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Friendly B&Bs of Montreal

May 03, 1987|LESLIE GOURSE | Gourse is a New York City free-lance writer.

Since 1980, Montreal's hotel rooms have tripled in price to $180 Canadian for a double room in a first-class, downtown hotel. So scores of Montrealers have gotten into the city's newest cottage industry.

These Montrealers have opened bed-and-breakfast accommodations in their homes. Prices range from $25 to $70 Canadian a night. Most rooms cost $35 to $55, usually without private bathrooms.

(All prices here are in Canadian dollars, worth about 25% less than U.S. currency.)

Some B&Bs have only one guest room available; one B&B has 12 rooms to rent, tantamount to a small hotel. B&B owners usually do all the work in their establishments, taking reservations and greeting guests at the door with friendly smiles, as if tourists were dinner guests.

The owners explain quirks of room door locks, offer front door keys for people coming home late at night, provide extra towels, bars of soap, cups of tea and a few free local phone calls.

All the B&Bs serve full breakfasts. The minimum spread consists of eggs, croissants, jam, butter, coffee, tea and juice. Some B&B owners add bacon, ham, spiced meats, peanut butter, cheese, even pancakes and French toast with maple syrup. Breakfasts are served in communal rooms.

Friendly Hosts

B&B owners often sit down during breakfast hours to chat with the guests, advise them about tours and walks or even air political views. Guests get a chance to become acquainted with each other, too. And the friendliness of the B&B owners heightens the human element of Montreal.

By 1980 Marian Kahn decided to open Montreal's first B&B, when she saw how popular the concept had become in Toronto and Ottawa. She called her venture Montreal Bed and Breakfast. Now she accommodates six people in her home.

Over the years she has acquired a network of other B&Bs who use her as an agent. She refers guests whom she can't accommodate herself to her network, other Montrealers who have one or two rooms to rent in their homes and notify the public through Kahn.

She lists her B&Bs with the Montreal tourist bureau. She can supply about 80 rooms in all parts of town.

Montreal's tourist bureau tries to maintain an up-to-date list of the city's B&Bs, most of them belong to networks, with rooms on or near the beaten paths. From nearly every B&B you can either walk to mid-town in 15 minutes or ride public buses or metro trains in 20 minutes or less.

It takes 10 minutes to ride by train from Kahn's house to mid-town. And her house is convenient for visiting St. Joseph's Oratory, a Catholic shrine. Devout pilgrims, some on their knees, climb a long flight of steps there, believing that miraculous cures occur at the site. And there's a beautiful view of Montreal from the top of the shrine.

This year Montreal's newest B&B, an independent, listed itself directly with the city's tourist bureau. Welcome B&B is in a section called Plateau Mont Royal, about a 15-minute walk east of mid-town. A Montreal couple, Allard Cote and Carole Sirols, who opened Welcome B&B, spent a year preparing their charming, three-story house--on a quiet, tree-lined, residential street--to receive guests.

Reasonably Priced Rooms

Welcome B&B has space for 12 people in small, clean rooms with firm mattresses, quilts, fluffy towels, TV sets, washbasins and communal toilets and shower/bathrooms, for $35 to $45.

Not far from Welcome B&B, Bob Finkelstein, a former jewelry maker from New York City, runs Downtown B&B Network at 3458 Laval Ave., at the corner of Sherbrooke, a major shopping street.

"I knew it would work," says Finkelstein, who started his service five years ago, "because B&Bs are the way that I like to travel. Hotels are so expensive. And I enjoy working with tourists."

In his home he has two guest rooms. His network of other B&B operators, who rely upon him for referrals, has 72 rooms ranging from $25 for a single to $55 double. (Only Marian Kahn's network has a few double rooms costing as much as $70.)

Finkelstein's house is a few blocks south of Welcome B&B, also on Laval Avenue. And both B&Bs have the good fortune to be close to Rue Duluth East, a flat-stone, tree- and flower-lined street that has become a glamorous restaurant row in recent years.

Rue Duluth, which crosses Laval Avenue, has a dozen restaurants serving Spanish, French, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese cuisines. Hanging plants, mirrors and glass walls decorate all the restaurants, ranging from provincial to ultra-modern in ambiance. Some have outdoor terraces. Alight at night, the restaurants cast a pretty glow into the quiet street between Laval Avenue and St. Hubert Avenue, about a seven-block span.

Economical Feasts

Close to Laval you find the candlelit La Terrace at No. 263, which serves frog legs for $7.95 and two lobsters weighing slightly less than two pounds together for $10.95, more economical prices than you find in Old Montreal's well-known tourist spots.

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