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Sleeping With Art

NOTE: This article can also be found here on my mainstream (i.e., non-sassy) travel column at The Huffington Post

I’ve stayed in all types of hotels all over the world — from the extravagantly luxurious to humble properties with “character” to youth hostels (when I was more youthful, admittedly) and from charming B&Bs and to the worldwide corporate chains that are often copy-and-pasted in city after city. Boutique hotels are by far my favorite, but it’s getting harder and harder to find boutiques that are truly unique.

Back in the summer I was aimlessly wandering around the streets of Old Montreal at night when I walked past a beautifully lit ornate facade on Rue McGill. That canvas of stone and light turned out to be the Hotel St. Paul, and on my next trip I made sure to book a room there and try it out. Little did I know that I would soon be sleeping in one of the most uniquely artful boutique hotels in North America.

In 1905, Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway Company needed a new building for its administrative offices in Montreal in addition to space for one of its subsidiaries, Canadian Express. It acquired land on the corner what is now Rue McGill and Rue St. Paul and spent the next two years constructing a 10-story building, the maximum height allowed by Montreal’s building code at the time. The architects at Hutchison and Wood constructed the edifice in a neo-baroque style, which ensured that it was ideally situated for dramatic modern lighting more than a century later when I randomly walked by one night.

In 1961 the government of Quebec acquired the building and housed its immigration, transportation, and other provincial offices there through the early 1980s, when it was sold to a European developer. In 2000, its current owners began a complete modernization and renovation of the property, and voila — the Hotel St. Paul opened the following year.

As if it were not already charming and design-forward enough, the Hotel St. Paul is now undergoing a phased redesign of the rooms and common spaces, and even the most discerning guests should expect to be thoroughly impressed. One of the most unique aspects of this property is that nearly every free-standing object — from the sofas in the lobby to the mirrors in the rooms to the art throughout the building — is custom designed by the owner’s wife. And if the pieces in the hotel strike your fancy, there’s a small boutique from which you shop some of her collections.

When I first pulled up to the hotel to check in for my long-weekend stay in Montreal, the first thing I noticed yet again was the ornate exterior. There’s something about the facade that looks and makes you feel classy just knowing that you’re staying there. The lobby is small, which is normal for a boutique hotel. But you can tell immediately that your stay there is going to be unique based on the furnishings and decor, including a chic walk-around fireplace to warm up beside when winter in Montreal starts to really kick in.

Just off the lobby but also accessible from the street is Hambar, the hotel’s meat-themed restaurant and bar. Although it only opened in 2012, I noticed while I was there that Hambar isn’t just populated by hotel guests. Montrealers who live and work in the area also frequent the restaurant for lunch and dinner, which is always a good sign for a restaurant within a hotel. But even if you don’t dine there, you’ve got to at least have a drink at the bar to admire all the delicious looking hams suspended from the ceiling by the entrance.

The rooms in the Hotel St. Paul are actually quite large and spacious. Boutique hotels are usually small properties, and space within rooms is always at a premium as owners and designers try to squeeze in more units and amenities. So upon entering my room, I was struck by how much open space there was. Just like the lobby, there’s also fascinating works of art in every room too. But really everything in the room is a piece of art, since it’s all custom designed for just this hotel.

While any room here will be great, check to see if the “Black Suite” is available during your stay and splurge a little to snag it if it is. It’s one of only two all-black hotel rooms in the world, and as S&M-esque as it sounds, it’s actually a really cool room.

You also can’t beat the neighborhood that the Hotel St. Paul is in. Situated on the southwestern edge of Old Montreal, everything you want to see in the old city is just a short and pleasant stroll away. The Montreal History Center is right around the corner and is definitely worth a drop-by. The museum occupies a beautifully restored old fire house that was built about the same time as the hotel. I’ve been to Montreal many times now and it wasn’t until my stay at the Hotel St. Paul that I discovered this essential museum that documents the surprisingly multicultural (not just French) history of Montreal. There are also lots of really delicious and ultra-trendy restaurants in this part of town too.

The Hotel St. Paul is an amazing oasis of art, design, and quaint luxury right in the heart of where you want to be when staying in Montreal. It’s one of the more unique boutique hotels I’ve stayed in because of the special emphasis it places on custom art and artistic modern furnishings, not only in common areas but in each guest room as well. The rooms are large, the staff are all super friendly and on the ball, and you can’t beat the location or the value. I would highly recommend this boutique property to anyone visiting Montreal.