This semi-hidden Toronto cafe has been student run for nearly six decades
Student-led, student bred — that's the motto that Diabolos Coffee Bar operates on.
Tucked deep within the University of Toronto's University College Junior Commons Lounge, behind a towering set of double doors, Diabolos has been serving coffees, teas, espresso-based drinks and baked goods to members of its small, tight-knit community since 1966.
The gothic, dignified decor of the campus carries over into the cozy, dark and wood-lined cafe, where a huge, student-painted mural sprawls across its wall.
The priority of Diabolos, cafe manager Raquel Lewin tells blogTO, is not necessarily profit, but rather cultivating and maintaining the space it has occupied for decades.
"What Diabolos is more concerned with is the ability to facilitate a third place, or an official environment, for the students of U.C. and the people on campus," Lewin says.
That means the majority of the revenue that's generated ends up directly funding the expansion and maintenance of the cafe.
Most, if not all, of the cafe's patrons are affiliated with University College in one way or another. PhD students, professors, and faculty members all gather at the long-standing cafe for their daily serving of coffee.
The baristas at Diabolos handcraft their lattes, drip coffees, and espresso-based drinks using the Dancing Goats beans from sustainable Toronto-based coffee roaster De Mello.
They also offer an almost overwhelmingly expansive selection of teas sourced from Toronto-based tea house, Pluck. You can find anything from earl grey to mint, orange pekoe and apple pie.
When it comes to preparing their drinks, Lewin says the baristas use a fully manual espresso machine, meaning every step of the process — from the grind of the bean to the timing of each shot — receives the utmost attention and care.
"It might be espresso, just like how you would find at another place, but you can tell that the way that we brew it leads to an overall better, richer, and fuller quality to the beans," she says.
The entirely student-run cafe operates on a schedule that aligns with University College's academic year — Lewin herself is a second-year classical civilizations student at U.C. — meaning that the cafe is closed during study weeks, winter breaks, and over the summer.
So if you happen to stop by before Diabolos Coffee Bar closes up shop for the summer, make sure to try one of their two specialty drinks. The first is a rich, sweet, cinnamon bun-flavoured Lover's Latte.
The other pays homage to one of University College's longstanding independent newspapers, The Gargoyle — the sometimes polarizing publication whose emphasis on progressive values has garnered loyal readers and controversy since its launch.
The Greasy Garg (a reference to their tagline, "University College's greasiest student paper") is a salted caramel latte with toffee nut sauce, and it is rich, sweet and buttery — qualities that Lewin says are reminiscent of the content that the paper produces, and its history.
In fact, everything about the cafe is rich with history.
"The story of Diabolos and the heritage of it goes all the way back to the beginning of University College itself," says Lewin.
She says the cafe's name is inspired by an old University College story that dates back to its construction in the 1850s, in which two stonemasons — Ivan Reznikoff and Paul Diabolos — found themselves in love with the same woman.
When Reznikoff found Diabolos in the midst of a passionate affair with the woman he loved, he swung his axe in a blind rage (creating a huge dent in the door which can still be seen today).
As the story goes, the two men erupted into a heated fight before Reznikoff was ultimately killed. The fate of Diabolos and the woman remain unknown to this day, but the story of the two stonemasons are immortalized on campus with Diabolos Coffee Bar and Café Reznikoff, not too far away.
The connection to and celebration of its past is perhaps what is the most special about this cafe. In a city where everything is constantly undergoing dramatic transformation, expansion, and change, Diabolos has remained relatively untouched.
Remnants of past students remain intact, with their names carved into the wooden walls of the University College Junior Commons Room, and behind the heavy wooden doors of Diabolos Coffee Bar.
Brand ambassador Alina Kouzouian says she had known of the cafe before even applying to New College, another institution that's part of the University of Toronto. “One of my mom's really close friends came here in the 80s, and she used to go there all the time to study, so I heard about it for a long time,” says Kouzouian.
She says she loves the people, and the coffee, the space that Diabolos has managed to cultivate over its many decades in operation.
Kouzouian says that since its reopening, Diabolos' social media has been flooded with tons of positive feedback from former students, alumni, and employees, all generally stating the same thing — that nothing has really changed.
Loyal customers can come in and find that their beloved coffee spot looks identical to the last time they remember visiting. She says they find it refreshing to be able to come in and see that nothing has been removed from the space.
"You can definitely feel that this has been a student space, and it's been passed down for generations," says Kouzouian.
And it's true — Diabolos Coffee Bar has sat humbly in the same spot since its opening, for over half a century. Nothing really changes here.
Diablos Coffee Bar
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