Village gai

A view of Montreal's Village gai, with Beaudry metro station at left Le Village gai is the gay village of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It is located on rue Sainte-Catherine downtown, centred on Beaudry metro station, in the Ville-Marie borough of the city. The Village runs approximately from rue Saint-Hubert to avenue Papineau, a distance of nearly two kilometres, making it the largest in North America in terms of area.

Formerly a poor working-class neighbourhood, part of the Centre-Sud area of the city, the area was occupied by the gay and lesbian community after the expulsion of gay businesses from an area closer to boulevard Saint-Laurent. The area has been considerably brightened up, thanks in part to recent investment from the various levels of government.

Indeed, despite repression as late as the early 1990s, recent government support of the Village cannot be overemphasized. All three levels of government are aggressively promoting the Village, the accepting climate of Quebec, and gay life in Montreal as a tourist attraction. In recognition of the Village's importance to the city, the borough of Ville-Marie recently hung a rainbow flag in its council chambers, to say nothing of the recently rebuilt entrance to Beaudry metro, decorated with rainbow pillars. The Village is specifically marked on official city maps.

Finally, the governments lent their support in securing the Gay Games for 2006. The city later lost the right to hold the Games under that name because the Federation of Gay Games considered their plans too ambitious. Instead, Montreal Rendez-Vous 2006, the first edition of the World Outgames, will take place in Montreal, with the 2006 Gay Games being moved to Chicago.

The city government came under criticism recently for cutting funding to the Divers/Cite pride celebrations, which nevertheless are ranked among the largest in the world.

Gays and lesbians live all over the highly accepting city, so their residential density in the Village is only slightly higher than elsewhere. However, the Village contains a variety of shops and services targeting the community, and so serves as an entertainment and tourism epicentre rather than as a gay neighbourhood strictly speaking.

The Village contains a wide variety of nightlife: bars and discotheques catering to all tastes (Montreal has more gay bars and discotheques than Paris, and as many as San Francisco or New York), including three very large entertainment complexes, one of which is the largest of its kind in the world. There are also a wide range of boutiques, restaurants, cafes, bed-and-breakfasts, and hotels. The city also contains a number of gay establishments outside the Village proper.

The Association des Commercants et Professionels du Village (Village Businesspersons and Professionals Association) represents the businesspeople of the Village. The Centre communautaire des gais et lesbiennes de Montreal (Montreal Gay and Lesbian Community Centre) through the Mario-Racine Foundation, is currently planning on constructing an important community complex in the heart of the Village.

WAY-GAY MONTREAL

by Rex Wockner
Montreal is vibrant, multi-ethnic, civilized, cultured, cheap, and very gay.

The streets pulsate, the food is fantastic, a U.S. dollar gets you $1.47 Canadian, and a mile-long stretch Rue Sainte-Catherine E. (The Gay Village) may be the gayest place in North America.

The gay scene is highly developed with shops, bars, dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, bathhouses, video arcades and a couple of megacomplexes that contain most of the above under one roof.

I like bearish guys so I visited The Stud and the Black Eagle (Aigle Noir). These bars and scores of others on Rue Sainte- Catherine E. were packed on Saturday night, full on Sunday night and busy during the week. Bars close at 3:00 a.m.

Other clubs up and down Sainte-Catherine offer drag shows, dancing, strippers, live music, gym boys and any other gay subgroup that comes to mind. You don't need a guidebook. Just walk east from the Berri-UQAM Metro stop and soon you're in the thick of it. The Village continues all the way past the Papineau Metro stop. (For a full bar listing, pick up Fugues magazine or visit http://www.fugues.com.)

The guys I chatted with were friendly and talkative. Most spoke English ranging from passable to good. In general, most folks address you in French first. About 90 percent of the time, they switch to English once you speak English.

Apart from the Gay Village, the hippest parts of Montreal are Rue Saint-Denis (north of Sainte-Catherine E.) and Boul. Saint- Laurent (north of Boul. Sherbrooke), collectively known as The Plateau. Both are great for strolling and cafe life. Saint- Laurent has a more bohemian feel, great restaurants and the city's gay bookstore, L'Androgyne. Saint-Denis is the place for lunch at a sidewalk cafe and a wonderful little cigar store (Cubans are available in Canada) called Cigar Emporium at 3525 Saint-Laurent.

Saint-Denis and Saint-Laurent are connected by the Rue Prince- Arthur pedestrian street which is devoted almost exclusively to restaurants with outdoor seating. Winter in Montreal is so horrifying that residents seem to spend every waking hour outside in the summer. Prince-Arthur dead-ends on the east into Square Saint-Louis, a nice spot for nuzzling on a bench with your significant other.

If you have more time after exploring the Gay Village and The Plateau, venture into the touristy old city and port. Although it's overly commercialized, a leisurely walk through the narrow, European streets is worthwhile. There are myriad historic buildings. For details, grab the Official Tourist Guide from your hotel room.

Montreal has a glitzy casino on an island just south of the city. The Metro and an easy bus connection get you there. There are also slot machines run by the provincial Lottery in many bars, including the gay bars. Montreal's Metro is clean, on-time and fast. Don't bother with a car unless you're planning a rural adventure since parking is difficult in the city's urban core.

Tourist material will direct you to the Olympic Stadium, the Biodome, the Biosphere and other "attractions." My advice is to avoid them unless you're bored. Another overrated attraction is the "underground city." This is a euphemism for 18 miles of sterile underground shopping malls that connect downtown buildings and Metro stops. They exist because it's too cold to go outside in the winter.

If you want to rent a car and go for a drive, a visit to the Sucrerie de la Montagne is worthwhile. It is a traditional maple grove (trees are tapped the old-fashioned way) with a wood-fired bakery and a rustic restaurant serving up a traditional Quebecois feast and folk music.

My boyfriend and I also took a drive up highways 15 and 329 to the lake-district and ski-resort town of Saint-Donat. The drive is scenic and the town is pleasantly not-all-that-touristified.

Back in the city, between June and October, there is always a festival or two closing down the streets of the central commercial districts. Indeed, we were unable to figure out when Montrealers sleep, since the streets are busy till 2 a.m. even during the week. We think we detected what may be North America's highest rate of bags-under-the-eyes. Look closely for yourself. They don't seem to sleep.

One enthusiastic fan of Montreal is author Armistead Maupin who spent much of this summer there filming Further Tales of the City (which airs on Showtime in April).

"I love it there," Maupin told me. "People are kind and gentle and also very sexy. There's a passionate, sentimental, romantic heart combined with a healthy respect for sex. People are free of all that Calvinistic [anti-sex] bullshit that most of North America is still in the grips of. ... And there's an effort at civility that you don't find in Anglo culture."

Maupin spent many evenings at the gay strip club Stock.

"There's nothing like making boys wave their dicks at you after 12 hours of work on the set," he said. "What I found most charming about that place is the way it is completely sensual and sentimental at the same time, much the way Montrealers themselves are. It [the stripper bar] was the best mix of horny and corny that I've ever seen."

Indeed, Montreal may have the highest incidence per capita of gay strip bars and bathhouses (they call them "saunas") of any city in the world.

"Montreal is the slut capital of Canada," says Richard Burnett who writes for Hour, a local alternative weekly newspaper. "If you can't get laid five minutes after getting off the train in Montreal, there's something wrong with you."

Asked what makes the city special, Burnett says: "There is a genuine laissez-faire attitude here, there is a joie de vivre. I don't know if it's a French thing or a Latin thing, but there's a definite energy, a definite free spirit here that's really fun.

"People will sit in cafes on Saint-Denis in the summer and enjoy being outside and talk about the hot studmuffin on the corner or the new pair of shoes they bought. If you want to talk about interest rates and the stock market, move to Toronto. People here work to live; in Toronto people live to work."

So, grab an extra cup of coffee and dive into vibrant Montreal. I dare you to find another North American city that is this alive.