Since moving to Hamilton three years ago, I have seen the growth of some serious coffee culture in this city.
Moving from Toronto, where hip independent cafés and coffee shops abounded, I have to admit I was a little skeptical about how I was going to be able to get my coffee fix in the Hammer. And after I moved, I was, indeed, taken aback that a city the size of Hamilton had a serious lack of “good” coffee shops.
I found myself trekking my way down to Locke Street to indulge in the fail-safe but generic Starbuck’s latte. I on occasion schlepped it all the way to Westdale for a cup at My Dog Joe. My only downtown saving grace was Julia Serna’s delicious fair trade Colombian coffee at what was then the temporary mall location of Hamilton Farmers’ Market. She’s still serving up a fine brew at the renovated Market, along with the amazing Red Hill Coffee stand, which I’m a big fan of, too.
But I digress. What it truly came down to was that I was at a loss for a local café. I wanted a place to sit, sip on a good cup of coffee, chat with a friend and enjoy the atmosphere of a true independent coffee shop downtown.
It didn’t take long after moving to Hamilton that I could tell something was brewing (ahem). I saw the opening of Detour café in Dundas. They expanded from an on-site coffee bean roaster, serving small-scale barista espressos, lattes and the like from their tiny shop in the back of a parking lot, to a full blown beautiful and always packed downtown Dundas café.
I heard stories of the Domestique café in Dundas, which opened in 2010. It caters to coffee enthusiasts and the local cycling community. Their infamous Early Surly coffee blend that could wire a deadbeat is likely what propels those avid road cyclists up that mountain of a climb on Sydenham Road.
Not long after the café culture started in Dundas, I noted gutting and renovating had started at Hotel Hamilton — a former laundromat among other past incarnations on the corner of Mulberry and James Street North. With the main floor’s gorgeous moulded ceilings and mosaic tiled floors being revealed and refurbished, I dreamt the space would one day be home to a downtown independent coffee shop. I remember chatting with one of the developers of the building and he mentioned they were looking to lease the space to a café with the feel of something you might find on Queen West in Toronto. I couldn’t wait!
Pretty soon Mulberry Coffee Shop opened its doors. It was just what the neighbourhood needed. In the short time I’d lived in Hamilton, I saw all this inspiring change happen.
There have been several new coffee shops and cafés that have opened up since then. There’s Cannon Coffee Co. — better known as “The Cannon” — on the corner of Cannon and Ottawa streets. They serve my favourite latte in the city using beans from all of the local Hamilton coffee roasters that I love: Detour, Red Hill, & Speakeasy. There are Red Crow and Radius, both of which opened up recently on James Street South. On King William, there’s the recently opened Baltimore House’s gothic/Victorian themed café and wine bar and also Homegrown Hamilton (formerly Sky Dragon) with their in-house roasted-fresh coffee beans.
What I love is that many if not all of the new coffee shops that have opened are also serving up some phenomenal brunches, snacks and baked goods, giving us Hamiltonians a multitude of options for coffee and treats. Each place is unique, and local, adding their own flavour to the ever-developing coffee culture in Hamilton.
What I’ve discovered since my move is that anything Hamilton may be missing — like, say, a microbrewery or a vegan restaurant or a juice bar — will likely be on its way soon. If it isn’t, get on it: It’s true you can do anything in Hamilton.
My top three coffee shops
1. Detour Coffee: airy, bright atmosphere, great sweet treats, baked goods, soups, salads and the like, fabulous Detour roasted beans; 41 King St. West, Dundas.
2. The Cannon: contemporary style and design with a great people-watching window, best latte in the city, delicious daily lunches and brunches; 179 Ottawa St. North.
3. Mulberry Street Coffee House: love the casual atmosphere, my downtown go-to place for meet-ups, a cup of coffee to go, ginger molasses cookie or a savoury muffin to tide me over; 193 James St. North.
You can also find this post printed in The Hamilton Spectator June 9th 2012 here.