Bens Restaurant exterior

HISTORY

Bens Restaurant, a downtown Montréal landmark for the best part of a century, was perhaps best known for its art deco frontage and interiors, its smoked meat, and many famous customers. The restaurant went into decline in the 1990s and ultimately closed in 2006 after a long labour dispute. The entire building was demolished in 2008 to make way for a new highrise hotel.

During demolition, with the cooperation of Sidev (the development company that bought the property), the MSP salvaged the four red letters from above the main entrance, along with the entire red-on-white fascias from the Metcalfe and De Maisonneuve facades of the restaurant, and a peeling, small wooden sign from the rear loading bay. (While the four capital letters were more or less intact, the fascias were extensively damaged due in part to the deterioration of the plastic.) The vertical marquee could not be rescued due to its sheer weight and size. Four metal letters from above the business entrance on Metcalfe were retained by Sidev for incorporation into the new building.

Leonard Cohen walking into Bens. From <i>Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965)</i>. Copyright NFB
Leonard Cohen walking into Bens. From Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965). Copyright NFB

Early photographic evidence suggests that the restaurant’s signage changed at least once during its lifetime. In the NFB film Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965) individual channel lettering with interior lighting can be seen over the main entrance as well as the facades on De Maisonneuve and Metcalfe. We believe this was designed and installed in the postwar period. (An undated blueprint, possibly from National Advertising, indicates that the letters may have been constructed of stainless steel.) The lettering in place at the time of the restaurant’s closure, perhaps installed in the 1970s, chiefly consisted of red (plastic) letters on white (plastic) backlit fascias.

The four red letters (made from solvent-welded Plexiglas) from above the main entrance and one round ‘Since/Depuis 1908′ sign (from the De Maisonneuve facade) were repaired by Transworld Signs in early 2010 and are now on display in the CJ Building on the Loyola campus.

Blueprint for Bens signage (undated, probably early postwar). Courtesy the McCord Museum (Bens Delicatessen Fonds)
Blueprint for Bens signage (undated, probably early postwar). Courtesy the McCord Museum (Bens Delicatessen Fonds)
MORE IMAGES
REFERENCES

Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant. Wikipedia.
“Bens Restaurant closes forever.” CBC News Montréal (Dec 15, 2006).

  • THEN: 990 De Maisonneuve Blvd. West
  • NOW: CJ Building, front stairwell (Concordia University, Loyola Campus)
  • ADDED TO THE MSP COLLECTION: 2006
  • SPECIAL THANKS TO: Simon Bensimon (Concordia University) and Sam Benatar (SIDEV Realty)