Of Montreal

I’ve been lucky to visit a lot of places through playing music – some of the great cities of the world and some pretty farflung spots like Alaska and Kalispell, Montana. But I’ve never been to Montreal. Everyone I’ve ever met who’s been says what a wonderful town it is – incredible food, vintage stores, music, architecture, atmosphere.

Since we moved to upstate New York I’ve said “I’d love to visit Montreal! It’s only four hours away!” I see it on the road sign every time I’m on the New York State Thruway heading north. “We should do a getaway there one weekend” I say, but we never do because it’s really hard to make time for getaways when you travel to play music and there’s always that chance a paying gig will lead you to the place anyway. It’s only a matter of time, right?

Well that sort of opportunity arose just this weekend. An invitation to play a house concert one short hour north of Montreal in the beautiful Laurentian mountains. Even better, the concert was scheduled for two in the afternoon. Perfect! We could play, chat with people, pack up and be in Montreal in time for a fabulous dinner and probably score a nice hotel half-price on Hotwire.

So why did we spend the night in Plattsburgh?

Superstition: the thought that combining a work trip with a pleasure trip would lead to disaster. A van full of equipment parked even in a paid parking garage in the city of Montreal would probably be broken into and our amps and PA stolen.

Inconvenience? Yes, we’d pay whatever it cost to park in said nice hotel parking lot, but then we’d have to trundle a luggage cart full of half a dozen guitars into the lobby and up to our room, or fight off baying porters – not because we’re too cheap to tip but because they have a way of saying “hey I got this!” while slinging cases upside down and every which way – either choice the end result is collapsing in the room drenched in sweat and being left with barely enough strength to limp to the vending machine down the hall. (I have this fantasy of being a chic traveling couple checking into a hotel with maybe a discreet rolling suitcase. It rarely if ever happens that way. Usually we resemble the Beverly Hillbillies and their wagon of old junk.)

Mostly it’s fear of disappointment due to lack of planning. After putting all our energy into setting up equipment then playing a show and meeting the lovely people who came to see us, by the time we’d arrive in the city, we’d be so famished yet desperate for the ultimate Montreal experience to be contained in one single meal, chances are we would choose the worst place in town, the choice based strictly on proximity to the hotel. And for ever after “Montreal” would be followed by “sucks! Remember that food poisoning/robbery? Never going back there.”

Or maybe we would hit it just right and find a great place to eat. But then something would be wrong with the hotel for sure, like a senior prom with rampaging teenagers in the rooms above, below and adjacent having the best night of their lives while we prayed for morning to come so we could leave.

I was so afraid of ruining Montreal, of destroying the fabulous possibilities of the place, that I said “let’s just get a room in Plattsburgh. It’s about an hour south of Montreal. We’ll be on the other side of the border and that way we can get home quicker tomorrow. The town’s probably a dump, but I bet there’s some rustic Adirondack-type places you could get a big steak or something.”

welcome home

Wrong on one count. We checked into a serviceable Holiday Inn at 9:45 PM. My eyes were almost too tired to look at my phone but a quick glance at Chowhound yielded grim results: “If you ever have the misfortune of being stuck in Plattsburgh…”

“Really, at this point I’d settle for a Texas Roadhouse!” I said.

“Look there’s a Five Guys,” Eric said. Five Guys guys were putting up chairs and mopping. The quality bar was descending lower and lower, though neither of us could deal with a Perkins directly across the street.

“Let’s try that mall nearby?” The local brewing company restaurant proclaiming “Fresh Beer! Fresh Food!” was closed.

Another sign on a big, busy-looking building said ‘Buffalo Wild Wings’. “I could actually go for some wings!” I said, trying to make the best of things. “It’ll be a fun cultural experience I bet. Y’know, Plattsburgh, on a Saturday night – what the real people are doing! Much better than being in Montreal with a bunch of pretentious foodies.”

“Are you here for the fight? That’ll be twenty dollars,” the Wild Wings employees all clustered together around the entrance in matching sporty outfits were coming at us with wristbands.

“But..we just want some wings,” I said weakly.

“They let you watch people beat each other up for free where I come from,” Eric said.

Buffalo Wild Wings was televising a big boxing match.

“We promise we won’t even look at the screens!” I begged. “You can seat us with our backs to the fight.” No.

There was a lonely pizza place further along in the mall. “Giuseppe’s – sounds authentic. I bet there are a lot of Italians in Plattsburgh.” Grasping at straws here.

I can’t even describe how bad the food was. You probably have had it yourself – the rankest, most metallic red sauce; meat that leaves you wondering what animal; rubber cheese, bread made of glue and Play-Doh.

We ended up at the hotel vending machine for some chemicals to dispel the taste. Saw a gang of teenagers tromping around the lobby in matching sports outfits and we prepared to do battle should they make one peep but they were disconcertingly quiet all night.

The next morning, I found a local coffee place on Yelp. “We should support the local place. It’s by the SUNY campus, so how bad can it be?” we said as we both looked longingly at a Starbucks. We passed a Texas Roadhouse and I actually gasped at what we’d missed out on. It was so close, all this time.

The coffee place smelled of sweet syrup. The hapless bro working behind the counter handed me a mug of cappuccino with his thumb lodged deep in the foam. Eric’s espresso was in a cup so chipped he had to pour it directly down his throat to avoid cutting his lip.

fine china

Still, I pressed on – “Maybe there’s somewhere we could get a decent brunch?” My phone showed a huge list of awesome dining options places fairly nearby.

All in Montreal.

We still want to thank Cecilia & Rick and the crowd at Rickk’s Room house concert, it was worth suffering Giuseppe’s and you did send us off with a big package of incredible focaccia (fresh from Montreal) which we ate the next day to remember what real food tastes like. 

15 thoughts on “Of Montreal

  1. Marti Jones

    Omigod, Amy. It’s like I was reading about Dixon and myself… The picture of being “drenched in sweat” and collapsing after lugging in guitars and suitcases is all too familiar. Thank you for writing about it. Misery adores company. xo Marti

    1. amyrigby

      Marti, you were there in the early days of me and Eric’s hillbilly-dom…the cowboy hat covered in cat hair, the fully-loaded luggage cart rolling away, that bag of blue corn tortilla chips blowing out the driver’s window and back in through the passenger window (I did eventually get the air conditioning fixed in that van!) See, just writing about it makes me want to do it all again! xx

  2. needswants

    Except for the Montreal part, I had nearly the exact same experience several years ago: same hotel, same restaurant quest, and the Giuseppe’s experience. At least the hotel pool was decent (at that time).

    1. amyrigby

      I just found their takeaway menu in the van – it proclaims “fresh dough made daily”. I’m torn about whether to keep the menu or not. That is hilarious you went to Giuseppe’s! (and I think the pool at HI was still fine, but it was full of the teenage sports team)

  3. Tony

    I actually lived in Plattsburgh for like six years and you pretty much nailed the experience perfectly. I spent a whole lot of time standing haplessly on the bank of Lake Champlain staring longingly at Burlington.

    That said, there was a fleeting period in the late ’90s where it was actually a somewhat weird and bearable place. There was an ice cream shop owned and run by goths, for example. And a great diner. And an art house cinema that practically no one ever went to.

    1. amyrigby

      I’d hoped to hear something like that Tony – we did see a sign for a record fair later that afternoon and I thought how places like that can spur people on to make their own fun. Lake Champlain was beautiful…and the weekly Burlington paper in the coffee place made it sound like a great town not too far away (by ferry)?

      1. Tony

        I have a theory that the most miserable places often spur the most interesting countercultures. Desperation is a great source of inspiration.

        During the warmer months, there’s a ferry within pleasant biking distance that docks pretty much right in downtown Burlington, which is indeed a great town.

        Also of note: there’s a Russell Banks novel largely set at Plattsburgh’s mall.

  4. dinahmow

    Thanks for the memory…of a far distant similar experience.There must be a wormhole, or pucker, in the space-time continuum where all these random horrors lurk…
    But you made it an entertaining read, so there is that. 🙂

  5. amyrigby

    I never know what to say about the beautiful, wonderful stuff. The house concert we played before PLattsburgh was really fun and we saw a gorgeous part of the world I never knew existed. But I couldn’t spin that into anything! Thanks Dinah.

  6. Molly MacPherson

    For Pete’s sake, just ask for recommendations! It’s been a few years, but I lived in (lovely!) Montreal for awhile and still know many sweet places to go. Plattsburgh will always blow even the lowest expectations – might as well set them high to make the disappointment worthwhile. Maybe Burlington, Vermont, next time? My old hometown with lots of great eats and great atmosphere, if a little out of the way on your way back… But still – Montreal. If only for the awesome (French) Canadian accent.

    1. amyrigby

      There was no shortage of Montreal recommendations – just a van full of equipment to deal with (and I have the impression the parking is really difficult) but I would definitely love to stop in Burlington some time (and saving Montreal for a pleasure trip , same as N.O., haven’t been since my daughter went to Tulane in 2009)

      Yes, that French Canadian accent is unique!

  7. Marvin

    Parking is a challenge in Montreal, no question. (If I still lived there, I’d let you park in my driveway!) But next time, go if you can — you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that isn’t exceptional!

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