Culture  Coffee and credenzas

Parc Ex cafe stands out as a shining example of gentrification

Unless you’re headed to Salon de Quilles bowling alley or you’re in the market for an industrial radiator, chances are great that you haven’t ventured beyond the highway overpass, cheap produce stalls, and the run-down apartments that line upper Parc Avenue.

In this desolate area, however, lies an anomaly: Gilgamesh, located at the cross section of Parc and Beaubien, is a luxury furniture store and café owned by Tobin Belanger. Gilgamesh’s clean, renovated exterior is a distinct contrast to the dingy discothéque and the carpet warehouses the area also houses. Though it might seem like an odd area to have the store, for Bélanger, who lives in the studio just above Gilgamesh, the location made perfect sense. In a telephone interview, Bélanger explained that buying out the downstairs floor was better than letting it go to “some shady guys who wanted to open a crummy fast food restaurant.”

The area where Gilgamesh is located won’t be deserted for long, however. “There’s a huge medical campus from Université de Montréal going in right…down the street and so it’s pretty obvious that there are going to be a lot of changes here in the next five to ten years,” Bélanger explained. Just as the Plateau and Mile End have become gentrified in the past few years, the implementation of a school campus up on Parc will surely bring change even further north in Montreal as well: “It’s sort of a natural thing where first it’s derelict, the artists move in, the furniture people move in, and then the condos start getting built and that’s already happened here,” Bélanger commented.

Upon entering Gilgamesh, what’s most evident about the store is the furniture – items stacked on top of one another, spilling out the door to the street curb, offering customers an eclectic mix of “revamped, vintage and retro and classic” pieces. Clientele mostly consists of the “Outremont and Plateau/Mile End young professional” crowd; prices are reasonable considering the usual overpricing of designer furniture, but at $18 for a photo frame, many items are beyond a student’s budget. On the bright side, the coffee at Gilgamesh is good and cheap – Bélanger claims there is “no good espresso around,” so many people walking by the busy intersection come in just for that aspect. The trip up Parc to Gilgamesh provides one with a rich combination of things to look at and taste, even if the espresso bar seems more of a charity for the coffee-loving owner than the intentional centerpiece of the store.

Cafés are notably lacking in this area of Parc Extension, and the opening of Gilgamesh seems to reflect the northward migration of students and young professionals that are drawn to the area’s businesses. It’s a bit dramatic to be calling Gilgamesh “really out there” in terms of distance – it’s just three blocks away from the hustle and bustle of cafes and in markets lower down on Parc in the Mile End.

Still, this shiny new example of gentrification stands out in the homogenous few blocks separating Mile End from Parc Ex, and goes to prove that those few extra steps underneath the overpass will lead to some interesting finds.