There are many places in Toronto to observe how badly Toronto drivers suck, but the corner view from the Carafted Bean at Dundas and McCaul truly reveals what an absolute art they make of sucking. In any half hour, you have sixty occasions to see appallingly stupid decisions made by drivers at a really quite simple intersection. And don’t blame the streetcars or buses – they’re the only kind of vehicle guaranteed to behave predictably and in full accordance with the law.
Let it not, therefore, be said that the Carafted Bean is without its entertainment. But the dickheads in shiny metal boxes aren’t the only good viewing. There are people walking past on the sidewalks, interesting people, artistic people even. After all, the Art Gallery of Ontario is directly kitty-corner and OCAD University’s big lofty pencil-box building is just south of it. Across McCaul is the Village Idiot Pub, probably not named after the drivers but there you are. Farther along Dundas across from the AGO are other galleries and cafés (including Art Square Café), and north on McCaul are more bistros and similar establishments, including Jimmy’s, another great coffice space I haven’t reviewed yet. East on Dundas and just across the street is yet another indy espresso joint. Farther to the south and east, of course, is where most of the money in Toronto is generated, much of it by a sophisticated version of the trick whereby if you rub two nickels together it looks like you have three.
But inside the Carafted Bean all is much calmer. The décor is late modern don’t-spend-too-much, though the square table-tops – all eight of them – really are marble. There are always people in here, but usually not so many you can’t work. Along with the tables there are counters at the windows and a couple of armchairs, total seating almost 30. The customers are, of course, gallery-worthy too. The music? It’s fine.
This used to be another coffee joint. Before that it was another one. It might have been yet another one before that. At a certain point as you go backwards in time it turns into something other than a coffee joint, but I can’t remember when that was or what it was. Given that its door is exactly on the corner, facing the mayhem at a 45-degree angle, with a concrete step up, my money is on its having started out as a convenience store or something like that.
In spite of what the name Carafted Bean may seem to suggest, this is not a place with curated blends of named single-estate coffees. Their drip coffees come in medium roast and dark roast. I asked if they had specific origins. The young ladies behind the counter recommended I get the dark roast. I did and it’s a classic dark roast flavour, like Italian roast. For my second cup I got a flat white, which is properly made and cost me only two bucks because refill!
We’ve already established that this coffice space is not great for people with mobility issues (there’s a step up to the door). I should add that if you need to use the washroom, you should be not only physically but mentally fully up to the task, and you may want to use the buddy system or something. If you are just visiting Toronto and want to get the full old-Toronto-building lavatory experience, this is your place.
It’s not just through a back door, around two corners and down a flight of stairs that seems optimal for throwing dead gangsters down (if not dead at the top, then dead by the bottom);
from the bottom, you go along to a door with two knobs, one of which a sign tells you you must not pull on (it will fall off if you do);
go through that and down a bendy hall with more guiding pieces of paper than anything Alice ever ate.
At the end of it, at last, is a basement washroom such as you’ll find in any old Toronto food premises.
Now good luck getting back to your table before you’re reported missing. It is, in short, an immersive environmental self-performative aesthetic experience, and you didn’t even have to go to the AGO (or more likely OCAD) to get it. Or walk into that parlous intersection. Although you could. They’re all right there. But you’re already in art.