When I lived in Nanjing, I wrote a short piece on the various coffee joints found scattered around that great city (that must now be horribly out of date) and I did the same for when I lived in Kingston, including my not-so-flattering thoughts on the Starbucks off the 401. Lacking any decent cafe’s I spent some mercy on Mackenzie and opted out of rambling about black 7-11 industrial waste brew.
Fort St. John has five cafe’s that I know of…eight if you consider Tim Horton’s a cafe, nine if you thrown McDonald’s McCafe into that equation and probably ten if you happen to be brave enough to try the coffee at the Mile 54 Shell. Perhaps 11 if one is down for some God-fearing coffee at the local Christian bookstore.
A number of months ago I was listening to the Mayor of Dawson Creek ramble on about local government efforts to entice people to move north from southern British Columbia. At the end of the interview he rather condescendingly mentioned that they had a Starbucks in DC so one could easily get their caffeine fix. Northerners often complain that the south doesn’t “understand” the north. With simpleton statements like the above coming from our leaders, it is no wonder there is a labour shortage up here. But I transgress…
Fort St. John, like Dawson Creek does have a Starbucks, but it is one of those express-type joints nestled in the middle of a massive Safeway. It’s good for a quick grab n’ go but it’s hardly a decent atmosphere for typical cafe loitering. Fort St. John has yet to earn a Starbucks City Mug. You’re not a real city until you earn your own mug. Hell, Hefei has their own mug…and I just might buy it. That’s Hefei, Anhui Province, PRC. I’ve been there, so I can justify the purchase.
Next up the street would be the Whole Wheat & Honey Cafe. Not sure where the whole wheat is and no one has offered me any honey, but the coffee is good and the atmosphere is probably the closest to a an independent urban cafe one is going to find in FSJ. Want to mingle with the movers and shakers? This is your place. Downsides include the lack of street seating, closing at 4pm and not being open on Sundays. Expect howling kids from time to time.
East of WWH one can find Esquires Coffee in the soon to be old Fort St. John Hospital. I’ve never heard of Esquires before, but they apparently have locations all over the world. From Dubai to Fort St. John. Decent coffee in a typical franchise-style setting. Fairly quiet and never seems to be terribly busy. Downsides include the shitty country music that is always playing (such nonsense should NEVER be piped through the stereo system of a cafe). To be honest, I gave up on Esquires for that reason alone.
A bit further east of Esquires is FSJ’s newest cafe, the Canadian Grind Coffee and Tea. Not sure if this is a franchise or not, but they sell Saltspring Island Coffee. Can’t find these cats on the internet, which is rather bizarre considering the importance of an online presence these days. I was quite excited when I heard about this new addition, however I’ve been rather disappointed. Situated inside a new development, this cafe loses points for choosing to inhabit an awful building that incorporates just about everything that is wrong with urban planning in FSJ. Another opportunity wasted for good design, but I am hardly surprised. Good coffee, friendly staff, but the cafe could really use some separation from the other tenant. Even a half-wall would work. Not much atmosphere and they built a goddamn drive through. No points for that right there and I will probably avoid this place on that principle alone.
Finally is Patch Java. I really want to chalk up Patch Java as the crew that hits the bean out of the park. They roast their own beans, have a cool variety of roasts and serve up some good sandwiches and soups. It’s their location, cramped interior layout (not necessarily their fault) and poor use of their limited street seating that takes away the ‘awesome’ qualifier. However they rebound with being the only joint outside of Starbucks that takes a risk and opens on a Sunday. Expect howling kids from time to time. They have a outlet located in one of the skating rinks, but I haven’t visited it yet.
The verdict. Decent outfits here in FSJ, but nothing that particularly gives me the coffee shakes. The fact that not one has anything resembling a decent outdoor cafe structure is frustrating, especially with summer approaching. Hours of operation are not too useful for anyone looking for some where to hang-out during the evening, but that is typical for FSJ outside of alcohol serving establishments. Be aware that many residents here view a cafe the same way they view the McDonald’s play area. Expect dumb parents with out of control children to ruin your coffee and newspaper. A win for FSJ coffee is that each cafe (with the exception of Starbucks) is within walking distance of most locations within the greater city. A fail is that hardly anyone takes advantage of that.