Disclaimer: I love Toronto. I find the city inspirational.
Now the truth.
As a writer, a night hawk, a coffee lover (read addict), and a recovering insomniac, I find myself living up to the writer’s/hipster’s cliche of hanging out in busy downtown cafes typing or scribbling on a nearly daily basis. The combination of wi-fi, espresso, and an environment where curling up and falling asleep is frowned upon is irresistable for a brilliant nairdowell like me. When I lived in London, I was a five minute walk to a cafe with wi-fi. If i was craving variety I could walk ten minutes for a change of scenery. If I wanted good coffee, I had to go across town (East Village Cafe in old east village or The Black Walnut in Wortley are my favourites if you were wondering).
But now I live in Toronto,the glorious clutural hub of this great nation, where there is a Starbucks on every corner and a hip, organic, fair-trade, independent cafe next door to each Starbucks and I can never find a place to sit down and work! My favourite cafe, Pamenar in Kensington Market, is almost always full. As a result, the wireless network gets bogged down. Thus Toronto’s cafe problem is like its traffic problem: Torontonians don’t drive because the traffic is always so bad.
Maybe the problem is that there aren’t enough street corners: population density is much higher while available store-front remains more-or-less the same. Maybe entrepreneurs see the incredible frequency of cafes and wrongfully assume that another cafe couldn’t possible succeed. Maybe no matter how many cafes open, there will be an endless supply of dirtbag artists to fill their tables.
I believe some creative solutions are in order. Many businesses go to the second floor when streetlevel realestate is at a premium. If every Starbucks had a Second Cup above it I just might be able to find a quiet place to work. Why not close Yonge Street in the summertime and allow cafes to expand their seating into the street European style. Another solution may be to stop selling food. Many perfectly good study tables are occupied by worthless panini munchers and salad scarfers who contribute in no way to Toronto’s dirtbag culture. Getting rid of the food and sticking to coffee would build raport with your core customers, like me.
These are my humble suggestions to the cafes of this city where I no longer feel at home. Take a lesson from my favourite cafe of all time: Synergy in Wortley Village. All they sold was thick syrupy espresso, there was always a seat because no one went there, and the dirtbag staff were no more inclined to kick you out after three hours than you were to buy another two-dollar coffee. It’s long gone now but while it was open it was truly an oasis.
My question to you: are there any hidden corners of your home town where you can escape the crowds and relax with a good book and a cup of joe?