“NO ONE IS SUGGESTING YOU CAN CONQUER GAUL BY DEADLIFTING 4 PLATES”

I set off one Sunday morning to do Jones, but the wind picked up so pre-apocalyptically I bailed and decided to try Leslieville’s new espresso bar. It was the least I could do to support my neighbourhood, which obviously I need to do more of.

I walk past the outside tables – don’t they need a fence? – and through the single door of this former Mr. Sub. A time machine assaults me in the form of mid-’90s indie punk rock played just one notch too loud. And so my troubles begin.

Who should be behind the counter but the severe, mysterious, formidable, deeply impressive and memorable barista from Balzac’s (q.v.) – the one with the rectangular glasses, the jet-black hair and hairless milky complexion, the zero-bodyfat forearms on whose insides are tattooed passages in Korean. (Hangul smatter?) I had chatted up this icy, unsmiling, offputting and alluring figure at Balzac’s, where he admitted the tattoos were “a gift” from former students. (How do you give a tattoo as a gift? The same way you give a pacemaker?)

This day, Korean Ink’s explanation for his presence at the new espresso bar amounted to a declaration this was his hood. (From an interview with Sting: “ ‘I read widely,’ he says in a tone that implies no one else does.”) I told him I recognized him from Balzac’s. Oh, that was two, three years ago, he replied dishonestly. I was served an excellent double espresso (long) for a mere $3. I had to ask for water, which I was instructed to pour myself. I used a communal spoon to strip-mine “organic cane sugar” from a hygienic uncovered jar. I sat and read my book.

Inopportunely, the book was The Underminer by Mike Albo, a glorified Web page with bad type that nonetheless is chillingly effective at connoting the kind of bound-for-success friend who stabs you in the chest with your own chopsticks. I read that thing in its entirety while sitting there and I kept thinking that life was imitating art. The uneven brown tiles; the tiny tables; the newspapers littering the counter and “bar” (more like a pew); the queasily atrocious off-beige of the “funky” used love seat and easy chair; and above all the third-rate washroom with its dirty floor (also tiled), too-small wastebasket, and toilet roll on a pipe jutting from the wall – it wasn’t shabby chic, it was just shabby. Jet Fuel looks like L’Auberge du Pommier by comparison.

But people streamed in. Streamed. A hopeful woman in her early 30s kept chatting up the tattooed proprietor for a job. Well, he said, he preferred to hire local. Supplicants come in but don’t always pass muster even if they live in the Beach or at Coxwell and Danforth – not quite Leslieville, local knowledge of which is apparently required to serve drinks invented across the Atlantic. (He gets his beans, not grown in Leslieville, from a facility, also not in Leslieville, run by the same arseholes who ran a shop at Danforth and Bowden. One day they instituted a $3.50 minimum purchase applicable solely to me. In a Pyrrhic victory, their other store burned down.)

While Korean Ink trained the plump teenage cashier with the multiple lip piercings and jet-black makeup that nothing must befall their one and only espresso machine, I sat there thinking: I know people act like this place is hip, but how can it be? I know I am not hip and never have been, and don’t actually care to be, and I am perfectly OK with all those facts, but how the fuck does this shit count as hip?

I dropped by a second time with a different book, Fun Home by Bechdel. Korean Ink wasn’t there, the music wasn’t making a statement, I was given what I wanted (I had to ask for water, but they poured it), there were now twice as many too-small garbage cans in the can, and I wondered what-all I had been worried about.

Yesterday was the tiebreaker. Guess who was back at work? I was last in line behind a newbie, who adopted the inexplicable but now-familiar tone of supplication and appeasement in asking for explanations of the various drinks. I ordered a double long. What’s a double long? he asked, looking up. It’s not on the menu… I guess you just have to know it? It’s an espresso but we run it through a bit more, Korean Ink expressionlessly repled. Ordinarily we don’t do that. Most of the time we serve espresso short, which is better for a minute-long sequence of ostensible reasons, including less of a need for sugar.

“That’s a matter of opinion,” I said as loudly as possible (only the cashier heard). I thought: Hadn’t you just finished defining a café americano as an espresso drink with the feel of regular coffee? How is quadruple the water OK but 20% more isn’t?

The hardest thing I drink is espresso. I am following the Lesliebucks and I attend the Starbucks 1 in the Beach when I really need to be treated especially well, but I am not an apologist. In fact, I plan my comings and goings to coincide with the high-quality joints. (I know who serves Illy in this town complete with the tiny musical-note spoons.) If I were an Italian businessman bouncing from bar to bar on my Vespa, sure, espresso short would be fine. For my purposes, it isn’t. No matter how vulgaire Korean Ink thinks it is, I know what I want. I also know what makes a proper coffee house. This place ain’t got it.

And, as with Tango Palace, my opinion will continue to seem hopelessly contrarian and outnumbered – until the first snowstorm makes the single front door rather impracticable and everyone flees across the street to the warmth and welcome of the Lesliebucks.

Here’s to you, Mercury.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.10.22 15:46. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2006/10/22/hg/

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