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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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