MTL after dark

Montreal's 24-hour eateries heat up when the sun goes down

Montreal is a vibrant city, and that doesn't change when the sun goes down, especially when it comes to cuisine.

Concordia University/CBC student journalism series explores Montreal's late night stories

A classic La Banquise poutine topped with guacamole, sour cream and sliced tomatoes. (Emily Lee)

Montreal is a vibrant city, and that doesn't change when the sun goes down, especially when it comes to cuisine.

Local institution Moe's Diner may have closed last year, but there are still plenty of other 24-hour options for when you need your 3 a.m. fast food fix.

Service manager Sarah Langelier has worked at La Banquise for three years.

Whether you're on break from your graveyard shift or capping off a night out on the town, the employees at these establishments are dedicated to serving you round-the-clock, and ensuring the experience is as pleasant as possible.

La Banquise, located on Rachel Street, is known for its more than 30 kinds of poutines and its microbrewery.

There's pretty much always a lineup outside the restaurant on weekends, which continues once you get inside.

For this establishment's employees, the night is always still young. The staff enthusiastically sings along to old hip-hop and pop hits as they artfully sidestep each other when delivering dishes throughout the crowd.

Sarah Langelier, the service manager, has worked at the 24-hour eatery for more than three years.

She said that the night hours at the Plateau-Mont-Royal restaurant are energetic, with plenty of interesting people to encounter and funny stories to tell.

La Banquise is packed with customers during the late hours of the night. (Emily Lee)

On one busy night, Let Me Love You by Mario started playing in the restaurant, so the staff dimmed the lights, and everyone in the restaurant sang along.

"You are never bored during the night," she said.

After-dark challenges

However, dealing with intoxicated customers isn't always karaoke and clinking glasses.

Langelier said that one of the tougher parts of the night hours is dealing with customers who get sick in the restaurant from drinking too much.

"But it's part of the job," said Langelier.

A classic poutine with sliced Pogos. (Jaimie Roussos )

During the weekend nights and extra-busy occasions, La Banquise hires bouncers to help the staff handle overly loud, rowdy, or difficult customers.

"If you're working in service, you can never be the one that loses it," said Langelier. "You have to be the cooler head and keep calm."

Located in a less central area, Miami Deli, located on Sherbrooke Street East, tends to attract a different crowd, despite also being open 24/7.

"We don't need bouncers here," said Sherley Ward, who has worked at the Florida-themed restaurant for nearly 25 years.

"We are a family restaurant."

Decorated like an old-school retro diner, the 24-hour eatery serves mostly comfort food, especially pizza and poutine, during the late-night hours.

Alexandre Fontaine, a waiter at Miami Deli, said the vibe is generally a lot calmer than during the day, aside from their 3 a.m. rush.

"They don't have to go anywhere, they're just hungry and want to eat," said Ward.

"They're not in a hurry, as opposed to lunch or supper when they have other obligations."

Interview with the manager of Miami Deli about the late night scene at 24-hour restaurants. 0:26

Aggressive or violent clientele is rarely a problem at Miami Deli, but there can still occasionally be issues with drunken customers coming from bars.

Ward said that over time, you develop a kind of "street sense" for scoping out potentially problematic customers.

"The more you work at night, the more you get experience with it," said Fontaine.

"When the customer enters the restaurant, you can see if they're going to cause an issue." Fontaine said he will sometimes ask a female colleague to approach the difficult customer to help smooth things over.

It's a trick they have learned that generally keep conflicts from escalating, he said, although every member of the night staff is experienced at handling any confrontational or hostile customers.

Overall, Fontaine enjoys his 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. shifts and the crowds that come with it.

At La Banquise, the rush can extend throughout the night hours, which Langelier believes keeps the energy up.

"The negative stuff that is normally associated with the night is really not that bad," said Langelier.

"If you can get past the fact that it's physically different to work during the night and sleep during the day, then it's actually really, really fun."

Customers stand outside La Banquise, waiting for their chance to devour the delicious poutines the 24-hour restaurant is famous for. (Jaimie Roussos )

MTL After Dark is a collaboration between the Department of Journalism at Concordia University and CBC Montreal.

Undergraduate students and graduate-diploma students in a graduate-level multimedia course found and produced original stories on the theme of Montreal after dark.

Working in small teams, they spent the winter semester developing their stories in text, audio, video, photography, infographics, and maps.