Montreal, Quebec, Canada can be apocalyptic, brutal and beautiful in the winter. An average of 83 inches of snowfall will accumulate here every year. The temperature during winter averages 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-9C) and I have personally experienced a brisk walk down Rue Sainte-Catherine when it was -9 Degrees Fahrenheit (-23C) with a blustery 20 MPH wind. This can be demoralizing. The locals have described winter as causing a feeling of loneliness and depression known as the “Winter Blues”. However, I must tell you that I have fallen in love with this climate- and this city.
Growing up in the south, living in a snow culture was something I never learned. But, when I was given the opportunity to relocate to Montreal for work, I could not have been more excited. So I packed two suitcases and left San Francisco with absolutely no idea what I was about to experience.
I lived on the edge of Chinatown in an IKEA provisioned corporate apartment. Chinatown in Montreal was a very tiny two blocks. For the first time in over a decade, I was alone and in a different world. The company moving consultant gave me the one hour tour of the neighborhood. Here is the grocery store. Here is the drug store. Here is the way to the office. And, everyone prefers French here. Good luck and welcome to Montreal.
It took me nearly two months to get settled into my new way of life. Just in time for winter. On the weekends I would branch out and explore the surrounding area of Old Montreal. Literally a minute walk from my apartment, the cobblestone streets, great food and culture were abundant. This place was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life. And, I lived here!
The Modavie Jazz and Wine Bar is located at 1, Rue Saint-Paul Ouest in Old Port Montreal. Donning my required “Canada Goose” jacket, jeans and snow boots I literally walked uphill- two ways- through a half mile of snow to get here. Once inside, I start the time-honored tradition of removing my winter gear and hanging it appropriately in the foyer. Every restaurant or bar in Montreal has an eight to ten-foot foyer with hangers for the winter. There was something magical about this environment that made me appreciate life and being in this town.
This small bistro by day and jazz bar by night made me a regular right away. I quickly became friends with the owner and staff as if I was Norm from “Cheers”. For lunch, I would stick to a strict regimen of Fettuccine Alfredo with a few glasses of Ruffino Chianti Riserva and simply sit at the bar. However, at my heart, I am an old school romantic. So, dinners were an entirely different story. I preferred a table located in the corner surrounded by windows that revealed a perfect view of the snow covered streets at the intersection of Rue St-Paul and Rue St-Laurent.
Foie Gras served with pear and cranberry compote was an excellent starter. The Ruffino Chianti is still an excellent choice. For the main course, I anxiously awaited the arrival of the perfectly cooked Ratatouille with quinoa and crumbled feta cheese. It was the perfect meal for winter.
Walking was my preferred mode of transportation in Montreal; regardless of the weather. One particular evening I set out on a 20-minute walk to downtown Westmount just after dark on a Friday Night. Apparently, there is an amazing restaurant that I absolutely must try- I can’t remember the name of it or what I ate to save my life. But I remember the walk and the experience. I’m unsure of the specific temperature but recall that half way through this journey I could no longer feel the tips of my fingers through my three layer gloves. I don’t think I have ever been colder in my entire life. Is this frostbite?
As I casually strolled through Parc Westmount there were kids playing hockey on a frozen pond. There were couples all along the sidewalk, hand in hand, enjoying the amazing full moon that reflected off the snow to create an almost consistent feeling of dusk. As kids repeatedly rode sleds down a small hill, there was a halo of light that embossed Mount Royal squarely on the horizon. It was amazing. I was living inside a Norman Rockwell painting.
I made my way through quaint residential neighborhoods, eventually arriving at a small, mom and pop, Italian restaurant. I remember it only had eight tables and you had no choice but to introduce yourself to people sitting next to you. It was like eating at your grandmother’s house with the kitchen in full view. My French was complete shit, but I learned pretty quickly to say, “Je suis allergique aux crustacés”. You see, I am allergic to shellfish. But, in Montreal, I could get into real trouble by just speaking English. It is such an amazing culinary city. As usual, I dined like a king and the food was amazing.
My last night in Montreal. This would be the fourth and final time that I would enjoy the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill at 1254 Rue Mackay. This is where I fell in love with Jazz music. A unique association with Montreal that will always be with me. The place itself is an intimate throwback to a golden age where musicians ran the show. The atmosphere requires its audience to be attentive. There is no talking allowed during a performance and the entire experience feels as if you are in the center of a black and white era film.
I was first introduced to this place by a friend because of Wine. Not ever living outside the United States until Montreal, I quickly realized that most wines are imported. This means that a $15 bottle in San Francisco is now $60 in Montreal- IF you could find it. One of my favorite wines at that time was a 2008 Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir. Although there were amazing wines in Montreal I had often discussed this specific wine with my friends. The story goes that there were many fires in Napa valley that year and the smoke penetrated the grapes. This, inadvertently, made that vintage taste amazingly smoky and unique. The only place to find this wine in Montreal was here, and it happened to be Montreal’s leading Jazz club.
That night, I dined on the Roasted Duck Breast served with a raspberry and red wine sauce and easily finished Upstairs’ last bottle of 2008 Chateau St Jean Pinot Noir. The band was amazing and the inability to speak during the performance made it that much more immersive. Time seemed to move faster and faster as the night continued. My flight to San Francisco leaves Montreal at 6AM.
I woke at 3AM, coffee in hand, and pinned my Facebook goodbye to Montreal…
I fell in love with Montreal.
I’ve spent many nights walking the streets of Old Port. Eaten some of the most amazing food in the world. Gotten liquored up in an igloo. Danced in the streets. Learned that swearing sounds better in French. Shared stories, wine and laughter with fantastic new friends. It has been a magical experience in a real life snow globe. This brief moment in time will continue to resonate deeply both personally and professionally.
To the many new friends that I have made here- Thank you for the times we spent together, the great talks, and those moments that only friends can know. I also want to thank you for the memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I know people come into your life for a reason and not all remain, but in some ways, everyone that I have met in Montreal will remain forever. Thank you all for being so awesome. I look forward to staying in touch for years to come.
For me, it is time to say ‘goodbye’ to Montreal as new adventures await me back in California. It is time to prepare for my next project… and it is a bittersweet feeling. I look forward to my next adventure but, make no mistake about it, there will always be a part of me in Montreal. Au revoir mon ami!”
Once I arrived back in San Francisco life took over. I was now back into the extremely fast moving pace of Silicon Valley. I often reminisce about Jazz, wine and the great food of Montreal. In the end, I believe that life experiences are more valuable than any possessions. My life will never be the same because of my experience in Montreal. And, that is a good thing. The impact of that time on my life has made a lasting imprint on my soul and I can’t wait to return.3