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Bye Bye Bloor West, Hello Rosedale

22 Apr

Last month, our company’s offices moved from Bloor West Village (where we’d been located since I started working there three years ago) to the strip of Yonge St. between Rosedale and Summerhill subway stations.

The change has been significant.  Living as I do in the east end of town, the new location is welcome firstly because it cuts down on my commute time by almost an hour a day.  And the new neighbourhood, while a little pricier than Bloor West, is cheery and full of the energy that comes with loads of people walking up and down Yonge St. all day long.  (It doesn’t hurt that spring has sprung, filling patios and putting a little extra jazz in everyone’s step).

Though I wasn’t very familiar with Bloor West prior to starting at the firm a few years back, I will be missing some of the local businesses that were in and around the old digs.  Here are some of the neighbourhood shops I came to be thankful for:

Alfredo’s – Local grocery store with a deli and everything. Very handy for last minute lunch purchases of all kinds.

Java Joe’s – Slightly quirky folk but the panini I used to think was expensive and only got as a treat every so often is looking mighty reasonable relative to a panini in midtown!

The Pastry Chef – Sadly this lovely little bakery has recently closed due to the owners retiring (maybe not so sad for them!)  These guys supplied all our office birthday cakes and satisfied all sorts of early morning and late afternoon cravings for sweets. Local chatter says the place will now be occupied by a dentist’s office, which makes me wonder: why wouldn’t a new bakery come along to buy the old business with its ready-made clientele that’s been built up over the years…?  I asked myself the same question when Peter’s Place closed down.  This seemingly very successful greasy spoon with the most wonderful characters closed last year when the owners decided to retire, but nothing has yet sprung up in its place.  Again, someone could have probably set up a great business coming in where this one had closed down (because its closure was certainly not due to lack of interest in burgers, greek food and all-day breakfast from us local folk).

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Caffeine & Wireless, Post #2: Downtown Roundup

18 Nov

You’ve read Post#1, of course. So let’s get right down to the reviews of where to go for wifi in T.O.

Wifi Paradise

Linux Caffé
326 Harbord Street (at Grace)

Linux Caffé is hands-down, the most laptop friendly coffee joint that I have ever come across in Toronto, Montreal, or elsewhere. Perhaps that’s not surprising, with a name like Linux Caffé. But even Café π in Montreal, which has high geek cred (chess boards and all) doesn’t follow through the way Linux does. Not only is free wireless available, but no matter where you’re seated an extension cord or power bar is within reach for refueling. Laptop rentals are also an option at the reasonable rate of $3 for the first hour and $1 for each additional hour.

I’m not a programmer, but if I were, I’d particularly appreciate the printed resources on hand: back issues of Linux Journal, books on code theory, histories of hacking, programming certification study guides, not to mention the parade of acronyms—FreeBSD, UNIX, PHP, MySQL, SOAP, GNU, XML, SGML—on the spines of myriad other volumes. The first time I came here, I walked in on a presentation on Python and Oracle and shared the back section of the café with the handful of participants, listening in on the Q&A.

Linux also has the virtuous goal of striving to be the greenest café in the neighbourhood. They’ve instituted practices like encouraging customers to bring their own mugs by charging a premium on take-away cups.

IN A NUTSHELL

Caffeine: Ideal organic coffee, variety of teas, astoundingly delicious hot chocolate
Wifi situation: free wireless and plenty of power bars to recharge a dying laptop
Snacks: vegan brownies, trail mix, breakfast and sandwiches
Sounds: highly variable, totally unpredictable, always wonderful. David Bowie to Johnny Cash to Portishead. Fairly loud volume.
Seats: some outdoor seating, tables/chairs, high counters/stools
Crowd: nerds and neighbours

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Tequila Bookworm Café and Books
490 Queen Street West (east of Bathurst)

I love the feel of this place: sophisticated but not too pretentious. Haven’t had the chance to visit more than once but I definitely recommend checking it out.

IN A NUTSHELL…

Wifi situation: free wireless access (weekdays only)
Tastes
: cappuccino, not too strong, with delicious foam; bar; desserts
Sounds
: mostly mellow: Sondre Lerche, Sufjan Stevens, Dave Matthews
Seats
: tables/chairs, sofa/coffee table, outdoor patio

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Gladstone Hotel, Melody Bar
1214 Queen Street West (east of Dufferin at Gladstone)

The first floor of the Gladstone has two main areas open to the public: Melody Bar and the Ballroom Café. The Café was full the afternoon of our visit, so we opted for the Melody Bar. It offers the same menu and wifi access as the café across the lobby, with a grungier, more laid back feel–think Parkdale pre-gentrification.

IN A NUTSHELL…

Wifi situation: free, a few outlets to recharge the battery
Tastes: brunch menu, baked goods
Sounds: live music – country when we were there
Seats: big comfy booths
Crowd: old folks and 30-something hipsters (could it have been the country?)

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Caffeine & Wireless, Post #1: A café of one’s own

11 Nov

For over a year, Salon B bibliocafé, a café/library/art gallery on St. Laurent Blvd. in Montreal served as my home office away from home. Though the concept behind that particular café is deserving of a separate post (the café is located above, and affiliated with, a funeral home– yessir, and a very chi chi one at that), what I liked about it was the fact that you could stay for hours without being shooed out or stared down, the music (sometimes Cirque du Soleil, sometimes Nancy Sinatra duets), and the little piece of chocolate or candy that accompanied my cappuccinos. Maybe I was missing the larger point of this controversial café’s raison d’être but to me it was simply a great place to work, with big windows, delicious paninis, and very friendly staff. Free wireless access was the icing on the cake.

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Since acquiring a laptop last year, wireless is no longer the icing; very often, it’s the cake. I’ve added Internet access to the mental list of must-haves—proximity to home, good cappuccinos, a relaxed atmosphere and so forth—that help me to choose one coffee shop over another. By ‘Internet access’ I mean free access, of course. Sorry, Starbucks/Second Cup.

Unfortunately, getting coffee and free wifi in Toronto has proven surprisingly difficult. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. But in the downtown-centre/west core, say Annex-to-Queen-West, I have found very few spots of which I would gladly become a regular. Lots of otherwise great cafés don’t offer wireless (though occasionally one can pick up stray signals). I have also come across several locales that advertise free internet access, but that in various ways make it inconvenient or uncomfortable to actually use it.

In contrast, Montreal is bursting with free hotspots. My impression is that providing free wifi is seen (correctly, in my view and given my personal habits) as a way to draw customers in, even if they do stay a little longer than owners would like. The Île Sans Fil project has done a lot to encourage downtown establishments (including Salon B) to offer free wireless access on their premises. Java U on St.-Denis and Café République on ave. Bernard are just two locales that even provide customers with a way of accessing the Internet without laptops—iGotcha Media‘s ‘webpads,’ ad-sponsored touchscreen units great for checking email and such. (A full list of Montreal locations offering these webpads is available here.)

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Of breakfasts, brunches, and petit déjeuners…

8 Oct

In Montreal one of my favourite things to do with friends on a Sunday morning—or any day or time, really—was to go for brunch. In undergrad, we got our breakfast fix at places like Oxford Café on Ste-Catherine, Place Milton in the McGill Ghetto, and Moe’s, a 24-hour diner near Concordia’s downtown campus. At Oxford there is a menu item called something like Elvis’ Breakfast which is french toast with bananas, peanut butter, and maple syrup. That’s my idea of delicious. (Maybe it’s just me and Elvis.) Place Milton and Moe’s are greasy spoons that serve cheap, tasty food, and still have their charm.

In grad school, my breakfast tastes got a little more refined. We’d have poached eggs served in avocado or mango at Senzala, morning glories and goat cheese & pear crêpes at El Dorado (‘the-place-across-from-L’Avenue’) or we’d beat L’Avenue‘s notorious lineup by brunching on a weekday. There and at La Grand-mère poule there are so many breakfast choices it takes half an hour to decide.

Since I’ve been back in Toronto, I’ve been enjoying trying out breakfasts around the city. Kilgour’s on Bloor has always been one of my preferred places for Eggs Benny; they serve one with roasted red pepper. Yum. I recently checked out Boom! Breakfast & Company in Little Italy. The fries are great and the service friendly.

Another new discovery is Aunties and Uncles, near College and Bathurst. The potato salad with just the right amount of dill is a nice twist—you wouldn’t think potato salad with breakfast, but in fact, it’s delicious.

Stroll down Dundas Street west of Bathurst on a Saturday morning and you can’t miss Saving Grace, rumoured to be one of Sarah Polley’s favourite breakfast joints. On a weekend, count on waiting at least twenty minutes for a table after marking your name on the sign up sheet at the entrance—it’s worth the wait. I’ve been there twice now: I had one of the day’s specials, a pumpkin frittata, the first time around and an old cheddar sandwich on raisin bread from the menu on the second visit (I was more impressed by the former, mainly because, despite the rave reviews, I felt like I could have easily made the sandwich at home). The Vietnamese iced coffee was very much to my liking (though my friend was disappointed—it was not as bitter as the coffees at her favourite pho places in Montreal and Toronto). Continue reading