Back on Rue Saint-Viateur, the scent of freshly baked bagels—a global culinary emblem of the city—wafts from the doors of St-Viateur Bagel, where every bagel is hand-rolled and boiled in honey water. Mere blocks away, there’s another bagel shop where the door doesn’t lock and the lights never go out: Fairmount Bagel, which is over a hundred years old and operates twenty-four hours a day. Vannelli, the owner of Café Olimpico, refuses to name which is his favorite, given how divisive the dueling bagel shops can be (choosing between the two is akin to a New Yorker choosing between the Yankees and the Mets). A morning stroll on this island is not complete without sesame seeds spilling onto your coat and latte foam sticking to your top lip.
Generations ago, the affordable rents available in Mile End attracted an influx of artists and creative types, whose mere presence has left a long-lasting imprint of cool. But their arrival didn’t mar what had already been built by the city’s Jewish population: today the neighborhood remains home to a large Hasidic community. There are, of course, many places in both the province and country where communities of many different stripes live side by side, but in Mile End, there’s a coalescence of orthodoxy and bohemia that’s singularly seamless.
The storefronts on Mile End’s main streets offer a range of independent shopping options, like the bookstore Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, or Montreal’s secondhand crown jewel Citizen Vintage. The tree-lined side streets, too, are something to behold. Where other Canadian cities are inundated with high-rises, the streets of Mile End are populated with “plexes”—signature split-level walk-ups with whimsical, winding outdoor staircases. It seems like everyone has a balcony.
Canadians like to imagine their country is a mosaic, rather than an American melting pot. This means that you arrive and assert your identity instead of assimilating into a universal one. The individual cultures and the sense of community are what give Mile End its flair; it’s the residents that have earned the neighborhood its reputation as an enclave for creatives. “The small, tight-knit community makes it seem like we’re all living in a tribe,” Vannelli says. “It definitely feels like a little island.”