• With its digital projection screens and live DJ booth, the lobby of the Renaissance Downtown Montreal Hotel feels like a trendy night spot in the heart of the city's entertainment district. Photo: Isaac Maiselman

How do you capture the essence of Montreal in a building?

That was the challenge facing designers of the new Renaissance Downtown Montreal Hotel, a boutique-style hotel located in the heart of the city’s trendy shopping and entertainment district.

Housed in a former post office built in the late 1940s in an art-deco style, the 142-room hotel is designed to allow visitors to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of chic, urban, young Montreal without leaving the building.

I don’t know whether it was the swinging benches in the lounge area or the live DJ booth above the registration desk that tipped me off, but from the moment I stepped into the foyer I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical hotel stay.

More surprises awaited me in my room, including hand-painted doodle art above the bed, graffiti wallpaper in the closet and an espresso machine instead of the standard coffee maker.

Each of the Renaissance Montreal's 142 guest rooms features hand-painted artwork on the walls and ceiling and furniture and fixtures created by local artisans. (Photo: Alexandra Pope)

In the evening, I had the opportunity to experience the Renaissance Montreal’s bar ritual — one of four weekly “activations” that occur spontaneously in the hotel’s common areas and are designed to entice guests out of their rooms to mingle and sample something uniquely Montreal.

While sipping on Asian-inspired sangria and snacking on sashimi and tempura prepared by East, the hotel’s in-house pan-Asian restaurant, I chatted with Alexandre Tessier, director of sales and marketing for the Renaissance Montreal.

Today’s traveler, says Tessier, isn’t satisfied with their trip until they experience a moment of discovery – something intriguing, independent and thoroughly local. The goal of Renaissance — a Marriott brand – is to facilitate these discovery moments even for business travelers who may not have time to fully experience the city.

Travelers with a little more free time for exploring can consult a “navigator” – friendly roaming staff ready to point you in the direction of great local attractions or make you a dinner reservation.

My own discovery moment came at the end of the night when, after drinking in the city lights on the hotel’s rooftop terrace, I headed around the corner to hip Rue Ste.-Catherine for a hefty plate of moules frites at the Dominion Square Tavern, a Montreal institution.

With my appetite satisfied, I was content to return to my little slice of Montreal on the seventh floor of the hotel - already looking forward to my morning espresso.

DJ Phil G spins live four nights a week in the lobby at the Renaissance Montreal. (Photo: Alexandra Pope)

East, the hotel's in-house restaurant, serves up Asian fusion cuisine, fine wine and cocktails in a relaxed, modern setting. (Photo: Alexandra Pope)

Guests soaking up the atmosphere at East. (Photo: Alexandra Pope)

The library on the hotel's main floor offers a stylish setting to socialize or catch up on emails. (Photo: Alexandra Pope)

Cocktail hour on the hotel's rooftop terrace begins with a mixology demonstration that includes fire in a punch bowl. (Photo: Alexandra Pope)