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Bringing the independent coffee house to Montreal

The perennial quest for many McGill students: to find a space where you can attack those behemoth textbooks and term papers without crossing paths with every Tom, Dick, and Sally you’ve ever met at university (a.k.a. McLennan Library). So, insert here the student’s next-favourite destination: the café.

If having sampled many of the cafés in the McGill hub, you still find yourself unable to enjoy a decent coffee while rocking your academic groove, you might consider paying a visit to Café Névé. Situated on the corner of Rachel and De Bullion, the café is directly across the street from the wildly popular Romado’s. Having opened only a month ago, Café Névé already seems to have garnered a contented hipster following. The ambiance is everything an independent coffee shop should be: comfy, cozy, cheerful. Panels of robin egg’s blue juxtapose the rather industrial workspace, and the barista shoots a friendly smile to every customer. Luke, the owner and founder of Café Névé, described the space as “shabby chic” – a cute description that nonetheless left me scratching my head a bit.

Luke is an affable fellow who seems to have adopted the Montreal 20-something male uniform (skinny jeans, fitted T-shirt, and carefully tilted skull cap) but nevertheless harbours few of the pretensions that one would expect a trained chef to be afflicted with. A Melbourne native who has been a chef for the last 10 years, Luke began this single-man endeavour riding his bike around Montreal and actively seeking a space to house his little culinary haven. After stumbling upon what used to be J. R. Bike and finding an investor to work with, Café Névé was born.

I asked Luke why he chose Montreal as a destination to open a coffee joint. After expressing his love of Montreal’s bilingual culture, as well of its host of good food and wine, he noted that the North American east coast had few genuine coffee houses. He wanted to challenge the cliché that good coffee houses were exclusive artifacts of the West Coast. Moreover, as Luke emphasized, his café is also very much a restaurant. Although I busied myself with a jumbo chocolate-chip cookie (chocolatey, indeed) and a latté (definitely one of the best that I have had in Montreal), Café Névé’s food menu offers what appeared to be a tasty sampling of breakfast and lunch plates. Among these were eggs benedict, English muffin sandwiches, and wraps of various sorts – simple, hearty foods that were all the more appealing because they were being freshly prepared in front of the customers. An additional bonus is that many of these breakfast foods continue to be served into the afternoon; Luke correctly anticipated that the younger population who would frequent Café Névé tends to rise later than most.

When I mentioned to Luke that many McGill students choose to study at cafés, he grimaced a little. While he assured me that he appreciates the business of his entire clientele, and that – for the time being – he will maintain the café’s wireless Internet access, he appeared somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that Café Névé would be monopolized by university students armed with their Apple merchandise. “Many cafes in Montreal look like a MacBook commercial,” Luke noted. Rather, he seemed to be more invested in the idea of his café as a space where creative people congregate to interact, argue, and enjoy quality coffee – not simply a space where students hog tables and quietly contemplate their Foucault reading for hours on end. Excitingly enough, Montreal’s bands also pay Café Névé the occasional visit: “Arcade Fire drops by all the time,” Luke nonchalantly added. So, if you are in the neighbourhood, then certainly consider testing Café Névé, if not for a study pow-wow with your buddies, then for the coffee and food. Who knows? – you might just bump into Win Butler.