Leonard Cohen’s Montreal: 5 Places Where You Can Walk in the Footsteps of the Canadian Icon
Since Leonard Cohen's death in 2016, fans from around the world have been flocking to Montreal to pay homage to the iconic musician by following in his footsteps. Take a walking tour of five places he frequented—some of which even inspired his work.
When Leonard Cohen passed away on Nov. 7, 2016, his family held a wake at Moishes Steakhouse. Opened in 1938, the Montreal institution strikes a perfect balance between old and new Montreal: its classic Jewish dishes pay tribute to the restaurant’s Romanian roots, while the dining room’s beautiful graffiti murals evoke the multicultural, ever-evolving Plateau-Mont Royal neighbourhood. Owner and operator Lenny Lighter—son of late founder Moishe Lighter, who won the restaurant in a poker game—recalls Leonard Cohen visiting regularly with his children and his mother. According to Lighter, Cohen’s favourite dish was the lamb chops, and his go-to wine was a red Bordeaux. “Everything you read about [Cohen] being a sweet and soulful person is absolutely true,” Lighter says. “That was his nature, and he had a great sense of humour.”
Main Deli Steak House
A short walk southeast from Moishes on Boulevard St.-Laurent is Main Deli Steak House, one of Montreal’s most famous old-school delicatessens. Serving Jewish staples like potato latkas and pickled beef tongue sandwich to the city’s after-hours crowd, it was reportedly Leonard Cohen’s favourite smoked meat joint in Montreal, even beating out the legendary Schwartz’s, which is situated right across the street. Waitress Anastasia Xenos, who served Cohen many times in the 23 years she’s been working at Main Deli, recalls the late singer-songwriter frequently coming into the eatery alone, sitting in the first booth on the right side of the dining room (his favourite spot), and ordering the deli’s famed smoked meat sandwich.
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Parc du Portugal
In the 1970s, Leonard Cohen purchased a triplex on Vaillières Street facing Parc du Portugal, located northwest from Main Deli on Boulevard St.-Laurent. Designed by architect Carlos R. Martinez and built as a tribute to Montreal’s large Portuguese community, Parc du Portugal features a fountain, a gazebo, benches and tile walkways. Cohen referenced the park in his poem “Titles” from the collection Book of Longing: “From a third-storey window above the Parc du Portugal, I’ve watched the snow come down all day. As usual, there’s no one here. There never is.” Parc du Portugal was the site of a makeshift memorial by Cohen’s followers when he passed away in 2016, and on the one-year anniversary of his death, fans painted lyrics from his famous “Hallelujah” on the sidewalk surrounding the park.
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Located 20 minutes southwest of Plateau Mont-Royal is Montreal’s Mile End district, which was formerly a Jewish quarter from WWI to the mid-1950s. One of its most famous attractions is the flagship St-Viateur bagel shop, which was opened in 1957 by Myer Lewkowicz, a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Over the decades, St-Viateur garnered a legion of faithful (and famous) customers, including Leonard Cohen. Each bagel is rolled by hand, boiled in honey water and cooked in a wood fire oven; almost 10 bagels are made per minute. “He was friends with [current owner] Joe Morena, and he used to love our bagels,” says manager Saul Restrepo, who began working at the shop in 1981 at the age of 16.
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Five kilometres away east from Mile End is Montreal’s Old Port, home of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel, one of the oldest churches in the city. In the 19th century, the chapel became a pilgrimage for sailors arriving in the Old Port—hence its nickname, Sailors’ Church—and was immortalized by Leonard Cohen in his song, “Suzanne.” According to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, “Suzanne” was partly inspired by the view of the Montreal harbour from the observation tower of the chapel. One of the song’s lines—”And the sun pours down like honey, on our lady of the harbour”—refers to the Our Lady of the Harbour statue on top of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, which faces the St. Lawrence River.
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