Heading to the city on Saturdays has become a bit of a tradition for Peter and I. We love to walk around together and explore, take pictures, and just chat. We live about an hour north of Toronto which is both close and far (depending on the traffic) and to be honest this proximity makes it easy to take for granted. When I go to New York city I’m always amazed at how much there is to see and do and how you can find pretty much anything you want at any time. It never really occurred to me that there was so much to learn about and explore in Toronto as well.
Mostly we’ve been focusing on coffee shops and last weekend the In-laws came with us. In laws is such an inappropriate title for them – they are my parents in love and friendship as much as law and hanging out with them is always fun. They aren't big coffee drinkers but they were good sports anyway.
We walked around Toronto and two coffee shops we went to happened to be closed! Pretty lame for a Saturday. Instead, we ended up at a well known spot right on Queen St. called Dark Horse Espresso Bar. There are 4 locations throughout Toronto for this indie chain - that sounds weird, but with the popularity of indie shops -it's a thing now I guess.
I’m slightly conflicted on what to say about this experience because it wasn’t terrible – but it wasn’t my favourite either.
To start I should mention that by the time we got to Dark Horse (after visiting those two other shops and stopping for lunch) it was late in the afternoon. This probably accounted for the condition of the food case which was sparse ( I mean there was two or three items that looked less than appetizing) as well as the chaotic appearance behind the bar. It was also still fairly busy so it took some time to get a seat.
The cafe is nice looking and pretty spacious. At the front of the café is large communal table, which I’ve grown to love quite a bit. It tends to easily spark communication with people, which is a nice change from the typical solitary aspect of a cafe. A series of small tables line the sides and towards the back is a few groupings of chairs and a small bar.
As much as I liked the communal table, there is one at Early Bird Café (also on Queen) which is larger and more open. The other seating is ok, but not exactly comfortable - this is not a place that feels cozy enough to spend a long time in. It works best as a quick stop when you are out doing other things which isn’t a bad thing necessarily but for a group like us who was looking to hang out it felt a little uncomfortable.
The coffee itself is great; really great. As far as I know, they use Detour Coffee Roasters which has an excellent reputation. The Barista’s were knowledgeable and damn good at creating latte art. Our Barista was nice enough to share some tips and tricks for our at home espresso machine.
The problem with Dark Horse for me is that it just doesn't stand out enough. Toronto has literally dozens and dozens of indie coffee shops, most that have a similar look and feel so there has to be something a little bit extra for me to recommend as a place to visit. Early bird down the street does a better job of using the space and has unique offerings like Siphon coffee. That being said if you are in Toronto and in need of a quick stop coffee - then absolutely stop in here and grab one, it'll be great and much better than anything Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Second Cup could ever offer.
Lastly, I should mention although I'm not jumping up and down over this place, I didn't hate it and it has some seriously GREAT reviews. Really great. So there is the possibility that the time I was there was a particularly bad one - or that I missed something. If you are in the area see for yourself and let me know what you think!
Have you guys tried Dark Horse? Thought?