There is no shortage of great coffee spots in the King West neighbourhood. If you frequent Bar Buca, Jimmy’s, Colette, Thor, Soma and Forno Cultura, you’ll know what I’m talking about. As much as I like to vary the venues for my outings I keep finding myself back at Portland Variety.
Replacing the now defunct KiWe restaurant, Portland Variety took up prime real estate along King West at the south west corner of Portland last year. Once I walked through their newly opened doors there I saw it for the first time with my own eyes. It was love at first sight. It was their Modbar.
Mod what? Modern? The 60s youth subculture in Britain that focused on music and fashion? Neither of those make sense in the context of a dark caffeinated beverage. So let’s try Modular. As in a modular espresso brewing system making urban cafes around the world that much sleeker and stylish.
Before you think me crazy for falling in love with a machine note that I am deeply appreciative of good design, which for me is the attention to aesthetics without compromising function. You have to experience it to believe in it as the baristas working the system and the coffee connoisseurs do.
And what’s not to love? Firstly, instead of a honking piece of machinery I’m presented with sleek stainless steel taps flush with the counter top. From exotic hardwood lever handles for the steam, espresso and drip coffee taps to polished chrome and tantalizing accessories, it’s so darn elegant. The system’s technology is equally beautiful in design. It programmable, has a touchscreen and a power saving feature that finally addresses new methods of sustainability in cafe culture. Truthfully, to give true justice to the system one needs to study the manual.
Secondly, I can actually see what the barista is doing. I have an opportunity to notice that the barista is taking his or her time creating my espresso-based beverage of choice and topping it with a milky design during the final pour. All that machinery blocking my view and hindering a better customer experience is hidden underneath the countertop. If you think the mysterious allure of the barista lacks due to this expose, think again. This customizable system gives the barista tremendous control for enough wizardry that you’ll both see and taste.
Of course, with so many $4 gourmet coffee experiences in the city and the industry’s Third Wave of Coffee craze, so what? For me, breaking down the barrier between customer and barista gave for a mutually engaging and informative experience. That’s what I call value add. Portland Variety is one of only two places in Toronto to have the Modbar and the only one in the west end – at 587 King Street West to be precise.