Monday, April 27, 2009

Memories of Ben's Deli - R.I.P

Ben's deli, a Montreal landmark, finally succumbed to the wrecking ball, to make way for an office tower. The Montreal institution on Metcalfe and Maisonneuve was opened by Ben Kravitz, over a 100 years ago, when he immigrated to Montreal from Latvia. It was a Montreal landmark up until the seventies, when it started to falter.

The classically styled deli was a late night hangout for musicians, singers, actors, comedians and various other bohemians in the great era of Montreal nightclubs, back in the forties and fifties. The walls are adorned with signed pictures of those visiting artists.

There were some who wanted to preserve the building, but it was not to be. It is sad that nobody saved the corner entrance (pictured on the left) with the famous BENS sign over the door. That would have been swell and a very doable project.

I ate there as a child, but like so many others, drifted away from the restaurant as it failed to modernize.
The last time I was there, was about twenty ago when I brought my young son along, to introduce him to a bit of Montreal history.

The decor was still there, kitschy and familiar. We sat at an ancient formica and chrome table and took in the wonderful atmosphere.

It was too bad that the food sucked badly.

Our smoked meat 'special', served on traditional Melmac plates, consisted of a smoked meat sandwich that was tough and rubbery, accompanied by coleslaw, fries and a pickle, that tasted as if prepared an assembly line. Like so many childhood memories that turn out differently than we remember, it was sadly disappointing.

As we left the restaurant, I said goodbye to an elderly and frail, Irving Kravitz, who had adopted the habit of sitting by the front door, biding adieu to clients, as they left. I knew I'd never be back.
The family blames a strike by employees for the demise of the restaurant, but the truth is, the restaurant had been going downhill for years and had long ago been eclipsed by a newer Montreal institution, the Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen (or 'Schwartz's', as it is more familiarly known), on St. Lawrence Boulevard, which had taken on the role that it still maintains, Montreal's premier smoked meat joint.
Just the same, it's a bit sad to see the end of Bens deli.

Here is a fond photo retrospective of Bens.

Picture credit to Julep69. See more here


  1. Vous avez parfaitement raison!
    Moi aussi, mon père m'y amenait lorsque j'étais jeune et j'adorais le goût du sandwich et des frites!
    So long Ben! You were the best and still remain so in my memory!

  2. I went to Ben's in the 70S. It was the first restaurant I walked in after immigrating, I still remember it. I did not understand a word the waiter told me and I ended up with a smoked meat, something I had never seen. I took a taste to it nonetheless and today that I am returning in my country of origin, I wanted to close the loop. I am sorry to learn it is closed.