Top 10 student haunts of all time

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Stools and countertops from favourite hangout, Bens, have been preserved at the McCord Museum. (Photo: julep67 via flickr)

Think back to your student days…

What was your favourite student hangout?

On Homecoming weekend in October, Medicine Focus put this question to attendees, including graduates of the MDCM program, the Ingram School of Nursing, and the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy (SPOT).

The answers give a peek at student life at the Faculty over a 60-year period.

Let us know if their answers reflect your own by sending an email to anne.chudobiak@mcgill.ca. Your contribution may be selected for publication in the Letters section of the Spring 2016 issue of Medicine Focus magazine.

10. Home sweet home

“Our apartment was a hangout,” says Lisa Muto, wife of Mark Libenson, MDCM’85. “We’d do progressive dinner parties, walking from apartment to apartment in hip-high snow.”

Muto and Libenson were not alone: many alumni mentioned how much fun they’d had hanging out in their student apartments and residences, Bernard Foster, MDCM’65, included. One of the few married students in his class, Foster lived with his wife Rachel in an apartment on Lorne in the McGill Ghetto. They had a 12-inch black and white television, which would attract a crowd on Saturday nights for Hockey Night in Canada – quite the cultural discovery for these two transplants from Tennessee.

Shirley (Martin) Hounsell, Dip (P TH)’65, remembers how shocked she was as a young Newfoundlander on her first day in town to have a chauffeur pick her up from the airport and drop her off at MacLennan Hall, a mansion on Redpath Crescent, which had been converted into a residence. “It was a beautiful old house with a circular drive. It had a big fountain, with benches you could sit on, and a garden. Three of us shared what used to be the library. We had a wonderful time.”

Joseph Putignano, MDCM’65, and classmate Charles Swisher, also lived on ritzy Redpath Crescent, in a fraternity house. “Nu Sigma Nu was a medical fraternity,” says Putignano. “The neighbours didn’t know what to think of us.” A favourite tradition was to invite over one or two professors from the Faculty on Thursday night for oysters, sherry and conversation. Some of the most memorable guests were anatomy greats C.P. Leblond and C.P. Martin, as well as physiologist J.S.L. Brown. “They would talk about what medicine is all about,” explains Swisher. Thursdays were reserved for intellectual pursuits, Saturdays, for parties. “One of our first parties, the Beatles had just arrived in New York. I remember the dancing was wild,” says Putignano.

Two McGill med students sunbathing on a residence roof, circa 1934. / Photo: McGill University Archives, PU013840

Two McGill med students sunbathing on a residence roof, circa 1934. / Photo: McGill University Archives, PU013840

9. McConnell Arena

The history of McGill and of hockey have long been intertwined. When the first game of organized indoor hockey was played in 1875, many McGill students took part. Whereas some like the Fosters from Tennessee learned how to watch hockey in their time here, others, like Marian Bouchard, MDCM’90, learned how to play the game. This year, as part of their Homecoming festivities, Bouchard’s class organized a friendly match at the McConnell Arena, even reviving their old McGill jerseys for the occasion.

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“This is what happens when you go to medical school. You learn to play hockey.” – Marian Bouchard, MDCM’90 (pictured on the right, with classmate Linda Stephenson).

 8. Mount Royal

“We loved Mount Royal. We climbed every week and sometimes we’d eat lunch there,” says Min Hu, friend of the Medicine Class of 1995.

Many others from the same era, the ’80s and ’90s, mentioned a favourite destination in particular, on the southern slope of Mount Royal: Rutherford Park on the McTavish Reservoir – a popular site for playing Ultimate. The Medicine Class of 1985 had intended to relive this pleasure by scheduling a match, but were disappointed to learn that the Reservoir is currently undergoing an overhaul and that its future as a playing field is unclear.

Some also ventured farther afield. Craig Milne, BSc, MDCM’65, MSc, remembers trips to Mont-Gabriel and Mont-Tremblant. Classmate Joseph Rubin, BSc, MDCM’65, kept a pair of skis in the trunk of his car, in case an opportunity to ski should arise.

7. Pam-Pam

“You could order any kind of coffee you wanted,” says David Magder, BSc, MDCM’65, about Pam-Pam, a Hungarian coffeehouse at 1425 Stanley, which was also known for its flourless cakes.

6. Rockhead’s Paradise Café

Colin Forbes, BSc, MDCM’55, remembers the jazz music and kickline at Rockhead’s Paradise. “That was our favourite,” he says.

For Murray Gilman, BSc, MDCM’75, the go-to place was the Esquire Show Bar on Stanley. “It was the best place to listen to soul music.”

Roger Jones, MDCM’65, says,”Down the street from where I lived in the student ghetto, there was a bar, with flamenco dancers and players. I’d go in there and have a glass of something and I’d watch the dancers. I played classical guitar when I wasn’t memorizing stuff for medical school.”

5. Pine’s Pizza / Pizza des Pins

As for who had the best pizza, the answer seems to depend on what year you were here. James Mahoney, MDCM’75, has fond memories of ordering in from Pine’s Pizza. “You would call and they would answer P-i-i-ne’s.” Once, he went in to pick up his order and was treated, as he waited, to a viewing of Bridge on the River Kwai in French – a novelty for this American.

Claud Cho-Chu, BSc, MDCM’65, would disagree. For him, the best pizza was to be found on Côte-de-Liesse.

Linda Stephenson, MDCM’90Mary Hill, MDCM’90, and Nanette Robinson, MDCM’90, however, have fond memories of Amelio’s, particularly of “the guy delivering on foot.”

4. Chinatown

“In medical school, where I met my wife [Ellen Runge, MDCM’65], we used to go to Chinatown for eggrolls, which were 10 cents each,” says Lorne Runge, BSc, MDCM’65.

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Chinatown was not the only destination for affordable Chinese, explains Bob Pincott, BSc’56, MDCM’60, pictured above with his wife Tickie: “We went to a Chinese restaurant behind Morgan’s, which is now the Bay. We had $2 a month to spend on entertainment.” / Photo: Nicolas Morin

3. The Annex

Ada Stefanescu Schmidt, MDCM’10, remembers time spent at the Annex, “mostly just hanging out, talking, and sharing stories.” This former coach house near the Peel Entrance to Mont Royal has served as a lounge for generations of medical students.

At what is now the Ingram School of Nursing, students have had a variety of hangouts over the years. Anna Mae Barrett, BScN’70, MEd says, “We had a special little lounge in the basement of Wilson Hall. We had to gather most of the furniture that was in that room and the sofa that was in there came from my parents’ house. That was our main hangout. That was where we would study and where we would go in between classes.”

Johnny Sit, BScN’07, says that his favourite hangout had been the Nursing Undergraduate Society office in Wilson. Like Barrett’s hangout, it is no longer there.

2. Mansfield Tavern

Only men were allowed to frequent this beer hall, located just south of the Roddick Gates, where a popular waiter named “Red” or “Ti-Rouge” held court. “We would go there for steak and beer,” says Marvin Wexler, BSc, MDCM’65, MSc.

“It’s not there any more,” says Elliot Sternthal, MDCM’75, about “the Manse,” which closed in the early ’70s. “I saw a lot of good hockey games there, like when Canada played Russia for the first time.”

Other contenders for favourite drinking hole were Peel Pub (“The classic,” says Ivan Litvinov, MDCM’10) and Gerts, the campus bar run by the Students’ Society of McGill University in the University Centre (aka, the Shatner building). “After having partied there all year, I celebrated my 18th birthday at Gerts. A lot of good memories!” says Dr. Lisa Ronback, BSc(PT)’85, who also did a residency in orthopedic surgery at McGill.

Many alumni also mentioned Thomson House, home of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill, named for David L. Thomson, who was Chair of the Biochemistry Department from 1941–1958, although some earlier generations of MDCM graduates said that they had been refused entry as their program is technically an undergraduate program. “It had a big dance floor, lots of nice little nooks and crannies,” says Brenda Markland, BSc, MDCM’85.

1. Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant

“The best place was Bens smoked meat,” says Rein Passuke, BSc, MDCM’65 – an opinion expressed by many of his fellow alumni.

Some of our more recent graduates, however, may not remember this downtown hot spot, which closed in 2006 after 98 years of operation.

Known for its bow-tied waiters, 23-hour-a-day service, and celebrity patrons (including Ed Sullivan and Liberace), Bens occupied an Art Deco brown brick building not far from campus, on the corner of Metcalfe and de Maisonneuve Blvd. Designed by Charles David Goodman, who also worked on the Jewish General Hospital, the building was demolished in 2008, in spite of protests from groups heralding it as a cultural and architectural landmark. Fans can take comfort in knowing that artifacts from the deli – stools, menus, etc. – have been stored for posterity at such institutions as the McCord Museum. Even its iconic red-lettered, wrap-around sign is said to have escaped the wrecking ball.

Fortunately, close runner-up in the “smoked meat” category, Schwartz’s, is still open. Many out-of-town attendees took advantage of Homecoming to make a pilgrimage to this cornerstone of St-Laurent Blvd – just one of the many perks of coming home.

By Anne Chudobiak

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