fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

The French Brooklyn of Canada

By Greg Cayea


My cell service dropped immediately, and the signs went French within moments of crossing the border. Farmland crowded my window for a hundred kilometers until the Champlain Bridge fed thousands of cars into the fifth most populated city in North America. I drove into the city, passing boutique cafés and outdoor eateries on the way to my hostel. It was summer, a comfortable 21 degrees Celsius (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), and there were spectacular graffiti artworks everywhere—looking more like murals painted on brick buildings than vandalism.

Outside my hostel, two Parisian girls were smoking cigarettes on the cement stoop leading down to Rue Sherbrooke. They spoke not a word of English. For the first time, I realized this city might be more French than I expected. I found my bed in the dark coed dormitory and shut my eyes.

The next morning, I was riding a BIXI rental bike around the cobblestoned neighborhood of Old Port. Large, old churches, intellectuals drinking espresso, and European-style alleys met on every street corner. During the day, you’d never know the historic-looking apartment buildings disguised some of the most exclusive nightlife destinations on the continent.

I thought it best to make sure I still had money in the meter where I parked my car before riding the bike too far away, so I went to check.

That’s when Montreal changed my life.

I saw shattered glass everywhere. My car had been broken into, and my laptop, iPad, hard drive—all my electronics—were gone. Not only that, but my Burning Man ticket and my passport were missing. I had planned to drive to Nevada in just a few days to attend the desert madness of Burning Man, but now my plans were foiled. I took a deep breath and ran to the cops, telling them what had happened and asking the best way to get back into the United States, given my circumstances. To stay on schedule, I had to leave that day. They told me simply to show my passport to border patrol.

“But my passport was stolen.”


“Well,”—heavy on the French accent—“apply fair anuzzer?”

But I didn’t have time. So, I did what any sane man would do—I rearranged my entire life within ten minutes. I quit my job, left my apartment, and decided to make new friends (all this happened in my head) in under a half hour. After all, what better options were there? So, I thought, “I better explore my new city right away and get excited about it.”

First, I needed some help, so I ran to the nearest Apple Store and bought a new computer, then headed back to the hostel and posted on Facebook asking someone, anyone, if they knew of anyone in MTL that might be able to help.

That’s how I met Louiza, who would soon become my tour guide to the inner workings of Montreal, or as it became known in my head: French Brooklyn.

Louiza was a bottle service waitress at one of the best nightclubs in Canada, New City Gas. It was she who educated me on all the artistic talent that had emerged from Quebec, like Blond:ish, A-Trak, and many others. I had no idea what having a cultivated local arts scene meant, but I soon found out. It meant that the entire art community was self-sustaining. Sure, many artists left to attain fame in other cities, but they didn’t have to, and they always returned to their hometown of Montreal. The local fan base took care of their people; I liked that. Another good reason to move from Los Angeles to Canada.

The entire art community was self-sustaining. Sure, many artists left to attain fame in other cities, but they didn’t have to, and they always returned to their hometown of Montreal.

I stayed at her apartment in the Plateau neighborhood of MTL, which is sprinkled with cat cafés (a cat café is exactly what it sounds like), music promoters, street artists, rouge-lit bars, fast-poutine joints, and artists of all kinds. It seemed like it was a town full of opportunity, and everywhere I looked there were signs that read Au Louer, which means “For Rent.” So, the decision to uproot my life and move to Quebec became final. After all, as I said, I had no way to leave.

Later that night, Louiza took me to a bar in the Plateau section called SuWu, a “hip-hop eatery” that is adorned with wooden everything and plant-themed decor—very Québéquois indeed. The room was full of beautiful people and the aroma of freshly cooked poutine, the signature Montreal dish of melted cheese curds over French fries draped in a tasty gravy. After several hours, when the bar scene ended, it was time to go dancing. So we entered a cab and exited in the neighborhood where my car had been assaulted. At that time, about one in the morning, only nightlife connoisseurs walked the cobblestones. The entrance to Flyjin, an Asian-inspired underground club with cave-like stone walls, red lights, misty fog, and deep house music, was neatly hidden from the touristy public. The front doors even appeared broken. But crowds of in-the-know fashionistas and high-heeled vixens led the way. An hour later, Louiza looked at me and asked in her thick French accent:

“Do you want to go to an, ah, afterpahrtee?”


Absolutely. So once again we entered a cab, drove past many people in the middle of the street (drunk, with their poutine takeout), and arrived at a speakeasy clustered between two graffiti-clad buildings with iconoclastic slogans all over the walls. All English speaking evaporated once we walked inside, and I made do with what little French I spoke: zero.

After many hand gestures, sign language, and other failed attempts at communication on my part, we left to pick up some poutine of our own around four o’clock in the morning and headed back to Louiza’s apartment to rest our heads.

The next morning, I roamed the city’s Gay Village, which was festooned in colorful ropes of round ornaments hanging from one building to the other overhead, and as I walked and the sun hit the ornaments from different angles, the colors made a bright rainbow. I walked down Sainte-Catherine Street until I reached the intersection of the well-known Saint-Laurent, which marks the middle of the city, dividing eastern and western MTL, and also marking the division between locals to the est and tourists to the ouest. Trendy bodegas and “cultured” restaurants line the boulevard, cutting through the many ethnicities of the city and hallmarking Saint-Laurent as the main thoroughfare. It runs from downtown all the way to the Prairies River.

Trendy bodegas and “cultured” restaurants line the boulevard, cutting through the many ethnicities of the city and hallmarking Saint-Laurent as the main thoroughfare.

And on that one wonderful afternoon, I got a phone call from a 514 number, the local area code in MTL. A stranger told me my bags had been found. No electronics, but my passport and Burning Man ticket were still there! At least the thief was artistically appreciative enough, like the rest of MTL, to leave me my Burning Man ticket—and my passport to get there.

Unfortunately, there was no way I could make it to Nevada on time, but I decided to return to LA and keep the life I had—at least for the moment. So, I sadly told the landlord of the beautiful three-bedroom Montreal castle (which rented for only 1,200 Canadian dollars) that it was a no-go. I left the most artfully crafted city in North America, the French Brooklyn of Canada, and have since returned many times.

To this day, I have yet to find another city with a barber shop that only does “white people dreadlocks” or a thousand-square-foot bar with an entire indoor skateboarding bowl nearly blocking the entrance as you walk in for a drink. I haven’t seen a shiny glass storefront with only two dudes sitting and working at their laptops as the locals walk by on the congested sidewalk, peering inside as the two dudes program Montreal’s next music festival. They could easily have done this from home, but no, they had to rent a retail shop so that all could bear witness to the making of their art—even if it’s done entirely via e-mail.

In all directions, Montreal has seemingly captured the culture of humanity and bottled it into many forms of art (including thievery), spray painted it on all the building walls, and even cooked it into the street food. It’s truly the city that only sleeps when the last party ends.

— V —

Greg Cayea writes offensive short stories about his life adventures, then draw cartoons to illustrate them. Stay tuned at ScrambledGregs.com for his next adventure.

Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail