Make no mistake, even though this is Montréal and its staff switch effortlessly between French and English, Café Olimpico is Italian to its roots. Compared to some Italian places I visited on my North American trip, it’s a relative newcomer, having “only” been around since 1970, when it was founded by the late Rocco Furfaro (it’s now owned by Rocco’s daughters, Rossana and Victoria).
It’s best described as a neighbourhood espresso bar. Located on the corner of Rue St-Viateur and Rue Waverley, right in the heart of residential Mile End, Café Olimpico feels like your local, except that it serves coffee, not alcohol, from seven in the morning until midnight, seven days a week. I’m not a fan of alcohol, so pubs and bars have never held much appeal. However, Café Olimpico is exactly how I’d imagine my local would be if pubs served (excellent) coffee instead of beer…
Warm, welcoming, friendly: the ideal place to pop in for a quick espresso or to meet up with friends for an hour or two over a latte; Café Olimpico is a wonderful place. If I lived in the neighbourhood, I really would be in here all the time!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Regular readers will know my love for old-fashioned Italian places and Café Olimpico falls squarely into this category. However, unlike, for example, Caffé Vitorio or Caffé Roma, Olimpico has no pretensions of grandeur (I wonder if it’s all in the extra “f” in café/caffé?). In this respect, it is much more akin to Soho’s Bar Italia.
The interior is predominantly dark wood, with a row of small wooden tables running between a big marble-topped counter on one wall and a couple of big, padded booths on the other. The front is given over to generous windows with a narrow marble-topped bar while there’s a round, tiled table in front of a (sadly out of use) fireplace at the back. To the left of the fireplace, beyond the counter, is another cluster of tables. There’s also a generous outdoor seating area with long, comfortable-looking wooden benches.
The walls are whitewashed and decorated in typical Italian café fashion with flags from major Serie A teams, while there’s a nod to Montréal with a Canadiens Hockey banner in pride of place over the door. The obligatory televisions showing SportsCenter with the sound turned down are also dotted around. The low lighting results in a cosy, dark atmosphere, especially towards the back, while on a sunny day the north-facing windows let in a little light. Classic 1980s hits, alternating with the Rolling Stones, mingle with the hum of conversation, neither loud enough to dominate.
While I was there, it was busy without ever being crowded. There was a steady stream of customers and while there was always a queue, it moved quickly, even though there were only two baristas on duty. If anything, it was quietest at lunchtime, perhaps because it doesn’t do food.
Café Olimpico has the usual range of espresso-based drinks, but no hint of a small/medium/large option and, for once, no sign of a bulk-filter option. I was there twice, once for breakfast at 10.30 and again from 11.30 to 13.00. I had a latte and cheese croissant for breakfast and an espresso and biscotti on my return. There were also muffins, cake and some wicked-looking sticky Danish pastries on offer.
My latte was smooth and strong and not too milky, while my espresso was short, strong and smooth with a hint of bitterness, quite possibly the best of the whole trip. The espresso came in a classic cup, the latte in a tall (but not big) glass, while cappuccinos were served in a tulip cup. To be honest, that’s how it should be (at least in my mind). There’s also tea, fruit juice and Italian mineral water. My croissant was surprisingly good while my classic almond biscotti was crunchy without breaking my teeth!
Although there’s very limited power, Café Olimpico is very laptop-friendly with free wifi (although it’s actually from the restaurant next door) and plenty of space to spread out. Possibly the best thing about Café Olimpico though were the two baristas who gave the place such a friendly atmosphere. Although they must have served 100+ people between my two visits, they remembered what I ordered the first time around which is very impressive. The highlight, however, was when they sang along to Sister Sledge’s “Good Times”, although ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” was a close second!
|124 RUE ST-VIATEUR • MONTRÉAL • H2T 2L1 • CANADA|
|www.cafeolimpico.com/en/||+1 514 495 0746|
|Monday||07:00 – 00:00||Seating||Tables, Bar, Wooden Benches (outside)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 00:00||Food||Pastries|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 00:00||Service||Counter|
|Thursday||07:00 – 00:00||Payment||Cash Only|
|Friday||07:00 – 00:00||Wifi||Free (from restaurant next door)|
|Saturday||07:00 – 00:00||Power||Very Limited (10 minutes per user)|
|Sunday||07:00 – 00:00||Mobile||N/A|
|Chain||No||Visits||14th March 2013|
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