Walking into McLean’s Pub, located downtown on Peel Street, you immediately know you are in a Montreal sports bar. Loyal and equally loud Habs fans, a friendly staff, and, most notably, ten-litre beer towers, are among a few of the features you are bound to see. I went down on the bar’s famous Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, November 19, to watch the Canadiens play the New York Rangers. While there, I sat down to talk with the manager, Jay Farrar, about his experiences working at a sports bar in Montreal.
McGill Daily: How long have you been here as the manager?
Jay Farrar: I have been here as the manager for four years.
MD: And how long has this fine establishment been around for?
JF: As McLean’s it has been here twenty years, almost twenty years. Since 1992.
MD: Do you know anything about the history? What is something important that I should know about how it started?
JF: Yes, I do. This originally was a house. It still has the original fireplace over there in the corner. So it started as a house, built in 1910, and eventually it became a tavern in the 1920s when it was called the “Vimark.” After that for forty to fifty years, one year it became Peel Pub, and the next year after that it became McLean’s Pub.
MD: Would you say your pub attracts mostly Habs fans?
JF: Mostly yes, but we do have a lot of tourists, so we get people from all walks of life.
MD: What is the atmosphere usually like?
JF: During the regular season, we get a pretty good crowd. For hockey, we get a big rush before the game and usually after the game, depending on if the Canadiens win or not. It actually makes a difference. And during playoffs it’s fucking apeshit in here. It’s absolutely nuts. It’s nuts, people are dancing on the tables, we got line-ups all the way down the block, it’s absolutely crazy in here, and it’s a hell of a party.
MD: You said it gets crazy during playoffs. The last time the Habs were in the playoffs was last year, when they lost to my favorite team… I’m a Boston native.
JF: This interview is over.
MD: So what happened after they lost?
JF: What happened after they lost? The Boston Bruins went on to win the Stanley cup…. Oh, you mean the atmosphere here?
MD: Yeah, what happened?
JF: I’ve never seen the bar so empty and so quiet at the same time. Because it was a sudden goal in overtime, and it just went completely and absolutely silent. Everybody just sat here and stared at the screens in disbelief. You could hear a penny drop in here.
MD: Have there ever been any fights?
JF: There have been many fights over the years, but we don’t get a lot of trouble in here. It’s an older crowd, you know. It’s usually when the young kids from Boston come up and cause a lot of trouble.
MD: Yeah, those Massholes do do that.
JF: They don’t know how to drink. And yeah, we have had some interesting things happen. We’ve had a few scuffles. We’ve had Boston fans and Montreal fans go at it, we’ve had Toronto fans and Montreal fans go at it.
MD: Who wins when the Montreal and Toronto fans go at it?
JF: We always get there in time. We usually get there in time enough that nobody gets hurt, but I’m usually a little rougher with the Toronto fans, I don’t know why.
MD: Are you a Montreal native?
JF: I am a Montreal native, yes. I was born and raised here.
MD: What is the craziest fight you have ever seen?
JF: The craziest fight I have ever seen? Happened on St. Patty’s Day in 2009. I was involved in it too, I got a nice shiner out of it too. It was funny. I was okay in the end, so it was funny. It’s all in context. We had a bunch of kids that tried to storm in – about 10 or 15 kids – and I had to push them all back and then my door man got involved, and all hell broke loose. People were going down, kids were going to La Belle Province next door and asking them for ice for their face, it was a mess.
MD: What was the craziest fight you have seen over hockey?
JF: Over hockey? You don’t get too many. There is a lot of trash talking and then you know everybody is always afraid to do something because it’s a lot of posturing. You know, people are full of piss and vinegar.
MD: What do you think brings people back to McLean’s?
JF: Two things: ambiance – there is always an energy in here, which I make sure that we try to maintain. When the hockey game’s over, what have you, the music gets cranked up real loud, and we really get the party going. It’s not like other pubs where you can hardly hear the music. We’ve got juke-boxes. People can put in whatever songs they want. It’s just all about music, and it’s all about staff. That’s the second thing. We have a great staff that everybody knows. We don’t have a high turnover. I don’t hire and fire a lot. Usually the people that come and work for me are here for a long time, and that’s the key. People get to know them, and they really know how to get a party going, you know.
MD: Would you say that is part of the Montreal spirit to watch a hockey game and party afterwards?
JF: Yeah, that’s all Montreal.
MD: Do you guys have a big thing for Alexander Keith’s birthday?
JF: We do. It just passed a couple weeks ago, and that was another shit show.
MD: If you had to rank the craziest times in here, what would they be?
JF: Playoffs and St. Patty’s Day are about the same. I’ve seen a guy put his head through the wall. I’ve seen a guy take his clothes off completely and run around the bar. I’ve had people having sex on the staircase. I’ve had people pee wherever they want. I had someone casually walk off with the condom machine once because it wasn’t nailed to the ground. That was pretty interesting. That is usually what happens on St. Patty’s Day.
MD: This article is for our drinks special issue at The McGill Daily, so I’d like to ask, do you think this behaviour has something to do with the amount of alcohol people consume?
JF: Not necessarily, not necessarily. I think it really has to do with the person. It’s got nothing to do with the alcohol. Here in Quebec, we have an 18 and over policy. When you go down to the United States, it’s 21 and over, and there is way more binge drinking down in the United States than there is in Canada. It’s practically unheard of here. Sure you have your college parties and stuff like that but not like the states where you have funnels and hoses and bonfires…and all kinds of things going on.
MD: So who comes mostly to McLean’s?
JF: We have many students. The upstairs is usually occupied by students, and it’s more of a lounge feel. There are pool tables. We have live DJs and bands sometimes, so a lot of the younger folks like that. Downstairs, it’s more entrepreneurs, older people, business people, and tourists. It’s about a fifty-fifty ratio.
MD: The Habs are winning tonight. Does it get any rowdier when the Habs are winning or when they win?
JF: It does. It gets a little more exciting when the Habs win. We notice that we have more of a turn out after the game when the Habs do win. Because every time the Habs win, people feel like we have won the Stanley Cup; they just haven’t turned over any police cars.
MD: Would you say that everyone that works here is a Habs fan?
JF: Yes, for the most part. Not that I wouldn’t hire a non-Habs fan, but I wouldn’t, so…
MD: What would you say is your most popular draft?
JF: Keith’s, Pale Ale. It’s a great beer and we are the only bar that has these three-litre towers. We also have a ten-litre one.
MD: You also show Ulitmate Fighting Championships matches. Is this because you like UFC or because it’s just very popular?
JF: I like UFC a lot. I do Mixed Martial Arts myself, so yes, it is very popular, so we do order it every month. People get a kick out of it. We usually fill up the bar for it.
MD: What other sports do you show?
JF: Every sport. We always show the Monday night football with sound, and we do all the NFL games here on Sunday. We have the screens all split up, so we are usually showing about three or four games at the same time.
MD: Do you play the Grey Cup?
JF: Oh, of course. Actually when we had the Grey Cup here…we actually sold out of food one night. People from Saskatchewan are nuts.
MD: People from Saskatchewan?
JF: Yes, people from Saskatchewan were here, and Saskatchewan wasn’t even playing.
MD: Have you had any famous people come into your pub?
JF: Oh yes, mostly athletes. A lot of the Montreal Canadiens come in, some Carolina Hurricanes, the CBC Hockey Night in Canada crew comes in here. They will be in here tonight. They drink like fishes. We get the TSN crew here a lot. We get lots of journalists, mostly athletes, but journalists as well.