Coffee is more than just a product, it's a century-old culture that keeps re-inventing itself and conquering new hearts. In our Culture Cafes series, we explore the many layers to the art of making, selling or enjoying coffee. Alas, with so many great spots at our fingertip in Old Montreal, we can't precisely brag about having worked hard to find spots to write about!
Coffee is more than just a product — it’s a culture. In this series, we explore the greatest independent coffeehouses of Montreal and the many facets of coffee culture.
Over the past two or three years, independent cafes — much to our delight — continue to appear in Montreal neighbourhoods. What was once a trend has quickly become a way of life as more and more folks are choosing to abandon the big coffee chains, preferring smaller places that are unique and more authentic. Pause there in the morning on the way to the office, or duck inside for a pick-me-up in the mid afternoon, when your work seems never ending and the only way to regain your energy is to leave the office. Coffeehouses are like second homes.
The first in our Culture Cafes series is the famous Tommy Cafe! A while back we started seeing the charming coffeehouse among the Montreal “inflencers” on Instagram. Tommy is reeeeeally beautiful. (Yes, it deserves such emphasis.)
Entering into Tommy’s is like stepping into a real-life Pinterest board. A prodigy of restaurant design, the darling Zébulon Perron transformed the interior space of 200 Notre-Dame West with exemplary style. The British Empire Building — the official name of the building where the cafe is located — is magnificent. But the main attraction is the “food porn.”
We recommend going to chill out. Counters, tables, booths and a large working table occupy the various levels of the space. The handsome and huge vintage windows provide unparalleled brightness; it’s big, it’s luminous and it’s spacious. Hanging from the ceiling, an immense floral installation provides a perfect amount of greenery — just don’t throw your neck out while appreciating it. But in all seriousness, Tommy is a microcosm if its neighbourhood: a mix of very old (think 19th century old) and very contemporary, where elaborate moldings are matched with 1960s booths and Scandinavian-inspired corner tables. We enjoy lingering to spill the beans (coffee pun!) with friends, to work casually or to simply take snapshots for Instagram (don’t forget to tag #vieuxmontreal!). In short, Tommy is ahead of its time, yet is still rooted in a sense of place. It’s the type of space that catalyzes conversations and stirs emotions.
Why we go?
Certainly for the ambience and the décor. Are we in Paris, Vienna or Williamsburg? We love the perfect calmness/vibrancy ratio of the trendy locale, a place where time seems to stop. The well thought beauty of the cafe inevitably inspires creative-type folks.
Oh, yeah — and the coffee is excellent! Visitors can sip the savours of Union roasters, who make an exclusive mix just for Tommy. The menu is comprised of locally-made fair: pastries from Jakub Szrodt of Régal Matinal and Dose juice, as well as sandwiches and salads from the next door neighbour (an epicurean gem in Place d’Youville called Deli Italien Bello). From savoury to sweet, freshness is the focal point of the menu: Panini sandwiches, side salads, yogurt with granola. Think of it as your little gourmet moment!
Side note: Rumour has it that the cafe will soon be starting a “5 à 7” (the Montreal equivalent of a happy hour), as well as a European-inspired brunch during the autumn months. We confess that we’re very excited by these prospects.
Always at the top of his game, Thomas Vernis — the namesake of Tommy Cafe and man behind Santos and Dolcetto & Co — wanted to provide Old Montreal with another neighbourhood institution. Verdict: a locale that is trendy, dynamic, equal parts historic and modern. Mission accomplished.
Whether for coffee or Wi-Fi, Tommy Cafe has exactly what it takes to satisfy your senses. Drop in to say hi — we highly recommend it!