Twelve new indie cafés: Toronto’s thirst for coffee poured by hipsters proves unquenchable (for now)
As Starbucks attempts to boost profits with its instant coffee and Tim Hortons’ profits tumble, Toronto’s indie café craze just won’t abate. We seem to write this article every few months—and with good reason. In the past 15 weeks alone, at least nine decent new cafés have popped up, with several more scheduled to open before Christmas. We visited the new spots and learned that the only thing they have in common is that they appeal to divergent tastes. From Leslieville to the Junction, here are the 12 latest spots to keep the city buzzing.
• Si Espresso Bar is a small, no-frills joint that focuses heavily on coffee but also features a few pastries. Having only one table, and an L-shaped bar with high stools, it feels like a place where one sips quickly or gets a java to go. Large drip coffee $1.75, latte $3.95, cannoli $2.50. 748 Broadview Ave., 416-463-5550.
• Quaff mixes minimalist chic with saloon-style charms (think Eames chairs at tables made from wood and wrought iron). It’s perfect for city slickers on the plaid trend who like to wear cowboy boots while listening to minimalist techno. Large drip coffee $1.75, large latte $4.50, raspberry cheesecake $5.75. 668 Queen St. W., 647-344-8558, cafequaff.ca.
• West Queen West’s Cream Tangerine Café and Gallery, which rotates art shows every two weeks, has recently opened the coffee shop portion of its loft-like, light-filled space. Blending java, art and theatre (the café doubles as the box office and entryway to the adjoining Theatre Centre), manager Lisa Shuttleworth is in the midst of turning Cream into its own venue, which will host live music nights, yoga classes and educational speakers. Drip coffee $1.90, latte $3, croissant $2.50–$3.50. 1087 Queen St. W., 416-301-6038, creamtangerinecafe.wordpress.com.
• Sophie, a French Canadian café, tries to give the adjacent (and much derided) Riverdale Starbucks a run for its money. The space pops with brightly coloured flowers painted on bare white walls next to Rothko-esque canvases. A large chalkboard menu includes such Québécois fare as St. Viateur bagels, tourtière and quiche. Drip coffee $2.25, latte $3.50, lemon tart $4.50. 889 Queen St. E., 416-461-0505.
• Lil’ Bean ’n’ Green opened only a month ago but already feels like a Leslieville institution. Well-worn vintage tables, chairs and a sofa are clusterd around a homey coffee bar, but what makes the space unique is the play area where children can slip down a slide or hide in the tree house. When April Cook and fellow owners decided to open Lil’ Bean, they wanted to create “a place where kids could grow up and adults would feel good, too”—where kids could play in a supervised environment while their parents enjoyed an organic wrap. Has it worked? “It’s been busy from day one. It’s been crazy.” Drip coffee $2, latte $4, carrot muffin $2.50. 1133 Queen St. E., 416-463-2326, lilbeanandgreen.com.
• Spice Safar, a Montreal transplant that blends a café with a lounge and a boutique, has just opened two Toronto locations for Entertainment Districters who want to feel like they’re in a nightclub at 2 p.m., or who like shopping for stereo equipment (iPod speakers are $29) while they’re ordering an americano. Americano $3, latte $4.50, chocolate croissant $2.95. 270 Adelaide St. W. and 510 King St. W., 416-340-0444, spicesafar.com.
• Sam James Coffee Bar has a stripped-down interior with no tables, but proprietor Sam James, barista champ of Manic and Hank’s fame, serves some of the city’s most buzz-worthy brew, including his signature siphon coffee. Large drip coffee $2.25; latte $3.25; siphon coffee $5.30 for one, $8 for two; croissant $2.25. 297 Harbord St., 647-341-2572, samjamescoffeebar.com.
• Littlefish, a narrow slot in the Junction with underwater garden decor, is the latest venture of Carey Wesenberg, former owner of Leslieville’s Okay Okay Diner. Wesenberg sold Okay Okay last year when he “felt the recession coming on.” Wesenberg’s timing was right then and seems to be right now. “We officially open on November 11, but we’re already getting a lot of local traffic. After we have an official opening, I expect to be very busy.” Drip coffee $2.25, latte $3, blueberry muffin $2. 3080 Dundas St. W., 416-604-3474.
• Although not planning to open until mid- to late November, Cloud Free Agent Espresso Bar (968 Queen St. W.) already has a Facebook following and a Twitter account, and the team behind Arepa (490 Queen St. W.), a Venezuelan café near Spadina with a grand opening on November 19, has been out and about spreading the word about its business at such events as the St. Andrews Farmers Market and the Brick Works Picnic. Rounding out the field, two long-time Toronto coffee spots are expanding. Kale Eatery (2366 Yonge St.), a vegan favourite, is opening a new location near Yonge and Eglinton, and the Baldwin Street stalwart John’s Italian Caffe (1048 Bathurst St.) is opening up near Bathurst and Dupont.