Little time left to Eat at Moe's
Alous, baseball, media types and Morgan Freeman among those who have visited soon-to-be-gone Moe’s
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
I’ve never written about a restaurant for a baseball web site but this is an exception.
Back in the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s, I was a Montreal Expos beat writer and I would frequent the 24-hour diner Moe’s Casse-Croute du Coin located just west of the fabled Montreal Forum on the southwest corner of Lambert-Closse and de Maisonneuve Blvd.
I lived not far away, less than a home run away. First, I lived on de Maisonneuve and then just down the street a triple away south on du Fort St.
Tucked downstairs in a mere 500 square feet of space was Moe’s Corner Snack Bar, as they would say in English, named after cigar lover Moe Sweigman, who purchased it in 1960 two years after the place was opened.
You enter a time capsule. There is an old cash register. It’s cash only. No alcohol served. A few tables. A small counter. Table-side jukeboxes from yesteryear frequent the place but they don’t work. The counter top today is the same one I ate on when I was there 20 years old and it’s the same one I ate on this past Sept. 16 when I had the breakfast special for $6, tax included.
When the Expos and Canadiens were the game in town, most of the players lived downtown so they would end up at some point or another at Moe’s for inexpensive grub.
“I remember Moises Alou and Felipe Alou coming in and they would bring in a couple of baseball people,’’ recalled Eddy Thomas, whose Greek-background father Peter purchased the eatery from Sweigman in July, 1978. “I’m not a big baseball fan but a lot of Expos came here.’’
On a late night, oh, about 2 a.m., I was at the counter and I remember 1981 Expos hero Wallace Johnson popping in for a snack on one of visits back to Montreal. Moe’s fit the bill if you were hungry or hung over.
It’s been known for big breakfasts, Greek gyros wraps and sandwiches of any sort. The menu was simple, basic, uncomplicated. If you have heard the term greasy spoon, then this special place was right and you never broke the bank. Not then, not now. For years, a big seller has been the Big Ed Burger, which contains two patties, bacon and cheese.
“When the Forum was here, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Pierre Mondou, Patrick Roy, Chris Chelios, Lyle Odelein, J.J. Daigneault, Patrice Brisebois and others came here,’’ Thomas said.
“Gretzky has been there, Lemieux has been here.’’
Then there were media types and other celebrities who popped in: Jodie Foster, Ed Harris, Patrick Swayze, Liza Minnelli, that Strangers in the Night crooner Frank Sinatra, when the next-door entertainment haunt El Morocco, later the Moustache, was in vogue.
“Morgan Freeman has been here. I served him three or four times,’’ Thomas said, proudly.
When the Canadiens played their last game at the Forum March 11, 1996, the cash register at Moe’s started to slow down. But the eatery has lasted almost another 20 years since. Now, the time has come for it to close, unless some suitor comes forth this week. Dec. 7, it will close at 6 a.m. The doors will be locked. Considering it has been open 24 hours for decades, that’s quite a statement.
“I put it for sale. I got fed up. Sometimes, you need a break,’’ Thomas said. “I haven’t had a weekend off for 37 years. Sometimes, I’ve worked double shifts, working 16 hours a day. I’d work anywhere from 50 to 90 hours a week. This place has potential. It needs new blood.
“The nice thing is that when you are in business this long you build a relationship with your customers and they become an extended family.’’
The Thomas family initially had an asking price of $250,000 for the diner, then it was dropped to $175,000, then $150,000 but now as the deadline closes in, the price has dropped by half to $125,000. That’s negotiable.
“If I could walk away with $100,000, I’d be happy,’’ Thomas said. “It would be better than walking away with nothing at all. We’ve had no takers at all. You’d think two guys could put together some money and buy the place. I’m surprised that nobody is out there who wants to buy it. We were really hoping somebody would purchase it. It’s a landmark institution.’’
In a nutshell, Moe’s has hit tough, economic times, meaning business is not up to snuff.
“Not that we don’t have any business but we could do more to make it worthwhile,’’ Thomas said. “We used to have parking available in front of the restaurant on de Maisonneuve but now it’s used for a bike lane. And there is no parking allowed on Lambert-Closse.’’
Thomas, for years, has tried to purchase the building but he said the landlord has never budged. There is an apartment upstairs in the building. What the landlord plans to do once Moe’s closes isn’t known.
“The landlord has never been interested in selling to us and still isn’t interested,’’ said Thomas, 54, who never had one of those original, long Greek surnames, believe it or not.
In the meantime, people of all ages are lining up to get food from Moe’s before the joint closes next Monday.
People want a bite of Montreal history because soon, it will be time to go.