I’m convinced that everyone gets to Shäika Café eventually.
Students come to study. Professors, teachers, and TAs come with stacks of papers to grade. Musicians come through to play at open mike. Comedians perform stand-up. Visual artists hang paintings on the walls. Movie makers discuss scripts. Writers write novels on their laptops. The graffiti/urban art crowd stops in after visiting Sub V next door. First dates meet. Last dates break-up. Ordinary people sit and read the papers, drink the coffee, eat the vegan chili.
If you haven’t already, you’ll find your way here too.
Shäika is both homey and artsy, a welcome space for everyone. Sure, every month or so, the canvases on the walls change with the new “featured artist”, but there’s nothing pretentious about it. People don’t come to posture or to be hipper-than-thou. Shäika is cool because it doesn’t exclude, doesn’t turn its back on any kind of art or music or performance that can fit in the space. Come as you are seems to be its unofficial motto. Signs are hand lettered. Even the furniture is a little higgledy-piggledy and worn in, but no one seems to mind. All afternoon, large windows let the sun soak the midday idlers. In the evening, Shäika transforms into a beehive of low-key, acoustic-ish events. In the summer, nothing beats the outdoor seating and the great view of the park opposite.
Shäika gets things right where things matter most. The kitchen area is maintained impeccably. The music is kept at a tolerable, low level (this morning, Johnny Cash). A water cooler with lemons floating inside doesn’t require asking for a glass. Wifi is provided free and there are plugs if one finds the right seat.
The food is tasty and wholesome with plenty of vegetarian friendly options. A display case beside the cash boasts an array of tasty sounding sandwiches, prepared in-house with a motherly touch. Le Sherbrooke features ham, mango, goat cheese and chipotle mayo, Le Harvard has turkey, avocado, tomato, and cheddar. I’ve always appreciated that Shaika’s offerings include a bagel with lox and capers: L’Oxford. Chili (vegetarian or vegan), soup, and even breakfast sandwiches fill out the food menu. Prices clock in at a reasonable under-$10.
Pastries exude the same huggy home-ish-ness. My absolute favorite biscotti in the city is here, a marble biscotti by a local outfit, Sucré Santé ($2.50). Long, crisp, but not blandly dry — why can’t every biscotti be this good? Shakia’s vegan cookies are moon sized affairs in a variety of flavors. A friend of mine swears by the in-house carrot cake ($3).
Coffee comes from Santropol — dark or medium roast — served in a mug. Other drinks include the usual roster of latte, espresso, mocha, cappuccino. The only unusual additions are the fruit smoothies, made with soy milk or regular. Nothing is especially shocking in the list. The Kerblui, for example, consists of blueberries, raspberries, banana, and cranberry juice.
Shäika also serves alcohol! Beer (Moosehead, St. Ambroise, Griffon), wine (6.10 a glass), sangria (16.35 for a full pitcher), and a few cocktails (pina colada, daiquiri, margarita — $6.35 each). As one might expect, purchase of a meal is required.
Of course, all this kind of wonderful creates traffic problems. Shäika can be unbearably crowded, especially around midterms and finals. Finding a seat can be impossible. In such emergencies, try newly opened Chimera Café a few blocks away. At night, the mellow atmopshere is subsumed by programmed events such as music, stand-up comedy, or a vernissage. A clearly posted monthly schedule makes it easy to plan around, of course, and these events are for the most part regular.
Shäika Café is located at 5526 Sherbrooke West. M 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.; T/W 7:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Th/F 7:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.; Sat 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.; Sun 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.