Prologue: Mirvish Village Development
After standing beside Bathurst and Bloor at the corner of the Annex since 1948, Honest Ed’s was torn down at the end of 2016.
In its place, Westbank Corporation has begun to develop Mirvish Village. Green construction machines till the land to reshape the foundation. The restructuring is aimed towards growing a thriving neighbourhood over the coming years. The website for Mirvish Village states the site “will be a transit-oriented urban hub encompassing retail, residential, and an array of civic spaces” where residents and guests will “benefit from a Neighbourhood Energy System, designed to cogenerate heating, cooling, and power, thereby reducing carbon emissions.”
Mirvish Village is projected to be complete in three to four years. On the other side of Bathurst Street, a strip of stores are neighbours to the development process.
On August 30, a sign caught my eye as I walked down Bathurst Street. It was as blunt and honest as it was pink and visible – “COFFEE SHOP.”
“Americanos, lattes, cappuccinos” were all standard fair. I’m not a coffee guy by any means. The guy making coffee behind the counter, Mike, asks me how much sugar I put in coffee, but with a poor frame of reference, I ask for whatever the regular amount is.
Mike puts a glass on the counter and asks me to put enough sugar in there to get the job done. He motions towards the corner of the counter where a there's a small station with jar of sugar, a carton of milk, and a spot for clean and dirty spoons.
I bring “normal sugar” back to counter. When I go to pay for the drink, Mike waves me down and says to cover it when I leave. During the rest of the afternoon, people dip in and out of Mallo. During a break in customers, Mike goes out and sits on the bench under the “COFFEE SHOP” sign.
Model planes hang from the ceiling. Natural light beams in through plate-glass windows. Music plays from a radio hooked up to speakers. There’s a table on the opposite side with a bench wrapped around it. Everything from the people to the layout to the ambiance makes up a friendly, inviting atmosphere.
Outside, somebody walks up to the bench. Mike greets them and leads them into the shop.
Stephen, Mallo’s co-owner, started his coffee journey further up Bathurst St. Stephen developed his caffeine chops while working for an independent coffee shop in Newmarket, ON. He said he’s experienced more than what he expected to when he started, but being immersed in a smaller operation gave him the opportunity to learn fast.
A customer came in with a camera and had a conversation with the barista while ordering coffee.
“We’re working on a bit of a present for her (his wife’s) parents,” said Kevin, a patron of the café. The young couple planned to go around Toronto and photograph interesting doorframes for a collage. The barista, Hillary, told Kevin about Slanted Door, a building just down the road that had a door that lived up to its name.
“I found about Mallo over the summer,” Kevin told me, stating the original pink-and-white “COFFEE SHOP” sign as his inspiration to check things out.
“It was a hot day, and I had just walked out of a different coffee shop that was scorching,” Kevin said. What worked about Mallo for him was that it was a good place to work.
“The coffee is great, too.”
Kevin said the atmosphere in the shop is always welcoming, and there’s a good mix of people that walk in and out that it’s rarely jam-packed for too long.
I talked to another Mallo patron to round out the public opinion.
Ryan first came in to Mallo on the afterburn of a coffee shop tour around Toronto with his girlfriend. Ryan talked about his impression of Mallo while playing cards on their round table.
“It invites folks to put their feet up and stay a while, reminiscent of relaxing in the living room of a close friend.”
About the atmosphere, Ryan said “the smell of delicious espresso fills the air and sits within the western carpets & American décor of the establishment, allowing any patron to be at ease with whatever projects or polite conversation taking place.”
Not a stranger to caffeine, Ryan likes his coffee with a lot of milk and a lot of sugar.
“In my mind, Toronto is home to some of the best coffee shops, with Mallo being among the top tier. Whatever their house blend is, they brew it well and in earnest.”
Since Mallo opened in August, splashes of change keep customers familiar and guessing every time they walk in. Food and drinks are occasionally added to the menu. The menus themselves are on display in their laminated glory, coupled with dry-erase markers in a bin on the bar counter. The sign upgraded from a static white and pink to an electric-tube lightshow.
Each month, Mallo showcases an artist’s work on their walls. In November, Toronto-based artist and graphic designer Neithmie Hetti’s Ink on Napkin series hung from Mallo’s walls.
Hetti owes it to networking. She wrote that she was given the chance to exhibit her work at Mallo because she had worked with one of the current staff members.
One of the latest additions to Mallo was opening its bar in fall:
Mallo closes its caffeine machines at 7 p.m. to transition into a bar to capture Toronto’s nightlife. The bar closes at midnight, but if enough people fill the space, Mallo has no problem pushing that back until 2 a.m.
The yellow light from the tubes on the ceiling extinguish to make room for the bar’s cool red pot-lights. The change in ambience highlights December’s featured artist, Selena Yung, and her art showcase. Her artwork includes pieces labelled “Lettuce Jungle” and “Bonding: Flamingo & Aristocats.”
Menu items are designed to be sharable, and pair well with their selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The bartender said they carried a good selection of session beers. A session beer is a flavourful beer with a low-alcohol content. You can drink multiple of a session beer over the course of a couple hours because of this combination. This relaxed, longform drinking experience suits Mallo’s “kick-back with your buddies” atmosphere, day and night.
Since it opened in August, Mallo continues to improve itself. The neighbourhood has a space to come and do their thing and the staff should be proud of their efforts so far.
What will happen next?