Toronto’s five best cafés
The city’s top spots for lingering over a latte and laptop
1. Rooster coffee house
This out-of-the-way spot overlooking Riverdale Park achieves café perfection. The room radiates homey elegance with a massive tree-trunk table (ideal for Scrabble tourneys) and comfy leather chairs. The baristas are full of scruffy charisma, chatting up customers as they pull espressos smooth enough to compete with the best in town (we’re talking to you, Sam James). 479 Broadview Ave. (at Riverdale Ave.), 416-995-1530.
2. Balzac’s café
This restored 1890s warehouse—a Distillery District icon for the past nine years—looks like it was airlifted in from the set of Amélie. While there’s usually a lineup downstairs, the open second-floor loft has a clandestine atmosphere, making you feel as though you’re squirrelled away in an Old World garret, suffering for your art. Balzac’s custom-roasted beans make distinctive, nutty-sweet coffee. 55 Mill St. (at Parliament St.), Bldg. 60, 416-207-1709; 43 Hanna Ave. (at Liberty St.), 416-534-7372.
3. Dark Horse espresso bar
The Spadina location of this Queen East original is the brightest café in the city; massive windows looking out onto Chinatown let in cascades of light. Communal tables made from old bowling lanes provide room to unfold the paper. The richly bitter lattes are excellent. 682 Queen St. E. (at Broadview), 647-436-3460; 215 Spadina Ave. (at Sullivan St.), 416-979-1200; 684 Queen Street W (at Euclide Ave.)
4. Belljar Café
The decor at this drowsy Dundas West shop is straight-up mid-century modern (as the early ’60s name suggests), including a credenza with built-in record player, Royal typewriter and working rotary phone. Laptoppers, fret not: there are plenty of 21st-century electrical outlets dotted around the room. 2072 Dundas St. W. (at Howard Park Ave.), 416-535-0777.
5. The Common
This Dufferin Grove shop is pared down to a degree of humility that would horrify Starbucks loyalists: there’s only one espresso machine (no drip), the church pew seats are tough on the tush, and the room is rough-edged (a scrawny hanging plant clings to life). All of this, along with the owner who remembers regulars by their drinks, makes for an ideally no-frills space in which to toil over the crossword. 1071 College St. (at Gladstone Ave.), 416-546-7789.
(Homepage image: Andrzej Wrotek)