Trendy coffee shop Buck 15 arrived in St. Henri at the end of August. Should I call it a coffee shop? Probably not. Coffee shops are leisurely places. This is more decidedly an espresso bar, a place to caffeinate and go.
Everything about the place is clean and cheery. The logo features a smiling Buck with his coffee cup and an elegantly lettered sign, a creation of local talent Mr. Sign.
Inside the sunny espresso bar has the feel of an urban loft space with its concrete and light wood decor. Adding to this is a large distinctive wall mural across one side by What is Adam. What is Adam’s work is great with a combination of animal and human forms. A large buffalo head with an Indian ceremonial headdress is at the centre. Adam’s distinctive animal headed people flank him. The menu is displayed on large white sheets of paper that overhang the service counter. Lighting fixtures are asymmetrically trendy.
In a way, quality of the coffee is the least of one’s concerns. All the new cafes offer lux, ethical beans. Buck 15 uses Minneapolis’ Spyhouse Coffee Roasters, one I’ve not had before. In terms of how you can enjoy those beans, well, options are a little limited. There’s no plain-old filter coffee, so I opt for a Pour Over ($3), an individually made drip coffee. The taste is slight bitterness, slightly acidic, a touch of sweet, and robust flavor. I especially like the white ergonomic mug my beverage is served in.
Otherwise, think espresso drinks: straight espresso ($2.75), espresso with milk ($3, $3.50, $4 depending on the amount of milk), tea (lavender or black), hot cocoa, and a cold brew coffee ($4). It’s also possible to buy Boxed Water is Better, an ethical alternative to bottled water ($2.50). All in all, the drinks are not the cheapest, but of higher quality than Tim Hortons or Starbucks.
Along with the coffee are select food offerings. Notably, my eye goes immediately to the tiny attractive donuts made by in St. Henri by Trou de Beigne. I opt for a cinnamon and sugar donut “La Classique” ($2.50). The donut is light and airy, touched with butter but not too much, abundantly sprinkled and spiced. These are not dense, cakey, hockey puck donuts of the sort one finds at local bakery La Leché. Another choice is an irresistible maple creme and bacon donut. It looks amazing with its thick tan colored paste and flakes of bacon.
Buck 15 also serves a slightly more substantial grilled cheese ($4.75). I see it served to two girls — big white bread slices topped with a cornichon on a toothpick and a few chips. Beyond that are different versions of grilled bread with toppings ($2.75-4): Butter, sugar, cream cheese, nutella, etc. Topping choice dictates price.
The space is open and airy, with a large, unobstructed front window facing Notre Dame. Hip island lounge music is played at a low level so I don’t hear the traffic from the street, but not so loudly that conversations ratchet up in decibels. A few plants and granite planters contribute to a relaxed ambiance. It’s a calm place, less homey than Lili and Oli, less punk than St. Henri Cafe, but not so bland as to be mistaken for a Java U or a Starbucks.
Seating is at a giant shared wood table with independent stools. I’m not a fan of shared tables, nor do I particularly like stools. This is not a careless decision on the part of the owners. Buck 15 is not intended as a coffee house to park and stay. This is a place to pull up, drink, have a snack, and move on. The geometric cement seats near the register intended for waiting customers emphasize the to-go focus. Buck 15 is not a temporary office for roving laptop users. There is wifi, but no outlets, a subtle (or not so-subtle) way of saying, “Don’t hang out here too long, please.”
The amount of foot traffic in and out suggests that Buck 15 is a welcome addition to the coffee offerings in St. Henri, fulfilling a niche. Most decisions about Buck 15 seem considered, from the ethical warning on the soap to the use of a local baker’s products to the furnishings. As with anywhere new, there are a few kinks. Someone should give the architect a solid kick in the ass for the bathroom design; it’s impossible not to splash the toilet when washing up at the bathroom sink. Also, for a place that emphasizes caffeinated beverages to go, it probably should have prepared filtered coffee at the ready, especially during peak hours.
Buck 15 is located at 3027 Notre Dame W. Monday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.