“Like we need another coffee shop on Church St,” Todd Oram says of the new Second Cup that recently opened in the prime spot previously occupied by Zelda’s.
Oram has a point. In just six blocks, the main street in Toronto’s gay village now has more than 10 coffee shops. Between Bulldog Coffee’s hipster espresso bar and Java Jive, which has served coffee to queers for more than a decade, it seems like every coffee franchise imaginable is vying for a spot in Toronto’s gaybourhood.
Each shop has a unique appeal, with Country Style serving the cheapest coffee, $1.33 for a regular cup of java. The most expensive regular coffee is actually an Americano, coming in at $2.50 at Bulldog, where owner Stuart Ross sells only espresso-based drinks.
But for some gay customers, Church St coffee shops have historically been about more than the price or blend of coffee.
Oram says he and his partner, Josh Stevenson, used to frequent The Steps, the famous hangout in front of the previous Second Cup at Church and Wellesley, with or without coffee. Stevenson, who was a part of the Triangle Program at the time, says, “Our whole program would go hang out there after school.”
The couple thinks the new store’s patio probably won’t live up to their lively memories of the original Church St hangout.
Kevin O’Brien also used to frequent The Steps. O’Brien now lives in Montreal but says he prefers to drink coffee on Church St when he visits Toronto. Robert Slee says the new Second Cup is better because there’s more room on the patio for those who want to hang out. The two were recently enjoying a sunny September afternoon on the new patio. Slee admitted his sentimental connection was more about the coffee.
Further north, Tracey Delmar, manager at Café by Crepe It Up, worries that big franchises are taking over from independent Church St shops. “We try to keep it as home-like as possible,” she says, noting that Café by Crepe It Up supports Femenino fair trade, organic coffee, part of a social program that helps female coffee growers around the world. “Five years ago it wasn’t like this,” she says, referring to the surrounding shop owners. “We all used to know each other.”
Although it may seem like big-name coffee is taking over the strip, those who prefer something a little stronger still have the most choices. There are almost twice as many options for grabbing a cocktail on Church St, with 15 bars in the same six blocks.
At the end of the day, says Richard Groom, owner of the Church St Diner, “people come here for the bar and club scene.”