Coffee Guitar is ... well, use your imagination, folks. Located in Bloordale , where Bloor Barista once stood, the week-old shop may be the only spot in town where you can sip on a piping-hot cappucino while watching some of the city's most seasoned guitar techs take a screwdriver to your beloved Tele.
The cafe is the creation of Bruce Domoney, who just added "amateur barista" and "small business owner" to his long list of resume entries. (He's also a veteran guitar repairman, a touring and recording musician, and a restorer of museum-grade antiques).
Though a cafe/guitar repair shop hybrid is a brilliant idea in plenty of ways (novelty factor, obvious tie-ins to folk cafe culture, mega-efficient use of counter space), Domoney's main goal was to create communion between the people who love guitars and the people that fix them.
"I wanted a more relaxed environment, where people could hang out in a guitar environment, and where it would bring the technician closer to the people," he says. "In most big box stores, you have a disconnect where (your guitar is) just going to reception. They never see it being worked on. You never meet who's doing the work."
In addition to fixing guitars at Long & McQuade for several years, he also ran an ever-escalating side biz doing setups and other services out of his home, which made the discrepancy especially clear.
"I found that with my clients, it was best when I'd be doing work on their guitar, and we'd talk as I was doing it, and I got a feel for exactly what they wanted. It was a much stronger connection, in my understanding of their needs but also my understanding their instrument, and what their instrument was for them."
Now, instead of a tech reading a to-do list off an intake slip, they can chat with the customer in a sunny, cozy environment, learning about an instrument's intricacies and doling out tips.
Workload permitting, clients can even get quick fixes made while they wait at the repair counter, a few feet away from their Simonelli espresso machine. (The coffee comes from neighbouring Alternative Grounds , and they recently added a line of muffins that, according to Domoney, have been drawing rave reviews.)
So far, they've had plenty of their fellow musicians bringing their axes in for setups, which Domoney offers at a budget-friendly rate to make maintenance more accessible to the masses.
Howlett says Domoney typically works on 1,000 or so guitars per year: "if that continues, we're going to be very busy." Setups aside, they're equipped to handle all kinds of repair and restoration, from refrets and pickup rewiring to structural work.
The walls at the shop (previously featuring blackboards full of healthy tea blends) are lined with instruments - for sale or for display.
Howlett points out a '60s Hofner, refitted with a Tune-o-matic bridge, up for $900. They're buying and selling instruments on consignment, with possible plans to launch a line of custom-built guitars. (Instruments sold out of the store, he adds, will come with a one-year warranty.)
There's one at the front of the shop that isn't for sale: Their shop "mascot", the Coffee Guitar itself, an incredibly weathered Harmony lap steel from the '40s or '50s. Bruce passes it over - then hands me a ceramic mug and instructs me to use it as a slide. I oblige him, and it's a strangely perfect combination.
Photos by Jesse Milns.