I've noticed a common thread about cities that have thriving, vibrant downtown cores - an amazing café scene. It will vary from city to city, but I've yet to find a "cool" city without great coffee.
By Jason Leach
Published January 14, 2005
By no means am I a world traveler, but I've been all through Canada and the U.S. and have taken many 'virtual tours' of Europe while sitting in front of my iMac. During my travels, both real and virtual, I've noticed a common thread about cities that have thriving, vibrant downtown cores - an amazing café scene. This scene will vary from city to city depending on the clientele, but I've yet to find a "cool" city without great coffee.
Hamilton is home to Timmy's, that wonderfully cheap cup of joe that thousands of Canadians pour down their throats every day. Unfortunately, Tim's isn't the coolest place in town to relax on a Friday night (I've always wondered why they don't develop some 'urban, artsy cafes' in downtowns across the country).
In fact, until recently there weren't many hip cafes in Hamilton. Of course, I realize that my definition of cool will be different than the next guy's, but hey, I'm the one writing this.
There are many signs that downtown Hamilton is in the early stages of a full-blown revitalization and one of the strongest is its new and improved café scene. We've all heard a lot about the many loft and condo projects underway downtown, but rarely do we hear about the spinoff effect that all these new residents are having in the form of new restaurants and cafes. (Restaurants in the core are a topic for another day, but believe me, that industry is rolling along just fine, thanks.)
By no means do I promise to mention every café in this article, rather, here is a quick sampling of my favourites.
Can anyone say 'atmosphere'? This place has it. Cool tunes, great food, comfy wicker furniture and exposed brick and wooden beams. There's even an attached art studio with many samplings hung in the café. And of course, the main attraction – the coffee.
My tastebuds have changed incredibly since discovering the world of fair-trade, organic coffee a few years ago at The Staircase (more to come shortly). To put it simply, I've found real coffee. No more of the chemically processed stuff that most chains sell – this is without a doubt the best coffee around. And thankfully it's becoming very popular in Hamilton.
One complaint about the Bad Dog: the hours. No evenings or Mondays, but very popular during the day and on weekends.
Cool, cool, cool. This place is amazing. They've transformed an old hydro-electric station into one of the best cafes you'll ever see. Several hundred art and entertainment events take place here each year and the menu is very reasonable and very healthy (and tasty!). Again, fair-trade is the coffee of choice and it's wonderful.
Recently renovated, this café is very relaxing and inviting with smooth tunes and many community events. Again, a unique and satisfying menu with fair-trade coffee. In fact, in the world of fair-trade blends and brands, these guys have some of the best you'll ever taste. Now if we could only get some trendy lofts in the old warehouse next door.
These guys 'upped' the ante several years ago when they opened this New York style café right across from the Gore Park fountain. I had an architect friend from New York visiting recently and he was very impressed with this place. No fair-trade, but a great menu with awesome sandwiches and chilli! Yes, chilli. The Irish Cream coffee is heavenly and the place is always hopping late into the night, every day of the week.
One of the best restaurants and cafes you'll find in any city anywhere. This old railway switching station has been masterfully transformed into one of Hamilton's dining treasures. Live jazz takes place in the upstairs lounge on weekends and the menu is like none you've ever seen. It's gets even better when the food comes out. Along with live jazz, there are monthly literary events. Info can be found at http://www.lit-electric.com/.
Another Hamilton treasure. Amazing desserts, great coffee and of course, that cool vibe. The Bean Bar has become a heavyweight in the Hamilton café scene and continues to be a local fave. Live jazz some weekends.
I know, I know. How can a bland chain operation like the Second Cup be included in a list of our city's coolest urban cafes? Quite simply, this location sheds the cookie-cutter feeling that hundreds of Starbucks and Second Cup locations in North America have perfected and does its own thing. Local artwork hangs on the walls. There are frequent music and literary events and a wonderful street patio complete with a full-wall mural. Other chain operations could take a cue from this place (being near a major university helps) and spruce up their vibe.
As someone once said, "As the coffee goes, so goes the city." If Hamilton's burgeoning café scene is any indication, we are heading in the right direction. The next time you're craving a night on the town, be a part of the cool vibe taking root in the heart of the city and make one of these hotspots a part of your plans. You won't be disappointed and you just might find your favourite new hangout.
As for me, it's time to grab a cup of coffee.
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