Downtown Montreal institution Bar-B Barn has closed, leaving fans bereft
MONTREAL -- A Montreal landmark has closed: Bar-B Barn, the kitschy, Western-themed rib eatery on Guy St., much loved by its longtime customers.
The restaurant, opened in 1967, has a sister location in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that will remain open. A staff member there confirmed Tuesday that the downtown, flagship location was closing.
Several factors appear to have contributed to the closure, but the COVID-19 virus sealed the deal.
"It’s just number crunching, unfortunately, and corona really put a downer on us," owner Tom McQueen, who worked at the restaurant for decades, told CTV News on Wednesday. "Corona definitely pushed us to the limit."
The West Island location had been open for COVID-safe takeout since March, but because of social distancing measures, reopening the downtown location wouldn't be worth it, McQueen said. Because of the way the building is designed, his capacity would be reduced from 60 to 24 customers.
"And that’s the max, if every table was maxed out by four clients per table," he said. "If couples come in, which they always do, then I would have six tables of two, so I would only have 12 clients in a dining room where I usually have 60."
The Bar-B Barn’s founder, Manny Barnoff, died in December. He was 90, according to his obituary published in mid-January. Locals said they’d noticed the building go up for sale this winter.
"Manny was a Montreal legend," the obituary said, "well known as the founder of THE BAR-B BARN restaurant which was his true love since 1967."
"He had a dream and he said I’m going to make it," McQueen said.
Barnoff was also known for giving generously to charities.
"Bar-B Barn was an institution, and in a city with possibly the best food in North America, it was not uncommon to see lineups out the door even in the coldest days of winter," said Montrealer Mitch Kastner, who got to know Barnoff while working for a company that supplied the Bar-B Barn with rotisserie equipment.
"Manny Barnoff built the 'Barn' brick by brick. The ribs are legendary, and the man behind it all was a great humanitarian who quietly gave back to the community in many ways."
The building was decorated to look like a log cabin inside and it was filled with photos of patrons and famous Montrealers, including Habs players who had eaten there. It was a popular spot for a pre-game meal.
A Facebook post by a community member about the closure quickly attracted hundreds of comments from loyal clients after it was published on Tuesday evening.
"We went there all our lives," said one woman.
Some others said they had copies of the recipe for the restaurant’s famous sauce, which Barnoff seemed to give out upon request.
"I will treasure it forever.....thanks Manny!" wrote one woman.
The space may end up being sold to Concordia University for future development of its campus, but no transaction has been finalized, the school said.
McQueen confirmed there are talks of the university using the space.
"I don’t have all the details, but what I’ve been told is that Concordia will be occupying the building on Guy St.," he said. "Hopefully that will be what the outcome will be because who better than Concordia to have it."
Bar-B Barn's legendary location may be closing, but McQueen said he's not ruling out the possibility of opening up another downtown in the future.
"When I was a young teenager, working from six in the morning to 11 o’clock at night for (Manny), that was my second home," McQueen said. "I'm losing my home."