Tales from Montréal: Divers/Cité 2008
As major cities increasingly integrate gay culture into their mainstream everyday lives, the presence of yearly pride celebrations seems to become less and less unique. So a city like Montréal, where the presence of queer culture has become almost as much a fabric of its identity as its French foundations, has opted instead for the last 16 years to celebrate their community with a week long LGBT arts festival known as Divers/Cité (July 29-Aug 3).
With my Canadian roommate as my guide to the festivities this year, we caught an early but very comfortable Air Canada flight out of New York and sped on to our hotel, The Gouverneur Place Dupuis, a modern concrete high-rise with spectacular views of Emile Gamelin Park and the city skyline.
A play on "Diverse City" and "Diversity", Divers/Cité is not Montréal’s Pride celebration (Celebrations Del La Fierte, Montréal’s official Gay Pride and the traditional parade which, for the first time, is not on Divers/Cité weekend but from Aug 14-17), but a series of concerts, performances and parties set in and around Montréal’s gay quarter around Emilie-Gamelin Park.
The always festive main gay drag, St. Catherine Street, however, is a designated tourist mall during the cool summer months. Old City, where tight cobblestone streets and picturesque churches retain Parisian flare and old-world charm, boasts both numerous boutiques and the gay-owned Boris Bistro, which serves traditional French lunch within the restaurant's vast outdoor gardens. For fine dining, try the sleek and modern Nuances inside the Casino de Montréal, which has made its home in the famous Expo ’67 French Pavilion.
Most of Divers/Cité's free outdoor events -- like the Friday trace event, New Society, on the Loto-Québec Stage in Emile Gamelin Park -- conclude by midnight and it’s best to get a head start on the clubs before the masses flood St. Catherine Street. Our destination for the evening was Club Unity, one of the multi-level clubs on St. Catherine that also include Sky and Parking. Despite being labeled as a mixed club, the prevailing presence was that of attractive and mainly younger gay men and lesbians enjoying the packed pop/R&B dance-floor and the lively late night dance performance (watch a video here!).
Overall, Unity and Sky’s most attractive aspect has to be its sophisticated roof bar. This refreshing oasis from the interior’s sweaty caverns allows boys to smoke, drink and flirt with the at-times standoff-ish French Canadians.
Clubs here close between 2 a.m.-3 a.m., but that doesn't mean the night comes to an end. At 1 a.m. several mixed after-hours clubs like Stereo and Circus open. Having a whole weekend of action to go, my guide and I opted instead for some of Montréal’s famous late night food: a hearty helping of gravy and cheese curd covered fries better known as Poutine. Yum!