The first thing you'll notice about the new Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters location in downtown Calgary will not be the expertly prepared coffee, or the six taps featuring everything from house-made kombucha to cold brew, or even the vegan doughnuts. The first thing you'll notice is the stunning custom-built modular shelf system that takes up an entire wall of the cafe opposite the entrance. Lit up on the sleek warm wood and iron shelves are a variety of retail products and plenty of plants. One might expect these shelves to be taken up with bags of coffee and brewing equipment—this is a cafe, after all—but instead they feature the work of local artisans and artists: beautiful handmade pottery, cutting boards made out of recycled skateboards, tiny plant terrariums, soy candles, and illustrated greeting cards curated by a favorite local arts market Market Collective.
It's a statement piece about what this cafe is, and what it hopes to be for the Calgary community. Designed by Toker + Associates, collaborators Angel Guerra and Angela Dione of Market Collective choose the artists featured on this incredibly display wall, and all sales proceeds go directly to the artists. For Sebastian Sztabzyb, the benefit “is not in the business of selling the artist’s work. The benefit for us is that it looks beautiful and it’s a good local partnership.” Co-owners Sztabzyb and Phil Robertson were inspired at The Mill in San Francisco about a year ago and saw The Mill’s own wall of beautiful retail. Instead of creating and carrying their own retail products, however, Sztabzyb and Robertson thought they would look to local partnerships to fill their space. The result is a beautiful feature wall in their newest cafe within a historic building in downtown Calgary.
Located in the 125 year-old Hudson Building, Phil & Sebastian’s new location sits at the corner of Centre Street and Stephen Avenue, almost perfectly centered within downtown Calgary. Downtown streets are generally quiet after work hours but Stephen Avenue is a destination in the core, which Sztabzyb acknowledges is just how he likes it. “This kind of fits everything we do,” he tells me. “We have never been about 100-percent convenience. We’ve always been a destination, no matter where we are. It’s never been ‘let’s go in the most convenient spot where people can bump into the cafe and get this coffee.’ So this kind of fits. Within downtown, we’re kind of a destination.”
Large windows face out to Stephen Avenue along one side of the cafe, with natural wood features and a forest's worth of plants spread throughout, provided by local terrarium shop aptly called Plant. The lighting is all reclaimed from former factories and they have commissioned two large paintings from local artist Sarah Nordean to hang on the two sides of the entrance. On the coffee side, the new location is stripped down, catering to a whole new crowd of corporate workers downtown. There is no pour-over; instead they are featuring two batch brew coffees to keep things simple. For espresso, they are running a three-group Black Eagle Victoria Arduino espresso machine paired with Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima-Pro grinders. One interesting addition to the counter here is Phil & Sebastian's new Juggler milk portioning system, which they've modified with glycol lines to keep the milk at precisely one-degree Celsius at all times.
There are also the aforementioned six taps, featuring kombucha made with Vancouver’s O5 Tea or their signature coffee and tonic drink, the Black and Tonic. The overall effect is one of ease and efficiency, with gear from the espresso machine on down designed to serve the cafe's busy downtown customer base. But it’s the local partnerships that really steal the spotlight. This could have easily just been a commuter cafe; it is instead a cafe that serves also as a gallery space, offering a precious direct touch point between artists and consumers, with those locally designed works given pride of place.
The art here has been created by a roster of local artists who deeply, passionately care about what they do, expressing themselves through they joys and challenges of their craft. It's a spirit echoed by the coffee you're sipping at this charming new space on one of the coolest streets in downtown Calgary.
Elyse Bouvier is a Sprudge.com contributor based in Toronto. Read more Elyse Bouvier on Sprudge.