A Complete LGBTQ Travel Guide to Montreal

Montreal view of the village
Guy Banville / Getty Images

Montreal is well-known as an extraordinarily LGBTQ-friendly destination. With a population of almost 2 million, Quebec's biggest city (and the second largest in Canada) represents a delightful mash-up of cultures, with a proudly Quebecois identity of its own and rich LGBTQ history.

History

Reportedly, North America's first LGBT publication, "Les Mouches Fantastiques" (The Fantastic Files) was founded here in 1918; by the early 1970s a queer bohemian scene was flourishing (1974 indie film "Montreal Main" offered a glimpse); the first Montreal Pride march took place in 1979 (commemorating the 10th anniversary of NYC's Stonewall riots), and Montreal's famed "gay village" came to be in the 1980s, as gay bars, clubs, and residents overtook a formerly impoverished, decrepit section of the city's Centre-Sud district along Sainte-Catherine Street East.

Refreshingly, Montreal's gay village (which is closed to cars during warmer months) remains a lively and concentrated hub that's even more literally colorful and easy to spot thanks to its overhead, 1 kilometer long "18 Shades Of Gay" - comprised of 180,000 colored recycled plastic resin balls suspended overhead. Tourism Montreal's official website even dedicates a page to this now iconic installation, plus much more LGBT-related information and resources, and be sure to check out Quebec's LGBTQ magazine and website, Fugues, for what's ons and scene skinny.

Drawn & Quarterly
Courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly

The Best Things To Do

The gay-owned Spade & Palacio offers "non-touristy tours" by bike and by foot, which are perfect for both newcomers and those who know the city but would like a deeper dive. Book the four-hour, lunch-inclusive Beyond The Bike Lanes tour that covers both residential and popular tourist zones including the Gay Village, or consider the two-hour Beyond The Village one that spotlights the gayborhoood and its history and landmark sites.

Get your selfies on in the Gay Village during daylight while taking in its art installations and community spaces, including the Park of Hope (Parc L'espoir) and AIDS Memorial. Check out its LGBT businesses as well, notably the sexy apparel, leather, and accessories shop, Chez Priape.

Montreal-based graphic novel publisher Drawn & Quarterly has a fantastic store, Librarie Drawn & Quarterly, in the buzzy Mile End district, a favorite stomping ground of local, acclaimed gay filmmaker and actor, Xavier Dolan. It hosts book launches by queer creators (Diane Obomsawin's "On Loving Women" is a delightful must!), events, and a book club for discussing LGBTQ+ work.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presented the first retrospective exhibition dedicated to outrageous, visionary queer French fashion designer Thierry Mugler in Spring 2019 and includes work by LGBTQ artists in its permanent collections. Known as DHC/ART until 2019, Old Montreal's privately owned, non-profit Foundation Phi showcases cutting edge, contemporary work.

Bota Bota Spa, situated on a multi-level ship in the Old Port, is a friendly spot to unwind and get pampered (with kid-friendly hours), though some males might prefer one of Montreal's adults only gay saunas, which include the 24-hour Sauna Oasis and four-floor Sauna G.I. Joe.

Montreal Gay Pride
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Events & Festivals

Held in August, Montreal Pride (aka Fierté MTL) climaxes with a parade along René-Lévesque Boulevard headed up by a diverse selection of Grand Marshalls. The event in 2019 included Transgender Pride Flag creator Monica Helms, First Nations Two-Spirit activist and author Ma-Nee Chacaby, Montreal fetish historian Danny Godbout, local entrepreneur and athlete Val Desjardins, Wilson Cruz of "Star Trek: Discovery," and trailblazing Laotian LGBTQ activist Anan Bouapha). Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also a regular fixture in the parade.

Image+Nation is Canada's oldest—and still very much thriving—LGBT film festival.

And if you're a dancing queen, the fall's annual Black & Blue entails a week's worth of unabashedly queer yet straight-friendly dances and parties, from circuit-style blowouts with benefits going to HIV/AIDS organizations.

The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs

You'll find most of Montreal's LGBTQ nightlife conveniently concentrated in its gay village along Ste. Catherine Street East. One of Canada's largest nightlife venues, Complexe Sky entails three floors of drinking, dancing, dining, and entertainment spaces (including a drag cabaret), plus a rooftop terrace, pool, and spa.

Also multi-level, Club Unity features two main dance and drinking spaces (each with different music), a VIP lounge, and spacious rooftop terrace. Admission is free on Thursdays, while Unity also hosts drag shows and performances by visiting "RuPaul's Drag Race" stars like Detox.

An enduring Montreal institution, beloved local drag queen Mado Lamotte (a.k.a. Luc Provost)— who's so well known that her wax likeness graces the city's Grevin Wax Museum along with Celine Dion and Katy Perry—opened another enduring institution in the village almost 20 years ago, Cabaret Mado. This is the place go get a diverse dose of Montreal's queens and kings, plus celebrity tributes and hipster drag (though do note that most shows are in French).

Another enduring village institution, Bar Aigle Noir (Black Eagle), has plenty of space for drinking, dancing, and socializing inside, while summertime allows lounging around an outdoor patio. Celebrating its 25th year in 2020, the unpretentious Le Stud is another bear and leather crowd favorite, with dancing, drinking, and pool tables.

A new kid on the block, opened in 2018, Renard offers an upscale craft cocktail and beer bar atmosphere, with tasty pub grub including cheddar cheeseburgers. If karaoke is your bag, or microphone, Le Date Karaoke is a must, as is the nearly 30-year-old Taverne Normandie, which also boasts a fantastic courtyard terrace and very mixed clientele.

Male strippers can go the full monty in Montreal, so if feeling frisky check out Stock Bar and Campus.

Outside the village, meanwhile, the Rosemont neighborhood's Bar Notre Dame Des Quilles is a jubilant, fabulously LGBTQ+ spot especially popular with hipster queers and lesbians: sing out during Sunday's Okie Dokie Karaoke, while the diverse events line-up includes speed dating, Drag Race viewing parties, and tarot readings.

Where to Eat

Straddling Little Italy and hipster Mile-Ex district, lesbian-owned micro-brewpub Brasserie Harricana keeps a fantastic selection of beer, cider, and kombucha on tap (both its own and from other regional producers), including unique, lip-smacking varieties finished in liquor barrels (e.g. a stout aged six months in Grand Marnier barrels). Culinary offerings range from Quebecois pub snacks (beef tartare, escargots, and cheese) to substantial plates (filet mignon, deluxe salads, and house-made sausages).

A game-changer thanks to its farm-to-table ethos and gorgeous (and photogenic) innovation, 27-year-old fine dining institution Toqué! launched many chefs and restaurateurs’ careers in its kitchen, including local superstars David McMillan and Frederic Morin of Joe Beef, and Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson of Montreal Plaza.

While the Gay Village's dining scene hasn't exactly proven as foodie-centric as other parts of Montreal (locals might feel that's putting it diplomatically), there has been some improvement in the past few years. A few blocks north, Antonin Mousseau-Rivard presents cutting-edge, modern Quebecois creations at the prix fixe-only Le Mousso and casual, a la carte younger sibling Le Petit Mousso. If vegan or vegetarian, good news: 2019 opening Tendresse (sibling to craft cocktail and beer spot Renard) specializes in tasty, meat-free eating.

W Montreal
Courtesy of W Hotels

Where to Stay

Downtown's iconic, 62-year-old Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their famed "bed-in" during 1969, received a stunningly fresh, modern update in 2017. Its 950 guest rooms now amalgamate crisp contemporary design schemes with a nod to the 1960s, while the lobby and public spaces were transformed with an incredible food hall, Marché Artisans.

A few blocks away, the chic 152-room gay-fave W Montreal is posited just across from the Square-Victoria-OACI metro station (look for its art nouveau Paris-style entrance portico, a 1967 gift from the City of Lights) and received its own comprehensive, multimillion update in 2015. Decor is sophisticated and clubby, some rooms overlook Victoria Square Park, and the hotel's BARTIZEN cocktail lounge emphasizes Quebec-produced gins and botanical libations in a dramatically designed, 1940s-inspired cinematic setting.

Opened in 2016, the 121-room upscale boutique Hotel William Gray is situated smack dab in Old Town along its lively and oft-Instagramed Place Jacques Cartier. A pair of historic buildings and eight-story glass tower fused and transformed with utterly modern decor and design. Each room is different, thanks to the repurposing of existing space. and the lobby's a buzzy hive of excellent shopping and dining, including locavore restaurant Maggie Oakes and an outpost of Montreal's European-style cafe and Italian coffee connoisseurs, Cafe Olimpico.

If you're keen to be based in the Gay Village in a gay-owned property, make reservations at the five-room Sir Montcalm Gite B&B. Hosts André and Yvon provide breakfast in this contemporary yet homey and distinctly Quebecois building, which also boasts a private terrace garden.

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