Photo cred - @onearmleft
As crazy as it might sound to outsiders, it’s hard to imagine nightlife on St. Laurent without 2 Chow. Poutine might be Montreal’s most famous drunk food (it was recently predicted to be the most popular worldwide food trend in 2015), but there’s nothing quite like being able to drop a toonie while you’re stumbling home drunk from a night of barhopping on the Main and get a mess of warm noodles topped with a heaping pile of deliciously gooey peanut butter sauce. To make it even better, you’re guaranteed to be greeted and served by a friendly face who wouldn’t dream of judging you for whatever you were getting into before you got the craving to pound down a mess of greasy chow mein.
Although I myself had ingested countless containers’ worth of 2 Chow for, shall we say, extracurricular reasons, I was left with questions that I couldn’t answer without doing more, um, research. Who goes to 2 Chow? What led them there? How does the restaurant’s clientele evolve over the course of a night? What does the restaurant mean to nightlife in the city? I decided to seek answers to these pressing questions by viewing St. Laurent through a lens which most Montrealers have yet to experience for themselves: I spent a night at 2 Chow.
Before I started the project, I had to answer a vital question for myself: which 2 Chow would I pick? My own experience was mostly situational—I’d always stopped at the 2 Chow closest to whatever fine establishment I found myself crawling out of. But, Montrealers being the discriminating foodies that they are, I wanted to be sure that I chose the right 2 Chow. I conducted an office poll, and, overwhelmingly, my colleagues agreed that I should camp out at the 3754 St. Laurent location if I wanted maximum authenticity. With my setting decided upon, I was ready to hang out with drunk people for a night in the name of journalism.
After doing some critical final preparation for my piece with friends and pitchers at Bifteck, I arrived at 2 Chow around midnight. I knew that it was a bit early for their primary flow of customers to start arriving, but I was curious if anyone would show up: who are the hearty souls scarfing down drunk food while the night is still young?
At 12:15, I got my first answer. Larry was a friendly, energetic McGill student; the sort of dude who you’d like to have as a customer at your restaurant. He’d been on a failed date with a girl from the South Shore, and he was looking to bounce back by refueling with some noodles before heading to a party in the Plateau. We had a friendly chat about life at McGill, and before not too long he was on his way.
Things slowed down for the next hour, as most St. Laurent revelers weren’t quite yet ready to assault their stomach with greasy carbs and peanut-y ooze. Then, around 1:30, the stream of noodle-craving partiers began, and it wouldn’t let up for well over two hours.
The onslaught started with Megan, Lisa, and April, a group of American, first-year McGill students who’d become loyal 2 Chow customers almost immediately afer they’d moved to the city. Megan’s older sister had gone to McGill, and she’d told Megan about the restaurant’s iconic place in Montreal’s nightlife. The blurry nights of frosh had provided her with ample opportunity to take up the recommendation. After befriending the other two girls through the sort of bonding that can only happen in a university rez, she started bringing them with her, and the three said that they now found themselves at the restaurant after most of their weekly benders on the Main.
Family turned out to be a common way for people to discover 2 Chow. Phillip, a man in his mid-20s, had brought his step-sister, Maggie, after she’d come from the Czech Republic to visit him. The two had been trekking from the West Island to St. Laurent to party on a regular basis since she’d arrived, and all of their nights on the street had ended with a satisfying heap of oily chow mein. He’d been coming to the spot since his early years of teenage partying, and he wanted to take her there after clubbing at Muzique in order to give her an authentic St. Laurent experience. “I think it’s the equalizer,” he said. “You’ll see the biggest hobos, and then you’ll see Escalades pull up with strippers and dancers for chow mein. It’s where everyone unites.”
People don’t have to belong to different demographics to be brought together by 2 Chow, as I soon found out. After I’d been chatting briefly with Samuel, Alex, and Isabel, three young professionals from Sherbrooke who’d come downtown to go dancing at Korova, they were swarmed by Aidan, Marianne, Will, and Eric, friends of theirs who’d unwittingly been partying just down the street at Blizzarts. Although they all agreed that 2 Chow could never be anything more than drunk food for them, they had a positive outlook on the role it played in their lives. “It’s not the best…[but] when you’re drunk, you’ll swallow that shit up,” said Aidan.
Eric concurred, even though his enjoyment of the noodles sometimes came at his stomach’s expense. “I feel like I’ve even gotten sick off of 2 Chow,” he told me. “I’ve literally had, like, bad 2 Chow, and puked, and I’ve still come back.”
He’s far from the only one who continues to come back to the noodle joint at the end of a drunken night. Just when I’d thought that everyone who’d planned on getting a chow mein fix that night had already done so, a group of six rowdy West Island natives (and current Concordia students) barged in and occupied the table in the centre of the restaurant around 3:30. One of the guys, Charles, saw partying on St. Laurent as a way to escape the cloistered environment of the borough he called home. “The West Island is a small place,” he told me. “It’s a big community but, like, everyone…goes out on certain days. And you run into, like, all your high school friends.”
As I witnessed, 2 Chow is a place for friends and strangers alike to sit together and enjoy a good and affordable late-night meal, and the culture of St. Laurent (and, by extension, Montreal nightlife) wouldn’t be the same without it.