This place is a secret. Don’t tell anyone about it. I don’t want to come here one day and find it packed out with Toronto Life readers or retro-hipsters. This is one place I can come on a winter’s day where there is always room to work and it’s always warm. I’ve been holding off on even mentioning it.
Deep in the financial district, surrounded by towers magnificent and dull, within two blocks of the most incessantly crowded coffice spaces in all of Toronto, is a coffice space that pretends it’s not even a coffice space. It’s called Croissant Express. It’s on Melinda Street, a stub of a street known to most, if at all, as the name of the south exit of the southbound platform of King Station.
When I am in here, I am back in time two or three decades, to a time before Starbucks steamrolled all, when the great coffee chains (Second Cup!) drew people not with single-origin custom roasts or polyhyphenated steampress constructions but with flavoured blends. When a croissant was the apex of enlightened morning and lunch food. When décor drew strongly on oranges, browns, and tans. When the music came not from a corporate custom playmix or the perversity of the individual baristas but from a radio.
If I really need some elbow room, or really need to concentrate, or just really need to go somewhere it is sure not to be too damn cold, I can walk quickly to Croissant Express – it’s quite nearly the closest coffice space to where I live, so far downtown that downtown is up. It’s also always quite warm. And it’s spacious, and by mid-afternoon it’s not very busy. There will occasionally be other persons or pairs of people sitting chatting – sometimes in the glassed-off room in the corner that has a TV screen and was probably once the smoking room – but mainly there will be the one guy in the back corner table teaching English to international students. He is always there. Always. And of course the people who work here busy themselves tidying up. It’s a big place. There’s a lot to tidy.
But there will also be an incessant stream of people, from the front door down the three steps diagonally across past the counter and out the back door to the interior of the building, or in the opposite direction. To get from this office building to the underground PATH and the subway your most direct route is right through here, outside, then left and in the next door, into Commerce Court. So while this is a cozy, calm oasis in the heart of the financial district, you get plenty of people-watching. It’s like a sidewalk café, where the sidewalk just happens to pass through a 1989 coffee-and-sandwich place.
The bathroom is through that back door, too, down a hallway. It’s not my favourite bathroom. That entrance is also the only way in here that doesn’t involve steps; this place is below sidewalk level on Melinda Street, giving it a bit of a conversation-pit feel. I think if you’re mobility impaired you can technically get in through the back hall – the building’s main entrance is on the corner of Yonge and Melinda, right by the top of the subway exit – but it’s not super inviting. It would be very… technical.
If you like calm, nostalgia, elbow room, and flavoured coffee, this is where to go. They also make espresso beverages, because of course they do. And if you’re hungry they certainly have food. I don’t often get food here, though; I usually eat lunch before heading out to my coffice spaces. And – ironically – though I like croissants, I don’t like the croissants at Croissant Express.
Well, so what. I like the rest. You may well too. But don’t tell anyone else.