Culture | Secrets of the night

Covering the Main's graveyard shift

For those of you new to McGill and Montreal, there is a one block radius around Duluth and St. Laurent where the fumes of roast chicken, beer and Armani Acqua Di Gio quickly shift to the inviting fragrance of smoked meat. Here lurk two of the city’s proudest establishments: some weird place starting with an “s” that nobody’s ever heard of and Restaurant de la Main.

Founded in the 1970s, Restaurant de la Main – which loyal patrons lovingly refer to as “La Main” – has undergone no drastic alterations in either its appearance or its menu since first opening. Its owners are still in charge of food preparation, and the same solitary Polish woman has been providing Eastern European specialties for about 29 years. Serving smoked meat sandwiches, homemade desserts, poutine, and other delicious heart attack inducing foods well into the wee hours, this place has seen a lot of crazy stuff.

The endlessly entertaining Suzanne Brisebois, the primary graveyard shift waitress, has been working at La Main for about eight years. “You want to know how I got this job?” asked Brisebois, “I saw a sign that said ‘Help Wanted’ in the window, walked in, handed someone at the counter my CV, and they called me ten minutes later, telling me I had gotten the job.”

Relatively calm during the week, Brisebois claims that the weekend is when the night shift really comes to life. “On weeknights we have our regulars. It can be pretty quiet. But on the weekend we get lots of students, McGill kids mostly, very drunk at about three a.m.,” she said. “I know they’re from McGill ‘cause they’re wearing their sweatshirts that say ‘McGill’.” (On a side note: guys, if you’re going to get belligerently drunk at Korova, please refrain from doing so in McGill attire.) Brisebois elaborated on her interactions with intoxicated students, explaining, “I usually have no trouble with them. I am used to [drunken behavior] because I worked for 12 years as a bartender. If someone is too rude, other customers will help me out and say something like ‘Hey, leave her alone!’ In my eight years here, I’ve only had to call the police twice. The first time was because there was a fight. The second time was because there was a man who was walking around picking food off people’s plates and refusing to leave.”

Wandering food snatchers aside, Brisebois genuinely enjoys her job. “You get to meet all kinds of people and form relationships with the regulars,” she explained. She pointed to a seat in the back. “That’s Leonard Cohen’s seat, I’ve seen him here a few times. Justin Trudeau used to come here all the time. He loves latkes.” When asked about the craziest thing she’d ever seen during the graveyard shift, Brisebois had no trouble answering. “I was working one night, and a man and a woman came in. They had a bill of about $70, and the man left me a $100 tip. He asked me if I’d ever gotten a tip that big, and I said ‘Yes, I used to be a bartender,’ and then he started handing me hundred-dollar bills till he got to about $330. I didn’t want to keep it, but the woman told me to.”

As we wrapped up the interview, Brisebois wished me luck in my future career as a journalist. “I wanted to be a journalist when I was younger,” she said. “I love to talk to people. Maybe that’s why I like this job so much. Maybe you might work here someday too!” Soon-to-be graduates of McGill, there is hope for you yet!


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