The Only Cafe, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Only Cafe, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

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Located at 217 Hunter Street West in Peterborough, in the heart of downtown alongside the creek, the Only Café is the centre of the subcultural community in Peterborough, Ontario.

Inside the Café

The walls are adorned with pop-culture and local memorabilia that has been accumulating since the place opened in 1990.

This café is astounding not because of the food (see below), and not because of the coffee (though some swear it is addictive; the secret is the cinnamon), and certainly not because of the owner (who can be a bit crabby), but because of the people.

From the moment it opens until the moment they drag some folks out kicking and screaming you will find a fascinating pastiche of humanity at the Only. Old, young, drunk, sober, sane, rampantly insane, secure, depressed, needing, giving, dark, bright... in this one smallish café you will find a microcosm of society with prime examples of the best and worst of us. It is really hard to describe the atmosphere, but maybe a small series of images can give a close approximation. You can expect:

  • Beer-sticky, coffee-cured lacquered wood tables, thick with candle wax in the centre.

  • Thousands of pairs of eyes staring at you from the walls. Some familiar, some not; some artistic, some frighteningly alive.

  • Smoke curling up through the air, clinging to clothing, cloying in people's throats in that annoying but somehow oddly comforting way.

  • Tables adorned with dog-eared scripts, well-worn novels and eclectically assembled chess sets in mid-play.

  • Laughter all around you, and sometimes tears.

The Gordon Best Theater

The upper section of the café is the Gordon Best Theater, named after an airman from the local area who was lost in battle. A multi-use space, the 'Gordie Best' is a small theatre and concert space that used to try and be a gourmet bistro, but now simply doubles as an overflow space for the café when it's not rented out for special events such as the frequent 'Rainbow Dances'. These dances are open to everyone, especially to gay, lesbian and bisexual people looking to dance in a safe atmosphere.

The Patio

The patio area is the place to be in summer. Surrounded by a giant sunflower mural on one side and the creek resplendent with overgrowing greenery on the other, it is a private hardwood bastion of peace and joy... and occasionally darts.

Food and Drink

A summary of this quirky little mainly-student-supported pub would not be complete without a word or two about the food; which ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, depending on who is working on any given day. If you are lucky, Bill'll be working.

  • The Cowgirl Breakfast - Scrambled eggs, brie, mushrooms, a bagel and carrot sticks; a vegetarian delight!

  • Jerome's Greek Salad - Piled high with feta. Bring a mint...

  • The Ginger Mick Salad - Fresh turkey, lettuce, avocado, Cheddar, tomatoes and pita with a green onion dressing; a masterpiece big enough for two.

Another boasting point for the Only is a decent selection of imported and domestic beers and ciders, with a rotating six or so on tap.

The Vortex

The Only is a meeting place; a port of travel (located one street north of both local and inter-city bus terminals), a market and a Mecca. For many, the Only is the first and last place they see of Peterborough, and the place they go to meet, greet, and cavort. A must stopover for any road-weary traveller.

There is a common theory that there is a giant magnet underneath this place that draws everyone there, repeatedly, for the rest of their lives. So don't be surprised if someday you find yourself at the lip of the 'vortex'.


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