montreal I love best: the romantic one I spent with a lover, or the salacious one I’ve come to know as a single man. But I’m glad over the years to have experienced both. You will, too.

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