cafe pamenar

Popular cafe in Toronto is now regularly hosting sold out backyard concerts

The front patio of Cafe Pamenar seems entirely ordinary, but step inside and walk to back to see the real attraction: a gorgeously lush Persian garden filled with trees and lit with chains of lights, thanks to the dedicated vision of owner-operator Pouria Lotfi. 

"The apple tree was here when we bought the place, but I planted the other trees – the cherries and plums and the vines. Fruit trees are an important thing in Persian and Iranian culture, they have really given the space character," explains Lotfi.

Last July, a basement fire threatened the existence of the cafe which pulled through in part thanks to a GoFundMe campaign.

In the short few months since Ontario moved to Step 3 of re-opening, the cafe has become one of the hottest music venues in Kensington Market, and is said to transform audience members to another place, another time, another era.

The concept for Cafe Pamenar began in 2009 when Lotfi moved back to Toronto after living overseas in Afghanistan, Ukraine and France. 

It evolution from coffee shop to live music venue was organic and gradual. The cafe first got a liquor licence and became a bar, and then a few years ago started welcoming bands and musicians into its space.

Back in 2015, the first musician to play the backyard on a regular basis was a friend of Lotfi's, Pedram Khavar Zamini, a renowned Iranian percussion player.

Before long, Colin Fisher began to program avant-garde jazz and experimental on Thursdays, and in 2017 Cafe Pamenar became one of the key venues during the Kensington Market Jazz Festival.

Lotfi says it was during this past summer that things really started to take off, and Cafe Pamenar now hosts sold out fusion, jazz and hip hop nights, sometimes as often as six times a week.

With the upcoming weather change, Lotfi says he'll need to figure out how to pivot but he's not sure how that's going to look just yet. 

"There are so many moving parts right now. I'm taking it one week at a time and when the weather turns I'll figure it out. In a few months we might start bringing more food and changing the identity in winter, because we won't be able to do music inside," explains Lotfi.

No matter what ends up happening this winter, you can bet on one thing: a bright future for this picturesque slice of live music heaven one might only find in Kensington Market.

"I figure if you are going to do something, you might as well do it the best you can, right? I love coffee but I also love wine, and gin, so we have a huge selection here. And the musicians we have here are very special," says Lotfi. "We try to maintain a high standard of everything we serve."

Lead photo by

Ori Dagan

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