The Coffeeshops of Commercial Drive



For a travel feature on Vancouver, I focused on the many coffeeshops that dot Commercial Drive, Vancouver’s hipster hangout with a long connection to Italians and their passion for coffee. Each coffeeshop has a character, a clever romantic sense of itself that comes from the aesthetic and vibe but also all the people that make this place their second home.  So this travel piece is something of a character study as much as a tasty trip down coffee lane.


Cafe Calabria is what you really secretly want in an Italian coffeeshop – gaudy excess. They could shoot a Fellini movie in this space. There are oversized white fake marble statues watching over you at every turn – as if you’re waiting to go into the Roman Colosseum to battle a lion. But the middle-aged guys behind the long bar are more friendly than fierce. They all look like retired soccer players used to being hoisted up after winning a match. Bravo, bravo! But they can work their classic espresso machine like racecar mechanics – fast and perfect every time no matter what you order.” -Barry Dumka





The Coffeeshops of Commercial Drive

Vancouver’s Commercial Drive was once known as “Little Italy” due to the dominance of the area’s Italian immigrants in the post-war era. Lately, it’s become a hub of indie businesses and eastside creative energy. That mix of heritage and hipsterville has made Commercial Drive a particularly vibrant and diverse place to find a great cup of coffee. It is one long golden-brown, energy-giving, thought-provoking, time-wasting river of caffeinated dreams. If you follow the street north from the Skytrain Station, you’ll have a wildly different and deliciously tasty mix of choices for where to get a great cup of Joe – including a place called Joe’s.


Here are the richest brews I found for quality, atmosphere and crowd –



JJ Bean has built a mini empire of one-of-a-kind coffeeshops all over Vancouver with this location being its East Van hipster hub. The big room has every colour of brown wood you want with your coffee. And if you have an old sweater – wear it! The atmosphere is a bit more rag-tag than JJ Bean’s other locations but there’s lots of friendly chatter because people actually sit together and TALK (very retro). Helping that good buzz is the company’s self-roasted beans which make thick, rich brews that will kick you into shape for a few hours. The food selection is mostly all done from scratch – with BIG muffins and uncommon choices like jalapeno cheddar scones and butter tarts that taste like they’ve been blessed by the Queen. In the summer, their side patio under a tall graceful tree is a happy spot if you can score a seat. This corner, near the Skytrain station, is action-packed – when I was last there, 6 police cars swarmed in suddenly, cuffing a man with force just in front of the shop and then asking us to all take our coffees and move away from the window. You can’t beat that East Van vibe.


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