Bar B Barn Montreal’s best chicken & ribs turns 50
Bar B Barn – Tom McQueen has been associated with the Bar B Barn for so long he’s practically part of the furniture. When I ask the affable manager how long he’s been at the iconic establishment celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – it opened in April 1967 just before Expo 67 – he chuckles and returns my question with one of his own, “On or off the books?”
Co-owner with father and son Manny and Dalton Barnoff, McQueen first met the pair on the golf course in Candiac while he was working as a caddy as a mere lad of 8 1/2 years old. The fatherless youngster from the south shore was drawn to the father-son duo and they to him. They sent him to caddy school to learn how to ply his trade and he caddied for them until he was 15. At this point Manny said to him, “Enough, enough – time to get a real job and come work for us.”
Manny brought him back to the Bar B Barn on Guy Street and said, “This is your future.” McQueen complied with his mentor’s request to come work for the family business and the rest is history. He had the usual apprenticeship in the restaurant & hotel industry starting off as a busboy – he quit the first night – but then went back shortly after. “I learned the whole kitchen, how to be a butcher, eventually becoming a waiter and bartender.” On the day he turned 21 he became a manager. McQueen laughs again when he thinks back to those days. “I’m still working here 6 days a week.”
“I had wanted to be a CPA but never pursued it,” he says with no trace of regret. Two of my sons are CPAs,” he adds matter-of-factly. McQueen waxes euphoric when he reminisces about the heyday of the Bar-B-Barn when the customers were an A-list of`Who’s Who in politics, media, and sports. “Back in the day, the 70’s, the press – The Gazette, The Montreal Star – all those guys were at the bar. The Expos, the Als, the Habs came before and after the game.”
CKGM Radio personality Ralph “The Birdman” Lockwood had a lot to do with bringing in the crowd to the chicken & ribs eatery downtown. People who listened to his show in the 1970’s will recall Lockwood saying on air, “Come join me at the Bar-B-Barn.” This was when he wasn’t asking his trademark question, “How’s your bird?” “He was there every day,” McQueen says. The barn-style restaurant was also a favorite of Top 40 Radio DJ Marc “Mais Oui” Denis the bilingual voice of Montreal’s airwaves for decades. The `”Bar-B” as it was affectionately known by many Montrealers was the meet-up location pre/post-game. “We would rent city buses to take people to and from the football games,” McQueen says. Such was the dedication of the Bar-B’s own ‘team’ that they made sure the fans made it to home field to cheer on the Alouettes.
One of the “boys” who frequented the Bar B Barn was Gazette journalist and bon vivant Nick Auf der Maur. “He was a fixture at the bar,” McQueen says. “Never a dull moment – he always had stories. He was another Ralph. He would keep going like the Energizer Bunny.” Political heavyweights Brian Mulroney and René Lévesque were regular customers too. Lévesque lived just up the street and would come by to get his “fix” of chicken and ribs around 11:30 am. “Every Saturday morning he would walk here – no security. He had a great character. He was funny. He had a political character which was rough but generally, he was nice.” Lévesque had one bad habit that is barely tolerated today – he smoked. In those days you could smoke in bars and restaurants. “He smoked like a chimney,” McQueen says with a wry smile.
The “best ever” figure to cross the Bar B Barn’s threshold was Brian Mulroney. He would send the RCMP hours before to stake out the place. Then Brian and Mila would come in with their own security and they would have dinner. Mulroney still came after he was no longer Prime Minister although Lévesque didn’t come by much once he moved to Nun’s Island. Other notables graced the premises like the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard in the early 80’s. Sugar Ray was a class act. “Oh my god, he was so classy. He had the white limousine and lots of gold bling and an entourage,” McQueen says. Then there was David Joyner – not exactly a household name – but known and adored by millions of children as Barney the Dinosaur. “He would sign autographs both in and out of costume,” McQueen says laughing.
Manny Barnoff was a class act himself sending racks of ribs to prisons. In the early years Barnoff had a ventilation company which took him down south where he developed a taste for ribs. He started to experiment with different recipes in his mother’s kitchen before he opened the Bar-B-Barn. One day he said to McQueen, “I think I’ve got it.” He didn’t have a kitchen at the restaurant yet so he cooked at his mother’s place transporting the ribs and chicken in his LTD Station wagon downtown. “He worked hard for his success,” McQueen says. It would become a great business. “The city was buzzing,” McQueen explains. Business was so good that one day Manny got out of his car in the middle of a snowstorm and started handing out combos.
Hockey legend Bob Gainey was a friend of the Bar B crew. Manny & Dalton Barnoff, Bob Gainey, and Tom McQueen became fishing buddies and would go on fishing trips up north. “He was a very, very classy man,” McQueen says of “Le Capitaine” of the Montreal Canadiens. Gary Carter of the Montreal Expos would also become a personal friend. A framed autographed glossy photo of him hangs on the walls of the rustic establishment along with countless others, a testament to the landmark eatery’s reputation far and wide for friendly service and mouthwatering chicken and rib combos.
“Bell Canada and CN were big clients in the 80’s,” McQueen says. By this time a second Bar-B-Barn was open for business on Sources Blvd. in DDO. Both barbeque restaurants are still going strong. Three times per year the hands-on McQueen makes personal deliveries of vacuum-packed meats all the way to the Northwest Territories travelling by Air Inuit with his own security. Now that is service. He wouldn’t have it any other way. McQueen isn’t the only loyal member of the Bar-B-Barn family. “My barmaid just retired. She was 76 when she retired,” McQueen says with evident pride.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” he says. He hears all the time from young people, families who have moved away about how much they miss the Bar B Barn. As soon as they come back to Montreal they’ll say, “I haven’t been here for a while, but the first thing I’ve got to do is come to the Bar B Barn.” McQueen attributes the Bar B’s enduring brand and loyal clientele to the recipes which have stayed the same from “Day 1” along with the decor. His motto: keep smiling. “I still think I have a good 20 more years in me,” he says.
Bar B Barn Downtown
1201 rue Guy Montréal H3H 2K5
Bar B Barn West Island
300 Sources Blvd. Pointe-Claire H9B 1Z7
By: Deborah Rankin – firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Val Provost – email@example.com