I Deal Coffee
The Communal Mule
I was looking forward to spending three days in Toronto last year: good food, fun times with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, aimless autumnal wandering. Instead I was waylaid by a terrible cold I developed on the train from Montreal. I spent much of my time drowning my miseries in the city’s cafés — about five over the course of the weekend, if I recall correctly.
It turns out that drinking lots of milky, caffeinated beverages is the last thing you want to do when you have a horrible respiratory infection. (Also a no-no: hanging out in public places and spreading your germs.) Even if it didn’t make me feel better, though, I appreciated Toronto’s café aesthetic, which seems to lead towards messy spaces with rickety furniture, limited signage and casual, almost indifferent service.
The café most emblematic of this style is I Deal Coffee, which occupies a tiny space in Kensington Market. The back of the café is filled with junk, ancient arcade games that serve as tables and a formica benches. The walls are cracked and the ceiling seems to sag ever so slightly. There’s no menu and service is stand-offishly friendly. While I sat drinking a cappuccino, a woman ordered a takeaway drink and exclaimed “Styrofoam!” when she saw her cup. “It has one third the carbon footprint of paper cups,” replied the barista, without missing a beat. He smiled wryly.
The Communal Mule, 15 minutes up Dundas Street by foot, has a more deliberate design sense, but it seems to channel the same spirit as I Deal, with metal chairs, thick rough-cut wood tables and a vaguely surly barista behind the counter. The Common, on College Street just west of Little Italy, feels similar, especially since they both share a beautiful, high-ceilinged shop space with original details — ceiling mouldings, wood doors, picture windows — still intact.