Cocktail Cafes

Toronto indie cafes are getting boozy

Indie cafes across the city are morphing into two-spirited venues in which one can work/dick around on one's laptop, and, when writer's block hits, get drunk.

Voodoo Child is a prime example of making the trend work. The Little Italy cafe/cocktail lounge has fully embraced its dual personalities. During the day, it's a light-filled workspace with a quiet vibe, largely populated by bespectacled folks on Macs. At night, it makes the switch to mood lighting, candles, and upbeat tunes. It's exactly like a black sheath that makes a perfect transition from the office to post-work drinks. (I just made myself gag a little..)

The way Voodoo Child operates was foreordained, in a sense. When Scotty DatĂŠ and his partner first bought it, it was already a licensed cafe in the form of The Bean. So they rebirthed the concept, offering simple booze choices with a focus on fun cocktails. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are cocktail nights from 10 p.m. til 2 a.m.). DatĂŠ says the multi-use nature of the space inspires a unique friendliness. He says the coffee-drinkers and booze-imbibers get along in harmony.

"Its expanding people's social horizons, I guess. You know, most cafes are pretty quiet. People are on their computers. But when people are drinking beer and cocktails, the conversations are just going pretty crazy."

Belljar is planning a similar metamorphosis. Owner Geoff McPeek has applied for a liquor license, and expects it to go through by the end of May. He wants to attract the same crowd and maintain the cafe's chill vibe. The only real difference is they'll stay open later, and specialize in local beers.

"The cocktail game is bullshit," he says with an eyeroll. What he means is the attitude that comes along with cocktail culture. McPeek is into community, and he wants to inject some much-needed nightlife into Roncesvalles while ensuring the neighbourhood feel of Belljar remains intact. (Along with the liquor license, he plans to open a patio this summer too, as well as a full-fledged kitchen to serve brunch noms. So ideal).

Anyway, sometimes the switch works, and sometimes, not so much. Last summer, Red Rocket started serving drinks and expanded its hours to better cater to an evening crowd, but co-owner Billy Dertilis says the additional hours weren't worth it. People still thought of Red Rocket primarily as a cafe.

"We thought it would be fun to serve drinks. It wasn't so much a revenue thing. But when you start losing money, it's a different story.

"We've never been a bar, and maybe that's part of the reason why us being open at night didn't take off."

Because staying open later wasn't making sense, the cafe scaled back its evening hours, but kept its liquor license. They still stay open late for special events, and on Saturdays for comedy nights.

Although the transition to late-night venue doesn't always work out, this isn't a trend I can see going anywhere. Coffee is awesome, alcoholic beverages are awesome, lots of writers hang out in cafes, and lots of writers also drink like filthy degenerates.

Go forth and get boozy, cafes of Toronto.

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