Casa Bianca is on the edge of the Plateau, in a unique location sandwiched between St-Laurent Blvd., Montreal’s main cultural artery, and the mountain, its natural iconic heart. And so it is at the nexus of its primary cultural and social centers: Mount Royal Park, Parc Avenue (leading to the Mile End), Avenue Mont Royal and the French Plateau, McGill University and its “ghetto”. Montreal’s business and mainstream commercial core is just beyond the University. The posh Outremont neighborhood and its shopping is also close by.
Every other town in Quebec has its Rue Principale, ‘The Main’ is Montreal’s de facto Main Street without the official title. ‘The Main’, as Boul. St. Laurent is known to locals, has long been the corridor that first recieved Montreal’s successive waves of immigrants. A walk along the Main reveals its layered history and the lingering ripples of each cultural influx. If Old Montreal is the colonial history and pedigree of the city, the Main is where the city’s post-colonial cultural history is alive and current. This is the cradle for all Montreal’s noted artists: Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, etc.. It is a microcosm of Montreal’s global multi-culture: French, English, Jewish, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hungarian, Brazilian, Chinese, Mexican, Central American, Thai, Carribean, Mid-Eastern, etc.. Perhaps by their intrinsic vitality, or a native yearning to retain a presence in this living anthropological forum, the ethnic restaurants, clubs, bars and shops persevere and evolve amidst the hippest new entries to Montreal’s most bustling scene.
A Cultural Tour from South to North
The Main begins in the Old Port, passes by the City Hall (Hotel de Ville), then Chinatown, then the ‘red lights’ at St-Catherine Street (and the Place des Arts & Contemporary Museum). The upscale hipster zone starts north of Sherbrooke Street, but the prime vitality kicks in north of Prince Arthur: the ‘bring-your-wine – multicultural – collegiate – hotspot – dive – tavern – smokedmeat – kilbasa – empanada – smorgasbord’ zone. Above Rachel Street, nearer the Casa Bianca, you find finer restaurants and designer furniture stores. A right turn at Mont Royal Ave. leads to vintage stores, St-Denis Street and deep into the Plateau. Or, back on the Main, the ‘underground hipster heartland’ begins north of Mont Royal and goes all the way to St-Viateur (the Mile End), passing Outremont’s posh Rue Laurier. Then beyond the railway & industrial interlude north of Rue Bernard, a last area worthy of note and a visit is Little Italy and the Jean Talon Market. But if you wanted to, you could keep on rolling on the Main as it transforms into the 117 Highway, through Laval and on into the Laurentian mountains.