But that just shows you why travel is such a good thing. Montreal, as it turns out, has a great bagel culture.
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Montreal’s Famous Bagel Shop
The bagel shop to visit when visiting Montreal is St. Viateur Bagels, conveniently located on St. Viateur Street. A sign on the building says “depuis 1957.” My limited French was able to translate that the business has been around since 1957.
That’s when a Polish immigrant who had survived the Buchenwald concentration camp named Myer Lewkowicz opened his first business after starting life anew in Canada.
St. Viateur Bagels is now the oldest operating bagel shop in Canada.
Don’t bother looking at the website for the shop’s hours. St. Viateur Bagels is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter what the season or weather in Montreal.
Don’t worry about knowing when the bagels are freshest because they are being made fresh by hand 24 hours a day and always a fresh batch is just coming out of the oven.
Neither should you worry about arriving when it’s not busy. There’s always a line out the door.
Experiencing Montreal’s Famous Bagel Shop
I was there about 11 a.m. and yes, there was a line out the door. Of course, it’s a tiny shop and only about 10 people can fit inside at a time. There’s no seating, just standing as you wait for your order to be filled. Many people take their bagels back home or to work to enjoy later. There’s a tea shop next door that might let you bring in bagels if you order a cup of hot tea, which sounds nice. There are also several parks nearby.
My friends and I simply stood under a shade tree just outside the door and noshed on them while they were still warm from the wood fired oven. We’re classy that way.
That’s one secret to St. Viateur Bagels – they are baked in a wood fired oven, but the first difference comes from boiling them in a honey water, which gives them such a lovely color and flavor. Of course, everything is done by hand with all natural ingredients and no preservatives and as a result, the crust is perfectly golden and crunchy, while the interior is flavorful and textured, not chewy like some bagels.
More Ways to Love Montreal’s Famous Bagels
Mr. Lewkowicz died in 1994, but not before he saw his little shop featured in a book, Saturday Night at the Bagel Factory, and other Montreal stories. His partner has grown the business to six bagel shops or cafes, as well as a couple of food trucks that patrol Montreal’s colorful neighborhoods.
The newer locations have plenty of seating, restrooms and other amenities missing at the original shop. But nothing beats the cramped, edgy feel of the original location at 23 St. Viateur Rue West where Mr. Lewkowicz labored to create the bread that he so craved while a prisoner in Buchenwald.
St. Viateur Bagels is certainly not just a locals breakfast place in Montreal. It’s an institution beloved by city’s nearly two million residents, celebrities and visitors from around the world.
Make sure you are one of them the next time your travels take you to the wonderful city of Montreal.
For those who can’t wait, St. Viateur ships throughout North America. Get ready for your trip to Montreal or the arrival of your bag of famous Montreal bagels with some of the products below.