Two vices are better than one: Toronto’s cafés break out the booze

Two vices are better than one: Toronto’s cafés break out the booze

A match made in Paris (and, increasingly, in Toronto) (Photo by Rob and Dani) 

If we’re to believe Leah McLaren, the MacBook army has totally colonized Toronto’s coffee shops. Now, thanks to a new trend, they don’t have to leave when the sun goes down. More and more indie cafés are combining their coffee house concepts with bar concepts. By alternating between espresso and alcohol, spots like Blondie’s, Charlie’s Gallery and SpiceSafar are able to offer an all-day experience, while their teetotalling counterparts face a sobriety-induced early closure. “People enjoy a good coffee and a nice pastry in the morning, but they’re less likely to want the same thing in the evening,” says Scott Vivian, who recently took over Hank’s and added a nocturnal component, complete with Ontario wines and beer. “Rather than closing at 5, it just makes sense to do something else with the space at night.”

The hybrid concept may seem novel in Toronto, but in Europe, the coffee-booze combo is as common as wine and cheese. Ezra Braves, for instance, had France in mind when he introduced a dinnertime wine bar at Ezra’s Pound on Dupont. “At a café in Paris, you can get a glass of wine just as easily as a cappuccino,” he says. “Why limit yourself to one or the other?”

As it seems unlikely that Dundas West will turn into the Champs Élysées, there’s more to this trend than just boozing with biscotti. Many of the city’s cafés are positioning themselves as community hubs, and alcohol acts as a social lubricant to shake people out of their self-conscious Torontonian bubble. Bloordale Village’s Holy Oak Café uses the opportunity to host open-mic nights, board game parties and other communal events. “You’re supposed to feel comfortable in a café, just like you would in a lounge,” says Fausto Carvajal, co-owner of The Bean on College Street, which serves creative coffee-based cocktails. “Alcohol helps remove your inhibitions.”

• The Bean, 388 College St., 416-964-9900, thebeantoronto.com
• Blondie’s,
1378 Queen St. W., 416-532-7410, blondiesbar.ca
• Charlie’s Gallery,
112 Harbord St.,  416-961-2828
• Ezra’s Pound, 238 Dupont St., 416-929-4400, ezraspound.com
• Hank’s,
9 Church St., 416-504-2657, hankstoronto.blogspot.com
• The Holy Oak,
1241 Bloor St. W., 647-345-2803
• SpiceSafar,
270 Adelaide St. W. and 510 King St. W., 416-340-0444, spicesafar.com