Aug 31, 2009

A big week for the big screen: Montreal World Film Festival and M60 Film Festival

by Fiona O'Connor
Over the next week or so, cinephiles will have more than their fair share of flicks to choose from as film events from the international to the indie get underway at various locations across town.

With its internationally-recognized film schools, myriad festivals and production companies both large and small, the city suffers from no shortage of cinematic talent. Though the first week in September marks one particularly significant film event (see first item below), Quebec's ties to film appreciation and celluloid success run long and deep, making Montreal a perfect place to love, hate or make movies all year round.

For starters, here are 2 (considerably different) happenings to check out:

The World Film Festival/Festival des Films du Monde: Now in its 33rd year, the WFF is one of Canada's oldest international festivals and, according to its founder Serge Losique, the largest fully independent festival in the world. Having recovered from an uncertain fate after a major blow to its funding in 2004, the WFF stands once again as the city's premier film event. It's mandate is to "encourage cultural diversity and understanding among nations, to foster the cinema of all continents by stimulating the development of quality cinema, to promote filmmakers and innovative works, to discover and encourage new talents, and to promote meetings between cinema professionals from around the world." As such, its competitive categories include the World Competition, First Films World Competition, Documentaries of the World, and Canadian Student Film Festival. Screenings will take place at some of the city's most celebrated venues. The WFF runs from August 27th to September 7th.

M60, The Montreal 60 Second Film Festival: After the triumphant success of its inaugural year, the M60 Festival will return to La Sala Rossa (one of my favourite spots to eat, drink and catch a show) with its second edition taking place on September 9th, 10th and 11th. The "not-for-profit film festival that celebrates 60 second movies- and those who gather the gumption to make them" features a range of local talent, from first-time filmmakers to pros. The M60 Registration Party is held in July, and it's here that Montreal's cinematic visionaries sign up on a first-come, first-serve basis and the festival's secret theme announced (this year, it's "deception"). From there, the 120 participating M60ers have exactly one month to produce and submit their one minute masterpieces. Last year, organizers had to turn movie-goers away so be sure to buy your $7 tickets in advance!

By determination of biggest round of applause two nights in a row, Dane Lanken's "Usually we go to the beach" was the crowd favourite at last year's M60 screenings.

(For those who understand Portuguese or are just plain handy at deciphering Latin-based languages, I urge you to keep tabs on Montreal For Insider's sister-site, Montreal Para Insiders. Brazilian journalist Maria Ganem, who is currently pursuing a Masters in Film Studies, keeps you educated and abreast of Montreal cinema.)

Aug 30, 2009

Joe Beef: one of the top restaurants in Montreal

By Alexandra Forbes, guest contributor

I give a LOT of restaurant recommendations. Daily, almost. Surely, one of the consequences of being a restaurant critic. And one of the places in Montreal that I recommend a lot is Joe Beef. Yeah, that little place on Notre Dame St, a bit off the beaten bath, that has gotten a ton of press in the US, owned by that friendly ogre of a chef, Dave McMillan.

Now... surely, if you live in Montreal you're tired of hearing about him. But for those of you who don't: he's one of the city's best-known chefs, who, after leaving Globe (a hot spot of a few years ago, best known for the hot waitresses in tight dresses), went off to create his own mini-empire of hip little restaurants.

Turns out McMillan hit the jackpot with Joe Beef. It was an instant hit, the tiny restaurant a favorite for its party vibe, top-notch oysters and enormous, carefully-prepared dishes. Soon after he opened, I went, loved it, wrote about it and started recommening it.

But that was a couple of years ago and... I never went back. 'Till last night, that is. Slow night, not much happening, so - hey! - why not have a little bite and a glass of vino at Joe Beef?

Sat at the bar. Service was nice enough, although the friendly barman Eric - a DJ - was wearing his own plaid shirt, super caj, if you know what I mean. Just kinda... hanging. He'd recently created a cocktail called the suburban - bourbon, OJ, ginger beer, homemade bitters, black tea syrup. Not bad. Not bad at all (he gave me a little taste).

Great oysters. Delicious wine by the glass - don't ask, wrong pairing! And then came.... the most outstanding grilled octopus, previously poached in wine, with peeled yellow and red cherry tomatoes, the purest expression of late summer, all the garlicky goodness of the sauce enveloping the tender tentacles. Yum.

Fun night, fun place. Hey... that's why I've always recommended Joe Beef.

Joe Beef: tel. (514) 935-6504
2491 Notre Dame West

Aug 28, 2009

St-Laurent Sidewalk Sale and Street Pop Festival this week end!

by Fiona O'Connor
St- Laurent Blvd., or "The Main" as it's also known, is a pretty happening place on any given day. Twice a year though (or three times if you count when Formula 1 comes to town), the historical strip, popularly seen as the dividing line between the island's East and West sides, gets even busier when it's closed to traffic for what is now one of the city's diehard summer traditions: the St- Laurent Sidewalk Sale.

The Sidewalk Sale takes place on the Main between Sherbrooke St. and Mount-Royal Ave., and typically runs from Thursday to Sunday. Merchants set up shop in the street, while restaurants and bars expand their terraces to accommodate the influx of shoppers and partiers who stroll along the boulevard, shoulder to shoulder, all week end long.

But if battling it out at the bargain bin is not your idea of a good time - and sitting in a park listening to some live music is - then check out Pop Montreal's Street Pop Festival taking place in Parc des Amériques, located on the corner of Saint-Laurent and Rachel. A slew of bands will play over the course of the week end, and with the weather so far looking good, this just might be the ideal spot to enjoy the best parts of the Sidewalk Sale - ie. outdoor drinking- while skipping out on its worst - consumerism-fueled obnoxiousness and human traffic jams.

Check out the week end line up below, or visit the Pop Montreal website for more details.

Aug 25, 2009

Locks of Love: Denise Santillan's "La Bataille" opens this Thursday at galerie [sas]

by Fiona O'Connor
On Thursday August 27th, Montreal-based artist and graphic designer Denise Santillan will unveil her latest work entitled "La Bataille" at galerie [sas] located at 372 Sainte-Catherine Ouest, suite 416 in the Belgo Building.

A recent graduate of Concordia University's Design Arts program (also where she gained a BA in Political Science), Santillan was one of a handful of designers selected to participate in the 2009 Biennale de Montreal, held this past spring. More recently, the Mexican-born artist has been laboring over a series of large-scale pen and ink drawings which have as their central theme, hair.

"Inspired by the manner in which clothing can assume personal identification, The Hair began by enveloping the wearer, forming clothing-like folds, drapery and shapes," writes Santillan.

The aptly-named "La Bataille" - the sheer scale of her drawings made not only the subject but also the process of Santillan's undertaking a battle - is the second part in the artist's ongoing series that explores a variety of costume traditions, from the theatrical to the religious. "Las Ninas Malas" was the project's first installation, melding the dramatic and curiously beautiful elements of Mexican melodrama, tangled hair and contemporary fashion into a coherent and distinct illustrated series.

From "Las Ninas Malas," Santillan's first hair-themed oeuvre.

"La Bataille" opens at 5:30 this Thursday evening and runs until September 26th.

Aug 21, 2009

Old Montreal Architectural Highlights Walking Tour now on iTunes App Store

by Fiona O'Connor
While we'd never want to discourage you from experiencing Montreal's architectural wonders in all their three-dimensional splendor, a cool new app for your iPhone or iTouch allows you to stroll through time while learning about the city's unique history- all from the comfort of your hotel room.'s Old Montreal Architectural Highlights Walking Tour, now available on the iTunes App Store, is the interactive compliment to the recently launched book Montreal Architecture: A Guide To Styles and Buildings, by architectural historian Francois Rémillard and Montreal photographer Brian Merrett.

With 25 locations in 12 architectural styles, texts and images from the book, an integrated route map, and a Google Maps geo-locator among its diverse features, the app serves to enhance the visitor's experience of Montreal's historic old quarter. It allows you to explore Montreal's past...from the future.

More information about the app and this essential Montreal guidebook can be found here.

Aug 19, 2009

David Shaw's "The Outside Dream" opens at Blizzarts this Thursday

by Fiona O'Connor

"With anywhere from 4 to 6 million motorcycles in Saigon alone, Vietnam's streets are a chaotic tangle of noise, motion and pollution. Working from a series of personal photos taken from the busiest intersections throughout Vietnam, David Shaw's new collection of watercolours captures the anonymous travellers of the world's most congested urban centres, making revealing narrative portraits of the otherwise invisible."

If the name rings a bell, it's because you might have seen it before on Montreal For Insiders: just days ago, David Shaw was one of four DJ's who graced the Terrace McAuslan and its industrial surroundings for Pop Montreal's Italodisco Bike-In, held this Saturday past.

On Thursday August 20th, Shaw presents us with an entirely different kind of artistry, this time, a series of watercolour paintings based on images he collected while traveling in Vietnam.

"Each painting in the series is a labour to capture an unguarded moment from an almost faceless commuter in the unending parade of Vietnam's traffic," writes Shaw in his artist statement. "I want the viewer to absorb not just the individual, but also the act of taking an ephemeral moment and binding it down to a piece of paper; the process of hunting for an image, shooting it, preserving it, and mounting the thing on the wall."

If the sample works featured here are any indication, Shaw's efforts to capture the individual faces and "ephemeral moments" in his collection of arresting portraits will prove successful. Equally successful, I suspect, will be Shaw's ability to fascinate and impress the minds of those who come to see his latest oeuvre. The race to claim one of Shaw's striking pieces will no doubt be tight, so if you're in the market for buying, come to Blizzarts early - before the St-Laurent haunt morphs from gallery space into Main hotspot.

The Outside Dream opens at Blizzarts, 3956A St-Laurent Blvd. on Thursday, August 20th from 8-11pm. Exhibition runs until September 3rd.

Aug 16, 2009

Sunday strolling: the Allée des bouquinistes

by Fiona O'Connor
We all know Montreal has plenty to offer in terms of its nightlife, dining, music and art. But on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, when Saturday night's festivities have left you feeling a touch on the groggy side, what is there to do?

Well, for those less inclined to spend the day among the hoards of drumming, dread-locked tam-tam goers on Mount-Royal but who still want to enjoy the outdoors, I suggest checking out one of the city's many green spaces with a good book (and, of course, good coffee) in hand.

Until September 26, literary enthusiasts have a unique opportunity to discover some unique reads: The Allée des bouquinistes is a "booksellers' alley" temporarily housed next to Montreal's Grande Bibliothèque. Five local booksellers have set up shop for the summer months, selling a range of rare and second hand books, posters, prints and postcards every week from Friday to Sunday.

To read more about the Allée des bouquinistes as well as the workshops they offer, read the Montreal Gazette article here or visit the Grande Bibliothèque's website at

Aug 13, 2009

Ringin' Your Bell: Pop Montreal's Italodisco Bike-In this Saturday

by Fiona O'Connor
Beats, bikes, and Michaelangelo Antonioni's 1966 classic Blow-Up. These are the makings of an epic August night in Montreal.

For the second year in a row, the folks at Pop Montreal (Montreal's premier indie music festival and organizer of local arts and music happenings) are throwing a Bike-In Dance Party at the Terrace McAuslan, the beautiful canal-side brewery located at 5080 St-Ambroise in St-Henri.

This year's musical theme is disco, or, to use the current designation for the dance music revival sweeping the city, italodisco. So, what is a Bike-In Dance Party you ask? Basically, it's when a bunch of music, film and party-lovers (ie. all Montrealers) cycle independently or en masse to the McAuslan Brewery to catch a movie screening, followed by a night of drinking and dancing and even (though probably before either the drinking and dancing get underway), bike fixing.

Last year's Reggae Bike-In was a smash hit, but this year's DJ line-up is sure to bring on the meanest disco fever the city has ever seen with DJ's Why Alex, Why?, Jay Watts III, Bethany Benzur from NYC and David Shaw of Montreal's Loose Joints crew scheduled to play.

I could go on endlessly about the virtues of David Shaw's music-mixing mastery, as well as the perfectly delightful DJ skills of his Loose Joints counterparts Chris Pare and Davey Lahteenmaa. But suffice it to say that David Shaw is simply my favourite dance music DJ in Montreal, and an evening spent with him presiding over the wheels-of-steel is guaranteed to make you dance- nonstop.

The Italodisco Bike-In takes place this Saturday, August 15th at 5080 St-Ambroise, located on the Lachine Canal and bike path in St-Henri. Admission is free, and Blow-Up will be screened at 7pm. A bike repair workshop will also be offered for $5 between 7 and 8 pm- RSVP for this portion of the evening at

Aug 11, 2009

Dépanneur Le Pick-Up: The best of Montreal between two slices

by Fiona O'Connor
Last week, food and travel writer and fellow Montreal Insider Alexandra Forbes brought our attention to Montreal's latest in diner hipster-dom: Dépanneur Le Pick-Up, the corner-store-cum-snack bar that was recently featured in The New York Times' ever-trendy T Magazine.

The NYTimes article, written by local journo Geneviève Paiement, does a great job of elucidating Quebec's très unique dépanneur phenomenon- an essential lesson in Quebecois culture for anyone wishing to understand daily life in the province. "Dépanneurs, also known as deps, " writes Paiement, "are to Montreal what bodegas and delis are to New York: family-run dispensaries of everything from toilet paper and beer to cigarettes and empanadas."

So, New Yorkers, if you don't know, now you know...

I come back to Dep Le Pick-Up today, however, not to wax poetic about the joint's perfectly ironic airbrushed decorative touches or its friendly, thick-rimmed glasses-wearing staff, but to reiterate Paiement's praise for what she calls its "killer pulled-pork sandwich."

Le Dep's top-selling sammy: pulled-pork.

This sandwich deserves mention because it packs some serious punch in all its elemental simplicity. Juicy and mildly smokey, the pork is combined with a tangy and delicious home-made coleslaw and some spicy pickled peppers, all served on a standard white bun (the Portuguese variety with which virtually all Montreal deli sandwiches are made). For under $6.00, this is bang for your sandwich buck, even coming with a vegetarian alternative - just ask for the Dep's faux pulled-pork.

While I have yet to hear of any writing career jump-started by a dedication to writing sandwich reviews, I feel a guide to Montreal's sandwich scene may be of considerably practical use to on-the-go visitors who, in between museum visits and late-night shows, just don't have time for fancy, sit-down meals. With this, I urge you to stay tuned for another edition of "Sandwich City: The Best of Montreal Between Two Slices."

Aug 6, 2009

The best of Montreal café culture

by Fiona O'Connor
As any local will tell you, coffee shops come a dime a dozen in Montreal.

The city's reputation as being an oasis of European culture and style in North America is undoubtedly well-founded: the province's distinct language, history and political identity have shaped a culture immeasurably different than it's English-speaking federal counterparts, whether neighbouring Ontario or far-flung British Columbia.

But for many of Montreal's visitors, the parts of the city which most strongly exemplify it's cosmopolitan make-up and European flare remain out of sight, lying just off the tourist's standard charted course of Old Montreal, Crescent and St-Catherine Streets, or the ever-intriguing yet somewhat culture-lacking attraction: the "Underground City."

While Montrealers are no different than other North Americans in their active participation in mass-consuming coffee culture (we have our Starbucks, Second Cups and Tim Hortons on every downtown street corner just like you!), an exploration of the city's smaller neighbourhood-based cafés will reveal a layer of culture, community and class that's all but obsolete when it comes to the mainstream purveyors of modern society's favourite drug.

Unsurprisingly, the best window into Montreal's café - not coffee - culture, is Little Italy and the spattering of Italian and Portuguese-run shops and social clubs that spill into the adjacent Mile End neighbourhood.

Now, if you're like me, you favour establishments that serve not only the best coffee, but provide an ambiance which also makes the experience of consuming that strong espresso or frothy latte a unique, authentic and unpretentious experience...Basically, the antithesis of what you get by downing a Starbucks' super-size-skinny-mocha-frappuccino on the go...if such a beverage even exists.

The café which draws the biggest crowd and whose clientele seems an even mix of Mile End hipsters and musicians as well as true coffee aficionados (ie. Italian Montrealers) is Café Olimpico, located at 124 St-Viateur West. Not only because baristas Vito and Vinnie know my name and my preferred caffeine fix, but because at this community hub the coffee is superb, as is their sizeable outdoor terrace and flat screen TV- a strong selling point especially in times of key sporting events.

A typical scene outside St-Viateur's popular Café Olimpico.

Just one block east is Club Social which, in the social aspect, is similar to Olimpico but with sandwiches, a full liquor license and a more regular presence of octogenarian, card-playing Italian men. Also priding itself on its excellent terrace (I have to say I prefer Social's- more shade and a better seating arrangement), this café is an another great spot where coffee and conversation is the trade of the day. Club Social is at 180 St-Viateur West.

Heading north, we arrive in Little Italy, where it becomes practically impossible to detail every establishment with a good bean to boast. So, in the interest of keeping those trip-planning, coffee-impaired attention spans focused on the task at hand, here are a couple of gems:

Caffé Italia (6840 St-Laurent Blvd.) reigns supreme as the quintessential Italian café in Montreal, where the decor hasn't changed in the 50 years of its existent, and neither, seemingly has its clientele. While I've never been to Italy, frequenting the many Italian cafés of Buenos Aires allowed my imagination to run wild with pictures of what Italy might have been like some decades ago. Caffé Italia allows me to reclaim this experience, two blocks from home, with a perfect allongé in hand.

Caffé Italia: a little Italy in Little Italy.

Recently taking advantage of a sunny afternoon off, I strolled along rue Dante in Little Italy. Just past the beautiful, tree-lined Parc Dante is the rather nondescript Café Concha d'Oro. Now, when I talk about a place being unpretentious and no-frills, this is it, and while I'm pretty sure businesses nowadays can't legally exclude female patrons, I got the feeling I might have been the first gal to cross Concha d'Oro's threshold in recent memory. Now I'd be surprised if their coffee shared any similar fame to those places I've already mentioned, but so simple, sunny and straight-forward was my visit to this spot that I recommend it to you anyway. Concha d'Oro, its dog-eared pin-ups and faded Goodfellas posters, can be found at 184 Dante East.

No doubt a men's club at some point in its history, Concha d'Oro offers a fine iced latte and an even better chocolate biscotti.

Aug 5, 2009

Chanteuse Martha Wainright at FrancoFolies tonight

by Fiona O'Connor
Montreal's premier French-language music festival, Les FrancoFolies de Montreal, is currently underway celebrating its 21st year in business. Featuring both established and renowned artists from around the French-speaking world, the summer festival is arguably the city's biggest next to its hard-to-beat Jazz Fest.

Tonight though, FrancoFolies shines the spotlight on some homegrown talent with Martha Wainright performing (mainly in French) at Théatre Maisonneuve. Of course, for those of you who know, it's rare for any talk of the sexy songstress to stray from a mention of the musical legacy unto which she was born...this post being no exception! But to pass the buck on drawing the inevitable connection, here's FrancoFolie's intro to Martha: "Daughter of two great songwriters, Loudon and Kate...sister of yet another...and entirely, absolutely her own artist."

Cliché but true, Martha is a songwriter and performer in her own right, transitioning seamlessly within her repertoire of English and French songs which reveal the influences of not only her own folky family roots (her mother is Kate McGarrigle of the famous duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle), but also iconic female singers such as Edith Piaf.

Check out Martha's music video for her 2008 single You Cheated Me here. The animated component of the video is the work of Montreal artist Kathleen Weldon, who, in collaboration with another local artist- Alex McLean- has lent her hauntingly beautiful illustrative style to several other Montreal musicians, including Patrick Watson and Lhasa de Sela.

The videos, true works of art rendered in a style rarely found in today's world of high-tech, high-production music videos, are well worth exploring. Be transported into their melancholy dream-world below, and good luck not shedding a tear...

Aug 3, 2009

Hip dépanneur Le Pick-up praised in The New York Times' T magazine

Always on the cutting edge of cool,  The New York Times' T magazine is one of North America's top trend beacons, and they've just picked up on Montreal's latest: a dépanneur-cum-retro diner called (insert laugh track here) Le Pick-up. According to T, "Set on a one-way street in a semi-industrial part of town just west of Little Italy, Dépanneur Le Pick-Up looks a lot like a standard, ’70s-era dep-casse-croûte, or dep-snack-bar, but closer inspection reveals that something much artier is going on. (...) Careful not to alienate longtime customers, (owners) Houde and Patterson kept the steak sub “Jimmy style” on the menu (Jimmy, the former owners’ son, showed them how to make it), and you can still get a Kraft single on any sandwich for 25 cents. The head chef, the Newfoundland-born Jonathan “Beaver” Shepard, has done time at Montreal hot spots like Au Pied de Cochon and Garde Manger, and hosts themed dinners like the maritime feast of recent memory. “His mom sent supplies to make stuff like tack bread, pork scrunchies and fish ’n’ brewis,” said Houde. Peanut Brittle, Beaver — whoever’s running the show, a meal at Le Pick-Up is always a bit of a production. In a good way."

Dépanneur Le Pick-Up
7032 Waverly, Montréal

Click here to read the full story in T magazine
Click here for the official Le Pick-up website