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Dark Horse (John St.)

Posted by Robyn Urback / Posted on March 7, 2012

Dark Horse John StreetDark Horse (John) is the the newest, smallest, tin-tiled espresso bar to join Toronto's Dark Horse empire. Though I'm not sure if four locations - the one on Spadina, Queen East, Queen West, and now this one on John - really constitutes an empire, but in a city with a multiplicity of one-off indie cafes, it certainly speaks to some degree of success.

This cafe, at present, is pretty easy to miss. On John Street between Richmond and Adelaide, Dark Horse has occupied the former lower-level space of Smokeless Joe and is advertised simply by a sandwich board on the sidewalk.

Dark Horse EspressoThat may change, however, since the espresso bar is only in its first week. The inside is characteristically Dark Horse, with a pressed tin ceiling, dark red accent walls, and rustic wood trim, though seating is fairly limited.

Dark Forse EspressoThere's a long bar with stool seating that runs adjacent to the counter and a couple of tables by the front, but perhaps this isn't the place to stretch out and type away for the afternoon (though there is free WiFi).

Dark HorseNevertheless, professionals in the area have already discovered the new Dark Horse and are swarming to the block as any indie-starved, Starbucks-saturated office worker might.

Dark Horse EspressoThere are probably about 10 to 15 people in the shop when I stop by, and I'd say throwing in another five would definitely be pushing it. But Derek, one of the baristas surely recognizable to Queen West regulars, takes a few moments away from the fancy new Mirage to chat about the cafe's opening.

"I know they really wanted to get into the area," he says of Dark Horse's owners. "But I think this will be the last location for a while."

Dark Horse EspressoThe recipe here is essentially the same as the others — 49th Parallel Epic Espresso and Detour blends, baked goods from Circles and Squares, Desmond & Beatrice, and other local bakers, and hot panini and soup (the latter is soon to come) on the menu.

Dark HorseDerek prepares me an Americano ($2.61),which is handed over with a swirling crema and rich, dark colour. The flavour matches the bold appearance with a light acidity and caramel finish. Great for grab-and-go, but if you're looking for a communal table, best to stick to Spadina or Queen.

Dark HorseDark Horse (John) is currently open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., though these are hours are subject to change.

Photos by Morris Lum



Pro / March 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm
Your map doesn't compute
lister / March 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm
Long time Smokeless Joe patron. I guess it's time for one last visit to the old space.
lowrez / March 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm
Yeah, I remember when Smokeless Joe's was here. It's barely recognizable now. They've done a great job with the interior. Really nice space. Excellent espresso, too.
Dave R / March 7, 2012 at 01:14 pm
Awesome service. Great atmosphere. These guys know how to do coffee really well. Will definately be a regular favorite when I'm downtown Toronto. Excellent job Dark Horse crew.
Athena / March 7, 2012 at 01:23 pm
Man, I love Darkhorse... Everything from the people, the vibe and the coffee is amazing!!
Defiantly one of my personal favorite coffee shops in this beautiful city of Toronto.
If you haven't already, you NEED to check out one of their locations.
krzysztof / March 7, 2012 at 01:26 pm
just when i decide to boycott starsucks this happens????
there is a god!


Rachel / March 7, 2012 at 01:28 pm
A great new addition to the neighborhood. I think it's great to see these independent cafe's building multiple locations in Toronto. Congrats to the DH team for this 4th spot. -Sincerely a DH regular!
Marc / March 7, 2012 at 01:33 pm
Love the Lattes Great Job Derek !!
Ashley / March 7, 2012 at 02:03 pm
Darkhorse rules! Amazing coffee, great atmosphere and the best staff. Loving that such an awesome place is expanding.

We love you Derek!
Robin / March 7, 2012 at 02:07 pm
Seriously one of the best espressos in the city. That & the vibe in this new location makes you just want to keep coming back. But what's even more noticeable is the personable service, the excellence taken in every detail. KUDOS to DH4 & staff!!
Caj / March 7, 2012 at 02:09 pm
This place is seriously off the hook. I am definately coming back. Definately. Great atmosphere. Great service. Great people. Great coffee. Great location. Great. Perfect. Lovely.
Dean / March 7, 2012 at 02:28 pm
What a cool spot. Very nicely done and the best coffee. Look forward to many visits.
McRib / March 7, 2012 at 02:49 pm
close(r than all the other DH locations) to work!
Kailah / March 7, 2012 at 03:36 pm
Dark Horse is exactly what this area needed.
Downtowners can now breathe a sigh of relief now that they no longer need to trek out to Queen West to enjoy some classically good DH coffee.

(Although Dark Horse is always worth the trek)

Glad to see this business thriving.
Sharon / March 7, 2012 at 03:54 pm
DH4 has been open for less than a week and
I've already been twice. Latte was amazing.
Such a cool vibe..more of a bar feel to it.
Youve gotta check it out!
Joy / March 7, 2012 at 05:27 pm
Loving the new location. It's clear that even while expanding, the dark horse team continue to put a lot of care into making each location unique and true to their ideals. I love the atmosphere. I already staked out the best seat in the house and plan on enjoying many chai lattes in that spot.

Amazing staff & amazing drinks. John street & the surrounding neighborhood should be jumping for joy!
Mo / March 7, 2012 at 06:00 pm
Love it! Great people and great drinks!
Miel / March 7, 2012 at 07:18 pm
love it! now i wont have to drink corporate swill just because im here and need caffeine! darkhorse is seriously a Toronto institution. Spadina is the best by far tho, best chillable spaces. so happy to see them expanding!
Simon / March 7, 2012 at 07:41 pm
So stoked this new DH is a two minute walk from my work!
Great vibe, I feel think I'm walking into Cheers!!
Evan / March 7, 2012 at 07:57 pm
I don't know how I didn't know about this, but this is amazing. Working film festivals at lightbox just got soooooooo much better. I think it's great that shops like Dark Horse, Sam James, and Fahrenheit are invading the core.
Ed / March 7, 2012 at 09:22 pm
Thank you for all the amazing compliments. We are super excited about being here on John street and being in this unique space. It seems like an amazing neighbourhood and we are looking forward to becoming a part of it.
Thanks again...
Andrew / March 8, 2012 at 09:21 am
The vibe of this new DH blows my mind. Also had one of the best cappuccinos I've had in a while on opening day. Not surprised.
G / March 8, 2012 at 04:40 pm
Is the pour over coffee that I see? Chicago's Buzz Espresso told me you guys had it but the Queen E. Location seems to only have Americanos.
Dee / March 8, 2012 at 07:45 pm
G, yes that's a pour over bar, come on by and try it, we have one at the Queen and Euclid shop as well.
Liona / March 11, 2012 at 12:10 am
Awesome place. Great staff & excellence literally pours out of everything they do.
Keep it up DH Crew. Glad to have more of you in Toronto.
James / March 12, 2012 at 05:24 pm
Did DH get Smolik to do up the menu board? Super sweet spot!

Congrats again guys!
Colin / March 20, 2012 at 02:58 am
Is their coffee organic fair trade? I would assume so as they seem like a company that cares about people and planet.
Arby / March 28, 2012 at 09:29 am
Colin, I'm glad you care. However, It seems that fair trade has been hijacked by powerful special interests ( Are we surprised? I will always support genuine fair trade. But the certification organization? No. I'm sure there's lots of fake organic stuff flying around out there too. But while I have no way of knowing the difference, I eat organic simply because I care about what I put into (and onto) my body.

My thoughts about organic coffee are: I don't drink coffee for my health without regard for the pleasure. We do not have to drink coffee. Therefore, If I have to choose between a cup that tastes great and isn't organic and one that tastes like crap but is organic, I'll take the cup that isn't organic. And if I was a shop owner, that would also be my approach. Which isn't to say that I would ever completely reject organic.

I'll have to pop into this newest addition to the Dark Horse stable. I have only ever received good service from Dark Horse and it's numerous friendly, professional baristas. However, I do think Epic has had it's time (for whatever reason). I've had too many (not cheap) bad drinks at various Dark Horses to want to go out of my way to visit. The irony, in my view, is that they have Detour beans on their shelves. Detour, to this drinker's taste buds, is way tastier than Epic. But, to each his own.
Kareng / October 28, 2012 at 03:33 pm
Darkhorse logo is a rip off of...

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