by Zosia Czarnecka
Whyte Avenue’s 27 year old Block 1912 is everything you would expect from a cozy, romantic coffee shop. Brick interior, soft lighting, live music, and mismatched furniture: its romantic eccentricity is now conventional. Last year, owner Jorel Pepin set aside everything he knew about coffee bar branding and started fresh. From that blank canvas rose Monument Coffee Bar – Block 1912’s hip downtown sister. Contrasting Block’s vintage, twilight atmosphere, Monument is flooded with natural light, blue-tinted concrete and sleek countertops. The bar rises, monumental, from its surroundings, framed with a canopy of coffee plants and vines that are accentuated by raw concrete.
But the name of the place wasn’t always apparent. In fact, it took nine months for Jorel to baptize his new coffee bar – almost as long as it took to build it. Originally, Jorel went through over one thousand female French names, looking for a romantic, delicate moniker. But Monument isn’t a patisserie and he didn’t want to mislead customers with saccharine notions of croissants and pain au chocolat. Seeking inspiration, he went on a tour of the world’s greatest cafe cities – Vancouver, Amsterdam, Montreal, Paris and London. Monument’s host, the Mayfair Village, is named after the affluent Mayfair district in London (home to the famous May Fair hotel near Hyde Park) so Jorel naturally sought inspiration from its roots. He made a list of all of the nearby subway stations, notable landmarks, people and places and started meticulously pairing them with “coffee bar”. Saying Monument Coffee Bar aloud sent shivers down his spine – he’d finally found the perfect match.
To add to the significance of the name, the area of the Mayfair Tower is where Jorel’s grandparents first lived when they moved to Edmonton more than 40 years ago. In a sense, the coffee bar is a monument to their family and the coffee legacy they are creating in Edmonton. Five years ago, Jasper Avenue was strictly Edmonton’s business headquarter, and if you wanted to enjoy a nice promenade and a sit-down coffee date, you would head to Whyte Ave instead. Fast forward to today and Monument Coffee Bar serves as a microcosm of the changing dynamic of the downtown core. With Roger’s Place, the LRT expansion, new pedways and fresh patios, Jasper Ave is populated not just with the business set but also families, students and tourists. Even Jorel, who designed Monument to fit this new atmosphere, is surprised by the rapid shift in the downtown demographic. Jorel told me he originally predicted that Monument’s average customer would be a run-and-go client – treating the coffee bar like any other franchise. He’s been pleasantly surprised that most customers are taking the time to sit in the French-style blue velvet chairs, enjoy a seat at the window bar and chat over a Moonshine Doughnut before heading back outside.
And Moonshine Doughnuts aren’t the only local treat served at this little caffeine oasis. Monument takes pride in its local selection of meat pies from Meat Street, personalized chocolate bars from Chocolate Haven (why not enjoy a Monument Coffee Bar at Monument Coffee Bar?), and coffee beans straight from Calgary’s Coffee Concept. Worried that your beans are travelling too far to get to your cup? Fear not because the coffee actually benefits from the road trip to the capital by using it as a degassing period – making your daily poison less bitter and more addicting. Prepared on one of Monument’s two $25 000 espresso machine set ups, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better coffee-complemented-snack combo downtown.
Photography courtesy of Courtney McNeilly.