My part of town stretches from the western edge of downtown to the eastern edge of lower Westmount. And the businesses that make every day better share two things in common: a commitment to their craft and a personal caring for their customers. These establishments are essential to urban living.
A terrific start to any day is to head over to Chez Nick on Greene Ave. for breakfast. This classic family diner celebrates it’s centenary next year. And everybody here knows your name. Not only is the food as close to home made as you can get, everybody who works there becomes family and they treat you like a member. They remember what you like and how you want it made. And if you’re looking down, they care enough to ask why. Owner Rob Callard, whom I have dubbed the “Mayor of Greene”, sets the tone inside and out. He believes in giving back. Foremost among his many volunteer efforts are numerous 100+km bicycle rides for the benefit of the Cedars Cancer Foundation. An added plus at Nick’s is that any given morning you will see more business and civic leaders talking deals and politics than almost anywhere else in town. And the unwritten Golden Rule is “what you overhear at Nick’s stays at Nick’s.” It’s a great start to the day. And by the way, lunch and dinner are just as great. If you make a lunch date, make sure to get there at least a quarter to twelve.
So now that you’ve filled your stomach, it’s time to fill your mind. Heading to work, take a short walk to Westmount Square. The Tabagie there is one of the last, best places to get a great selection of newspapers and magazines from Canada, the US, Britain, France and even Italy. Four walls full! Hard copy matters! There is still an incomparable feeling in holding pages in your hands. And once you’ve picked your selections and read some headlines, you can stock up on whatever sundries and other products you need. Nice selection of cigars by the way. And don’t forget to pick up your Suburban.
Now you’re ready to go to work. But if you drive, you’ve got one important stop to make. Jeff Robb’s Westmount Auto. It’s the big Esso station at Sherbrooke and Grosvenor. But it’s not just any station. They keep alive the tradition of master technicians with three garage bays. They know their clients and their clients’ cars. With our roads wrecking havoc with bushings and bearings and a dozen other things, this is the place that will tell you what that annoying clanging or noise is in your undercarriage. But the great thing about this place is that they find creative solutions. They never pressure and they have an incredible network to get you the best parts at the best prices. And they never scare you to death with some dramatic diagnosis. They actually calm you down. And they’ll answer your phone calls throughout the day.
So off you go down Sherbrooke and suddenly you remember a couple of things you need at home. You can’t help but head for that timeless emporium called Hogg Hardware. The two level store has everything you may need for the home. From paints and tools downstairs, to all manner of whatnot’s for bathrooms and kitchens. They’ve even added a great boutique within the store selling everything from books to Tilley Hats. Remember that hammer you lost and those fix-it things you’ve been meaning to get forever and the fans you meant to get to fight the heat and that new toaster, or coffee maker or microwave? This is the place. With the nicest and most knowledgeable professionals anywhere. They even deliver!
Ok, let’s flash forward to lunchtime. You’ve put in a good morning but before you can grab a bite you’ve got to deliver some dry cleaning, jackets that need tailoring and shoes to sprice up. And there is only one place that does all three superbly well. Charles and Jack Assadourian’s Tailleurs Universel on Cypress Street at Peel just across from The Windsor. The identical twin brothers are devoted to their clients and to each other. Charlie takes care of the tailoring and dry cleaning and Jack works miracles with shoes, purses and any other leather goods. He’ll literally make them like new. You really won’t find better workmanship anywhere. And they get your stuff back to you faster than any place I’ve ever seen.
Back at work, you’ve put in an even better afternoon than the morning. You decide you owe yourself a present. Off you go to the finest men’s store in the country. And that’s not me saying it that was American designer Alan Flusser. It’s Paul Teboul and Albert Cohen’s L’Uomo on Peel. They’ve been there since the early 80s and their clientelle reads like a Who’s Who of Montreal. These men love clothes. But not just the finished product. When you watch Paul smooth down a puece of cashmere and show you the subtle differences, you fall in love with the metier. They’ve resisted the temptation to go into bigger space and have kept it up front and personal. But their strikingly designed two-story store boasts an interior clearly inspired by Mies van der Rohe and collections from the finest Italian and French designers. They even carry John Lobb shoes. Spending some time with Paul and Albert takes you away to a calmer and more elegant place. And the hustle and bustle of the everyday is left at the door. It refreshes the spirit.
Finally, you’re still not ready to go home just yet. So you pop in next door to L’Uomo to Chez Alexandre. It’s Montreal’s best outpost of convivial spirits, excellent cuisine and elegant and charming company where adults congregate in a decidedly European and non-nanny state environment. Alain Créton opened this ode to his native France in 1977 and the moveable feast hasn’t stopped. His idea was to combine the best of Paris’ great café into one. the front soace and terrace is reminiscent of the Café de la Paix. In fact the classic Parisian wicker chairs are from the same manufacturer who made them for the famed Paris establishment that was DeGaulle’s favorite. Further down on the first floor is the formal dining room with wall frescos reminiscent of Provence. The second floor boasts an English country-style cigar lounge — the best in Montreal with an excellent selection of Havanas. The rest of the second floor is the Ardbeg Pub, originally called the Sleeman. Alain and brewer John Sleeman were the first to import English draft beer into Montreal. During Grand Prix week, this Grand Central. You owe it to yourself to experience Chez Alexandre at least once. And by the way, aside from the ambiance, you’ll have the best Super Hamburger and steak Tartare north of New York’s 21 Club. And if you ask nicely ahead of time, Alain will prepare a Chateaubriand for two that is beyond words, and you can wash it down with champagne the bottles opened in the classic tradition with swords.
These then dear readers are truly the essentials. firstname.lastname@example.org