200 Notre Dame O/St François-Xavier
Montreal, Quebec – H2Y 1T3
Telephone: (514) 903-8669
Cost: $ 13.95 (tax and tip included)
In a short amount of time Tommy Café in Old Montreal has gotten a real cult following. It has become so popular that another Tommy Café, serving brunch opened in March in a bigger second locale situated at 151 Notre Dame street/Royale. A day does not go by where someone will not recommend Tommy Café to me. Montreal has no shortage of really good coffee shops. Do we really need more? I guess it depends where in the city. In Old Montreal, where there is never a shortage of tourists, cafes prove to be a quick and inexpensive way to take a short break in between hops. For the proverbial Montrealer we look for something more. A beautiful café offers a respite between shopping expeditions, a quiet afternoon chatting with a friend or a place outside of the home or workplace where we can pop open our tablets or laptops and do some work. The real question is what makes a café so popular and others not. Good coffee, good grub and comfort are definitely some of the reasons.
In the last six months I have been on a mission to find some of the nicest cafes in Montreal. These days I am governed and inspired not only by the principles of old school, but by my own preset criteria. So, a couple of weeks ago, on a perfect rainy Sunday, I decided to try the original Tommy Cafe on St. Paul street in Old Montreal after seeing some pictures and being inspired by the buildings’ architecture.
I soon discovered Tommy Café winning formula. Establish your business in a busy area with lots of tourists, so you have a good flow of people. In today’s day & age you need to be eco-friendly, serve sustainable or free trade coffee, it has to be gluten free, vegan and healthy and meet almost everyone’s dietary requirements to appeal to the millennial masses. Todays generation is discerning and they need to feel they have choices as well as making a difference in society
The Foo Foodie is governed by the different principles. I have paid my dues to society and am all about self-gratification. My coffee needs to be super strong with a hint of bitterness. I like the appropriate coffee cups which means espresso for espresso and cappuccino for cappuccino’s. No glass mugs. I don’t take soy milk or flavored syrups in my coffee, just brown sugar. I like it a particular way, it has to be dry and very little milk, as for the café, it needs to be relaxing and have comfortable seating. No loud music, especially on Sundays. Picture the old Juan Valdez commercial for Colombian coffee. I need to give out a sigh of relief after my first sip of coffee. If not, its not worth it for me.
My draw to Tommy Café was purely visual and I was drawn to it because of its history, architecture, high ceilings and ornate moldings. Situated in the Old British Empire building that was known as the Exchange Bank of Canada. It was built in 1874 by architect John William Hopkins. It is visually stunning and contains lots of the old-world charm that I seem to really like these days. Like a vampire longing for his ancient roots.
I am discerning and visually focused on minute details.
On this rainy day as we rushed in with our wet umbrellas. My first take upon arriving at Tommy café after I opened the door and almost hit someone in the ass with it, was how small it actually is. The place was overflowing with patrons who were lined up to get coffee on the bottom level. The space is multi leveled with a top flour that contains a couch and a few armchairs and a private nook that are rarely available. The mezzanine level has single seating and a few booths. If this is your preference, you will get a bird eye view of the floor below and everyone who walks in. A good spot to people watch. It was very crowded today and not much seating was available; noise levels were also very high.
Thankfully, our friend had arrived early and managed to nab the only booth on the mezzanine level facing the front door. After setting down our umbrellas and saying our hellos we preceded to the line up to pick up our coffees. I perused the wall menu and looked at their desserts, not much of a choice left. I was hungry and decided to go with a grill cheese sandwich instead. I liked the choices of alternative milk products that they offer as substitutes for your coffee. The menu also had a lot of healthy alternatives. We were handed our coffees and a number to place on the table and told they would bring us our food.
The grill cheese although a simple choice was delicious and hit the spot. I loved the multi grain bread and the soft melted cheese in between with lots of butter. It proved to be the right choice and filled the empty void in my stomach. As for our seating arrangement they were tight, six in a both that was fit for two to four people at the most after two hours I wanted to stretch my legs. As we sat up high in the bleachers and admired the intricate moldings and corniches on the ceilings, I almost got vertigo.
The old renaissance space was grandiose in style and exuded a bygone era where money was power. Renovation to the space just was not in line with old school charm. The new multi-level platforms in honey colored wood used to create more seating along the old stairs leading to upper floors did no justice in keeping with the heritage of the building. Awkward I thought, but these are the sign of the times.
High up in the bleachers, we felt a draft as the door kept opening and more people would come in off the street. We would get these gusts of cold wind that brought a chill to the bone. Our coffee was not enough to keep us warm and as I sipped it slowly, I realized it was weak and not to my liking. I forgot to mention I wanted it dry. Mia culpa. All of a sudden someone yelled out close the door, Oh la la, la la. Drama too, seems to follow me these days.
I want to give Tommy Café a fair bet. I guess it could be if you are close by and need some respite. I did not get much of that today and left disappointed after hearing so much accolades.