Brownstein: Another legendary resto closing as Bar-B-Barn owner retires

“The way I see it now is you must go out on a high, and I feel that I will be,” says Tom McQueen, who will be dishing out final servings of the restaurant’s famed fall-off-the-bone ribs on St. Patrick’s Day.

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It’s the end of the line for the legendary Bar-B-Barn, and, sadly, yet another chapter in Montreal’s rich and varied culinary history comes to a close.

Nearly four years after its original downtown home ceased operations, owner Tom McQueen is “deeply saddened” to announce that the Bar-B-Barn’s second location on the West Island’s Sources Blvd. will be dishing out its final servings of its famed and succulent fall-off-the-bone ribs on March 17.

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The downtown location lasted 53 years, and the curtains will close on the West Island spot after 44 years.

The city has recently lost, among other restos, the Main and Momesso’s on, respectively, the deli and submarine sandwich fronts, but the Bar-B-Barn’s original owner and founder, Manny Barnoff, was a pioneer in bringing ribs to Montreal when there were precious few purveyors in these parts.

But it was more than the grub. The downtown Bar-B — as it was always known to aficionados — was like a second home to sports stars and media personalities. And with its closing, that action shifted to the West Island.

McQueen had a special connection with Barnoff, who died four years ago — six months before the downtown Guy St. resto ceased operations.

“This is very emotional for me,” McQueen said Monday. “I started working with Manny 50 years ago … when I was nine years old.”

Before child services get in a dander, this work wasn’t in a barbecue pit, but rather on the links where McQueen the caddie lugged Barnoff’s heavily loaded, weighted bag. McQueen had to wait until he was 15 when he started work as a dishwasher at the Guy St. location. He was promoted to GM when he was 21.

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“The funny thing is I quit on my first night,” McQueen told me in an earlier interview. “I was soaking wet and greasy. I took off my apron and said: ‘I’m out of here.’ But Manny called me back that night and said: ‘Nobody quits on me. Come back tomorrow, and you’ve got a dollar raise.’ A dollar raise back then was huge. Who could resist?

“But Manny always believed in me, even before I did.”

And so McQueen did indeed work his way to the top of the ribs chain, after Manny’s son Dalton Barnoff left the business six years ago.

Tom McQueen owner of the Bar-B-Barn on Sources on Monday March 4, 2024. He will close the famous restaurant on March 17.
“I need a rest now. It’s been quite the ride. But now I think it’s time that the ship sails,” says Tom McQueen, owner of the Bar-B-Barn on Sources Blvd. in the West Island. He will close the legendary restaurant on March 17. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

“I need a rest now. It’s been quite the ride. But now I think it’s time that the ship sails. Some of my staff have been with me for 30 and 40 years. And I think we’ve done a great job in keeping them.”

McQueen doesn’t attribute closing to tough economic times, either.

“Business has always been good. This has nothing to do with that. My fear is that if I ever get sick, I’m the only one running this show. I’ve lost quite a few friends around my age. And if something ever happens to me, the Bar-B is going up the creek without a paddle.

“Right now, no one is going to take over. One of the requests Manny had for me was that if something ever happened to me, I was never to sell. It’s family only. I spoke to my kids, but all of them have their own degrees and plans. So there was nobody willing or able to take over.”

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COVID-19 was the culprit in McQueen having to shut down the downtown location. With sanitary and physical distancing measures in place at the time, he felt it would no longer be financially feasible to reopen after a three-month closure in June 2020. He figured that his space, which could once accommodate 225 diners, would be reduced to 60. On top of that, constant road construction in the area kept motorists as well as foot traffic at bay.

“So what was once such a booming spot in the city was no longer,” McQueen recalled.

Barnoff was quite the character in his own right, renowned for his wild radio spots in which he encouraged people to drop in and advise staff: “Tell them Manny sent you.”

Barnoff, who had spent much of his youth in the Windsor/Detroit area, had long dreamed of bringing the pork ribs he had devoured there to Montreal. But the Bar-B was hardly an overnight success when he began in 1967.

“It was dead for two years and my father was down to his last dollars,” Dalton Barnoff told me in a 2020 interview. “It was then his best buddy told him to put whatever money he had left into radio and newspaper ads. My father thought he was nuts, but, sure enough, it saved the place.”

And business took off. And on any given night, diners could find themselves in the company of Habs superstars Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson, Expos stalwarts like Rusty Staub and Bill Lee or vociferous broadcasters like Ralph Lockwood and Ted Blackman.

“Those were special days,” McQueen noted. “But the way I see it now is you must go out on a high, and I feel that I will be.

“All the more so since we’re going out with a bang on St. Patrick’s Day. No better way for an Irishman to do that.” 

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