La Vie en Ruffian: A Montreal Voyage

by Daniel Chivu
Ruffian designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais recently headed to Montreal. As usual, they reveal tout


“CONCORDIA SALUS. Like the romantic Ruffians that we are, the idea of train travel has always been a fantasy for us, and the L train wasn’t really doing the trick! So in an impulsive moment during our winter recess, we decided to go online and book two tickets on the Amtrak Adirondack Express from Penn Station to Montreal. This train line, one of the oldest in the nation, has a mythical reputation worthy of a Leonard Cohen song. (He’s a Montreal native.) Our pre-travel preparation included tea sandwiches, a bottle of wine, some chips and chocolate. As we walked to the platform with our trusty LL Bean camouflage bags, we were ushered to the last car, specifically reserved for those doing the full journey to Montreal. Our seats were as large as any business class on a plane, and they reclined, as well. Our windows had curtains, and the crowd on our car was pretty cute and preppy, lots of kids from McGill.  At 8:30 a.m. we were off, through a labyrinth of tunnels in the belly of Manhattan, under the West Side Highway, emerging to lush views of the Hudson River.  Within moments, we left the city to begin our Northward trail. Words are not sufficient to describe this most beautiful epic journey. Through the Adirondacks, rivers, lakes, and snowy landscapes, our passage took on a meditative quality.  We truly understood the elegance and luxury of this old fashioned way of travel. 


Arriving on time for dinner, we arrived at the famous Gare Centrale and took a quick taxi to the Intercontinental, the chicest hotel in Montreal. The hotel’s great warmth combines antiquity and modernity and has all the qualities a traveler in this sometimes artic city would want. The Nordheimer Building which houses the ballrooms and public rooms of the hotel was originally a piano manufacturer in the grand tradition. In fact, the divine Sarah Bernhardt, the queen of French tragedy, performed in the private recital hall there during her visit to Montreal in 1880. This great legacy is the inspiration for Sarah B., the Absinthe Bar at the hotel (the only one in North America). This fascinating ritual involves a beautiful crystal decanter which drips iced water over a sugar cube perched on a silver slotted spoon into a glass of this mysterious elixir. I am not sure if it was the incredibly comfortable bed in our Tourelle Suite or the mythical hallucination of the Absinthe  “green fairy”, but we have never slept better.  The next morning, after a chic breakfast in the exclusive Intercontinental Club, we made our way to the Botanical Gardens, the second largest in the world, adjacent to the Olympic Stadium. This glass-enclosed warm steamy wonderland of flora and fauna seemed miraculous amongs heaps of snow, which surround it.  We were particularly impressed by the extraordinary Bonsai Tree collection and the hundreds of varieties of orchids. Afterwards, we toured around the Olympic Stadium, one of many architectural marvels in Montreal. 


That evening, we decided to eat dinner at the legendary LeMeac. If you want to dine with the beautiful people of Montreal, then you mustn’t miss this.  Executive chef Richard Bastien is a Montreal culinary guru, and he did not disappoint. Our seven-course tasting dinner was a veritable playground for the gourmand. The pairing of wine and food was flawless, and our dinner included House Smoked Salmon with Caviar, Boudin Noir, Panko Crusted Goat Cheese Salad, Guinea Fowl, Lamb Chops, and ended with an epic warm French Toast Pudding with local Maple Ice Cream. Following dinner, we thought it might be a good idea to dance and burn off a few calories so we went over to the infamous Cabaret Mado. Montreal’s red light and cabaret tradition is world renown, and no visit is complete without a Burlesque performance. Madame Mado’s stellar wit and infinitely brilliant cast of crazy drag performers takes this art form to a new level. A visual feast of costumes and song, this was definitely a highlight of our trip. 


Our last day, we decided to keep it low key and enjoy the hotel’s fabulous Salt Water Pool and Spa. After sweating off our drinks and food from the night before, we decided to hit up Chinatown, a hop skip and a jump away from the hotel. A myriad of Pan-Asian culture and restaurants we decided on an old favorite, Cristal No. 1 and enjoyed some piping hot noodles. That night from the circular living room in our Tourelle Suite, we looked at the beautiful snowy skyline of this courageous and creative city and were reminded of city’s motto, Concordia Salus, or ‘Salvation Through Harmony.’ What a nice thought for the times we live in.”


Don’t miss pictures from their journey in our Gallery.




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