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Cafes

Dark Horse Espresso Bar

Posted by Debbie Ohi / Posted on July 11, 2007

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The first thing I notice upon entering Dark Horse Espresso Bar is the huge wooden table in one corner. The thought of sitting beside strangers unnerves me, but the bar seats are all full. Co-owner Deanna Zunde says she got the idea for a communal table while traveling in Europe: "I thought Toronto could use a little more encouragement to talk to strangers in an intimate setting."

20070522_darkhorse.jpgPhoto courtesy: Tim Shore.

"I love that Dark Horse has fit so well into the neighbourhood and has become a community meeting place," says Angela Bradfield in the Dark Horse Facebook group. "The communal table is such a great concept and works like magic at connecting people."

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As baristas / owners, Deanna Zunde and Ed Lynds make the coffee themselves and offer baked treats in addition to their espresso-based drinks and teas. Lynds took second-place at the 1st Annual Toronto Life Latte Art Competition and will be competing in the National Barista Championships in September.

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I slide onto a chair at the table and focus on the artful double heart poured into the foam of my London Fog as I studiously avoid eye contact with others seated around me. A stranger across the table remarks to their companion about an article in the newspaper they're reading. A moment later, someone else a few seats away adds a comment, provoking laughter. Subtly, the atmosphere changes.

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And suddenly we're no longer just strangers sitting stiffly in the same space, pretending the others don't exist. We're chatting in the kitchen of someone's home as sunlight spills onto the table, and time slows down. Not a bad way to start the day, really.

682 Queen Street East, Hours: 7am-7pm every day

Discussion

32 Comments

/ June 14, 2007 at 01:22 am
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this is my fave. new place. dependably wonderful coffees, prostar latte art, friendly staff, wifi, and communal atmosphere.
Arieh Singer / July 11, 2007 at 02:21 pm
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Love this coffee shop! Great stop as I pop up from the Don bike path at Queen Street. The wide glass is brilliant in the sun!
Matt / July 11, 2007 at 03:34 pm
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Great place, great vibe, really glad it's down there (falls under "Saturday morning walking distance" from my house).
Katie / July 11, 2007 at 04:02 pm
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That place sounds amazing - I'll have to check it out some time! And I love the design on the coffees... little things like that definitely add a smile to my day.
Danielle / July 11, 2007 at 07:14 pm
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THAT FOAM ART IS AMAZING!!!! (hence caps)
Christian / July 12, 2007 at 01:57 am
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Also - great muffins and clean bathrooms !
rek / July 13, 2007 at 10:04 am
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I used to work down the street from this place; I always loved the look of it, but not being a coffee drinker I never went in. I'm glad to see nearly a year later and the local Starbucks hasn't sunk them yet.
JP / July 18, 2007 at 04:58 pm
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This place creates such an amazing vibe. It has so much character. My only qualm is that there is only one Dark Horse. There should be more places like this in the city.
JP / July 18, 2007 at 04:58 pm
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This place creates such an amazing vibe. It has so much character. My only qualm is that there is only one Dark Horse. There should be more places like this in the city.
von flores / July 27, 2007 at 09:45 pm
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i love ed and "d"
my wife and i have recently opened an espresso bar -- bisogno espresso bar -- in the st lawrence market area (61 sherbourne street, between king street e and adelaide st. e.) and ed and "d" have been incredible support and inspiration to us. we pay tribute to them by having the same LARGE TABLE in the centre of the cafe with the same chillax atmosphere. they are good friends who are great people.
Coffee4me / August 22, 2007 at 09:23 pm
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Best latte in East Toronto, and a definite All Metro contender. Friendly staff that knows their stuff. Friendly, easy-to-talk-to customers. Caffe copy of the New York Times Sunday edition. Benches (and a dog dish) outside. What more could one want?
Joan / March 17, 2008 at 06:47 pm
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I love this place! The staff are always friendly, as are the regulars. They even like babies :)
David / July 20, 2008 at 03:18 am
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Aaah, finally a coffee house in Toronto that did not make me wish I was back in the West Coast. Excellent single origin coffee blends served in a french press - they even have Intellegenstia coffee imported from Chi-town. Wooho!
Elly / September 10, 2008 at 05:33 am
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Love the place, love the servers, love the coffee. Oh...love the art. I bought one of the large paintings on display by a local artist. A really cool place to hang out.
Jordan / January 29, 2009 at 12:41 pm
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If you've been going to Sta*$$$$s all these years... well you've been missing out on the very best coffee, (one of) the best coffee experiences, (I love John at Jet Fuel too!) with the friendliest crowd in Toronto, bar-none. There is just no better place to start your day. These guys know their coffee. Never bitter, always smiling, and kid friendly too. Well worth the trip over the Don.
Mrs Bonanza / March 11, 2009 at 07:58 am
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My favourite place in the city. I love it here. It's very communal and friendly and always welcoming. The table is great. The customers are so friendly and inviting in this cafe you never feel out of place or left out.

And lets not forget they have probably the best menu in the city and the best tasting coffees. I don't even mind making the trip from U of T just to get a great cup of coffee here.
Jo-Ann / March 14, 2009 at 03:45 pm
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tried Dark Horse today on my weekly jaunts around the City to find the best espresso based coffee. Great vibe. Cap and Latte were good, strong and creamy but not hot enough at all. People behind counter seemed nice. Is there new owners??? Will go back but Balzac's and Manic(although Manic's arent' hot enough either) still the best.
Doug / March 30, 2009 at 09:47 am
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Looks like a new Dark Horse being built at Spadina and Sullivan, among the great Vietnamese restaurants. Could be awesome!
Chris / April 23, 2009 at 01:41 pm
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yeah, I passed by it on the way to lunch today and it's open. Looks great from the outside and based on the comments here, it sounds like it could be a great new place for my coffee breaks!
Sherri / May 22, 2009 at 07:34 am
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I've been to the new one several times and love it when it's not crowded. It's bright and sunny, coffee is great and they also carry some vegan treats - important for my partner and myself. We never went to the one on Queen East so can't compare. Two things that make it stand out: the big tables are made from the floors of a demolished bowling alley, and the building it's in is amazing - the Robertson Building - there's a living wall just outside the Dark Horse's doors.
nathalie / July 23, 2009 at 12:54 pm
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Il faut revenir à Toronto plus souvent ne serait-ce que pour le café du Dark Horse et plus!
tonin / August 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm
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moving into the hood (well, other side of th bridge) next week. Though I've been riding by the Spadina location for way too long without going in, I'm really thrilled that this place will likely be my coffee spot
H. Kumar Thangudu / September 12, 2009 at 02:02 pm
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A great place to be.
From out of town.

Coffee Groundz is to Houston as Dark Horse Cafe is to Toronto.

My experience here only enhanced my already great experience in Toronto.
Fahim / July 9, 2010 at 11:45 am
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Best place for meetings :)
disappointed / August 1, 2010 at 03:02 pm
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So unfortunately disappointing - luke warm coffee, spilled all over its saucer from a rushed barista. Music was too loud and place was just to noisy to get some decent reading in. Maybe I will give it another try.
Rob J / June 12, 2011 at 03:56 pm
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The staff at Dark Horse are surely snobs. At least they smile at Starbucks and make you feel like they appreciate your business. This place needs a lesson in customer service. Good luck.
Sophia / June 18, 2011 at 01:59 pm
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Saw the other day that the food safety people have given it a "Conditional Pass" with several worrisome comments (poor handwashing, food not kept cold, etc)
Ghissoun / January 10, 2012 at 01:33 pm
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Best coffee, ever! Great atmosphere and design. Our to-go coffee shop when we are in Toronto.

“Disappointed”: do not let this unique bad experience ruins it... Give it another try you won't be disappointed, I promise :)
Jenny / May 5, 2012 at 10:45 pm
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Someone told me that Darkhorse is actually owned by Starbucks!

Their website is a rip off of http://www.sanpellegrino.com/
darkhorseespresso.com

The entire menu is a rip off of local cafe's that have existed much longer than they have....
EG: Moonbean Coffee, Jet Fuel, Wagamama Pastries and Rooster.

Georgia replying to a comment from Jenny / May 8, 2012 at 04:50 pm
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Dark Horse is owned by two Torontonian, not Starbucks. I work at Dark Horse, I see the owners almost every day.

The menu is a standard one; caps, lattes, americanos, etc. You'll find it in any cafe. Also, Rooster opened up after Dark Horse.
Jenny replying to a comment from Georgia / May 10, 2012 at 05:10 am
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Food menu's are rip-off's of other cafe's in Toronto.
They even ripped off the S.P. Website.

anthony / August 12, 2012 at 10:51 am
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I USED to love going here (Queen East Location) but the staff they hired in the last year or so are more interested in trying to act cool and talking to one another than serving customers. The owners are very nice but are not around as much these days with more locations to attend to.

They really need to keep an eye on how their staff is acting when they are not around. I stopped going a while ago and was just happened to be there today and had the same experience as usual. ..bad. I always get a warm courteous greeting at MERCURY Espresso (further east) and go there all the time. Never had a bad experience with the staff at Mercury, not once!

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