Montreal has no shortage of hip neighborhoods, but Mile-Ex is the latest proving to be worthwhile.
Michael Venus runs his own art collective and has lived from coast to coast in Canada. But three-and-a-half years ago he accepted an offer to help run Never Apart, a safe space for marginalized groups and a center for artists of all backgrounds.
One of myriad reasons behind Never Apart’s success is that neighborhood surrounding it, Mile-Ex, has become a hive for Montreal’s creative class, a place where housing is reasonable and potential collaborators can be found in every park, café, and art gallery.
We caught up with Venus to talk about what to do, eat, and see in this small neighborhood wedged between the more well-known Mile-End and Parc Extension neighborhoods of Montreal—a neighborhood with enough creative energy to power the whole city.
What makes Mile-Ex unique?
The Mile-Ex community is basically a one kilometer area, and it’s so densely populated with creatives: a lot of musicians, a lot of visual artists, photographers, architects, fashion designers, a lot of interesting queer people.
How did Mile-Ex become a home for artists?
This whole city is having a renaissance creatively. The scene just kept moving north, and that’s where Mile-Ex is. It used to be a lot of textiles and fabrics businesses in this area, and a lot of that industry left. It was almost no man’s land, and it gave an opportunity for creative people to move in because it was affordable.
How has Mile-Ex’s proximity to these other creative hubs affected it?
It’s a really interesting little pocket, because we’re extremely close to the Mile-End and extremely close to Little Italy and Little India, so there’s all that amazing bounty to be had. There’s such a diverse group of people all around.
If not Never Apart, where do you go in Mile-Ex for art?
There are quite a few galleries along Saint Laurent Blvd. I’d say Eastern Bloc is one of my favorites in the area. There are a lot of warehouse parties that don’t necessarily have regular gallery hours as well.
How about live music?
I love Alexandraplatz . It’s an amazing outdoor bar, very Berlin style, and they always have lots of different DJs there. Alexanderplatz also does Marché De Nuit (Night Market), and it’s like an outdoor market where they have different local musicians and DJs as well as vendors and artisans and food trucks.
What do weekends look like in Mile-Ex?
There’s a lot of brunch action going on in the Mile-Ex, for sure. There’s a lot of picnic vibes as well, with the different parks around here. People will get their food from Dinette Triple Crown, their drinks and a basket and set up in a park right across from this big church. For me, Sunday is the big day to go to Jean-Talon Market, which is super close. It’s Montreal’s biggest farmers market.
When friends come in from out of town, where do you take them?
I really like Domo. That’s a little café that has a lot of knick-knacks and memorabilia from Expo 67 and the Olympics and the Metro. That’s always a real cute spot to go. I also really like Jarry Park. It has a lot of different sports stuff and beautiful water and trees. It’s a little piece of nature within the city.
The old cathedrals draw a lot of attention to the city, no?
So insane! The whole city was really built by the Catholic Church. It totally does not feel like you’re in North America walking down some of these streets. There are so many that are so stunning in different ways.
If you’re not hanging out in Mile-Ex, where else might you go?
Old Montreal. That’s a place I always take visitors. It’s like having this historic piece of Europe within North America. I love the Gay Village, always so much fun. Mile-End, of course—it’s so close and there are tons of amazing places to visit there. And the Plateau, that’s where Leonard Cohen would hang out and lots of the streets are named after his songs.
What’s your favorite Leonard Cohen song?
Oh god—one? The one that stuck with me as a kid was [singing] First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin. That’s the one instinctively I’m going to say. But “[So Long,] Marianne” is quite awesome, too. There’s so many. He’s a Canadian icon.