Tuesday, December 30, 2014

So long and thanks for all the caffeine

-Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.  And they're always glad you came.

As I write, I am fighting back the tears.  No, really.  This is a sad day, marking a great loss short only of that of a loved one or a dear pet.  My local coffee shop is closing. 

But it is (present tense while it remains open for one final day, the last day of 2014) more than a coffee shop.  It's a community hub attracting all walks of life from Dundas and environs - and the environs can be far as it is a choice destination for cyclists in particular, riding in from all parts of southern Ontario.

Open in the heart, yet off the beaten path, of Dundas for a little less than five years, Café Domestique (or is that Café Cyclo Sportif Domestique?  No one is really quite sure) has become a home away from home - a place to hide out for those few precious moments after work before having to pick the kids up from the school bus, an end destination for the long road cycling rides the shop partially inspired me to take up, a brisk walk for the dog and I.  Although only a part of my own life for a fraction of the time I have lived in the Valley Town, I cannot imagine life in Dundas without it.  But now we have to.

Born of a combination of two of the great loves my life, coffee and cycling, Domestique opened in March of 2010 on side street, Miller's Lane, with little fanfare filling in a niche that was desperately crying out for coffee in a big way.  It is the creation of Krys Hines, perhaps the biggest fresh air in local business in Dundas in the past twenty-five years or more.  In the days before Domestique, Starbucks (which stands like a metaphorical and literal block against it on the corner of King Street and Miller's Lane), and Detours the only options for coffee in Dundas were, well, the two Tim Horton's franchises.  Domestique ushered in a golden age of caffeine consumption whose legacy will survive it for certain.  The only issue is the welcoming and extent of bicycle parking at these newbie establishments.

The cafe, in addition to producing some really great coffee products and selling awesome roasted beans (the only beans that have touched my stove top percolator for the past half decade), is a local mecca and museum for cycling.  There are photos, posters and even actual bicycles hanging from the walls.  There is even an actual framed yellow jersey belonging to one Steve Bauer who held it for nine days in the 1990 Tour de France.  The cafe has sold an assortment of cycling paraphernalia over the years, including bar tape, wall mounts and a vast array of customized Café Domestique cycling apparel, boasting jerseys, bib shorts, wools socks and caps.  With the race-themed Domestique t-shirts, I have closets full of the stuff.

My first encounter with what would become Domestique was a curious snoop around the entrance of a former breakfast nook whose name I can't even remember.  I knew something special was going in there, as evidenced the back issues of L'Équipe , the French language sports daily that, although is the go-to publication for the Tour de France and other cycling news, isn't exactly something whose circulation rivals that of the Dundas Star News locally.   A few months later, there is a good quality coffee shop locally, albeit with limited hours.  Hallelujah!  In the months that followed, the front porch was renovated and a cozy patio built in the back.  Within a year, there was also a liquor license obtained and Domestique became home to Ste. Ambroise and the five-dollar pint.  Along the way, a full breakfast and lunch menu, featuring some of the high quality local food items (including McGuire's Cheese).

But, as with any establishment, Domestique is more than just the coffee, the beer and the soup and sandwiches (Croque Monsieur, anyone?).  It's the people who worked there and those who frequent it.  Domestique has boasted a series of characters behind the bar over the years - usually younger people.  And the punters come from all walks of life, including local business people and professionals, young families (my own has consumed its share of juice boxes over the years), writers and poets, and the cyclists.  Those cyclists who arrive en masse from places like Milton, Cambellville, Guelph, Niagara.  They descend on the café usually mid-morning on weekends during good weather and often in bad.  These MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra - no disrespect intended, I count myself as a proud member of the ranks) will line up out the front and back door and take up the large table on the patio out back.  Indeed, many a southern Ontario cycling trip has been planned these past five years with Domestique as the mid point of an out and back ride.

Countless memories have been garnered over these past years.  Nothing life-changing, but the sorts of things that make living in community like Dundas something to be very thankful for.  There were the dart nights, the gourmet dinners, the impromptu disco nights with laser lights and music played off of YouTube on the 52 inch monitor (I don't think Krys ever did get real cable).  Many a leg of not only the Tour de France, but just about every other major cycling event from across the globe was streamed on that screen.  And, not to mention the eclectic choice of music programmed by the young, hip serving staff.   All of it punctuated with Krys' wry sense of humour and editorial input.  In one instance in the first year of operation, a small number of us were nestled in the café watching a now-famous stage of the 2010 Tour de France where Alberto Contador (since stripped of his yellow jersey that year), famously passed then-leader, Andy Shcleck, when the latter's chain self-destructed and fell off of his drive train.  This led Krys, a former professional bike mechanic, to make some choice remarks about Schleck's choice of SRAM components.  Indeed, something only bike geeks may appreciate, but part of the charm of not only Krys but the café itself.  All of this has contributed to a fantastic sense of community that is going to be sorely missed. 

My own memories also include celebratory pints following successful provincial high school track and field championships with fellow coaches - away from the athletes of course...no...wait.  Never mind.  It is also the place where I met some really cool people, including author Lawrence Hill (Boook of Negroes) and Danielle Berman, the brave young woman who this past summer rode solo across Canada to raise awareness of mental health and suicide.  Also, watching my two young sons grow with frequent visits to what they call "the coffee store".  What began as stroller rides to Domestique have become quick stops amidst their protests against a delayed arrival at the adjacent Dundas Public Library, for dad's coveted "Early Surly" - a concoction of a drink whose composition I still don't remember and which, unlike the rest of the thriving coffee culture in Dundas, may not survive Domestique's closing.  RIP.  Usually, however, the boys can be bought off with a juice box.

Indeed, I hold myself partially responsible for Domestique's pending closure, now a mere 24 hours away as I write.  If not only for loving the place too much, for a brief encounter I had with Krys' wife Beatrice in the summer of 2014 as she came into the shop with the family's two children.  I had just finished another one of my long, yet very pedestrian, rides around the concession roads of West Flamborough before careening down the Sydenham Hill, now known as Clara's Climb in honour of multiple Olympic medallist, Clara Hughes and was enjoying a pint and the surroundings that have become everyone's favourite coffee shop/pub/hangout in Dundas.  I commented to here that "Krys is never allowed to leave us and close this place, it is just too awesome!"   Clearly, I jinxed it.

The closing of Café Domestique has hit many of us regulars hard.  Really hard.  A propos the café closing New Year's Eve 2015, I find it one of those exceptions to those Auld Lang Syne lyrics "should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind..."  My neighbourhood hangout of the past five years is not something I ever want to forget nor think I will be able to.  It's as if Cheers itself is closing and Norm and Cliff are completely lost.

Thanks, Krys and staff, for five wonderful years.

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