Best of 2014: Musiikki Café
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the opening of Kingston’s newest downtown music venue, Musiikki. With a good number of places to choose from when it comes to catching live music, it was hard to say at first how this new addition would fare. Musiikki has hit all the right notes with its unique model of live music, combined with a focus on serving a wide array of whiskies and offering up an affordable place for musicians to record their music. Combine this with the magical patio tucked in the back and you have a great spot for enjoying live music and meeting with friends.
We were thrilled to welcome Erin Weinberg to Kingstonist this year and it seems our readers agree. Erin has given us some looks into some of the new and older hidden gems in YGK. This particular post garnered a lot of attention from Kingstonians.
As September rolls in, we must say goodbye to those endless summer nights of patio eating and drinking. Gone, too, are the days of having our pick of tables at any coffee shop down Princess Street; the students are back, and Kingston seems to have tripled in population. Fret not: I have found the one place that has an empty table with your name on it. A selfish part of me would love to save it as my own secret hideout, but the joys of Musiikki deserve to be shared.
Musiikki (pronounced moo-ZEE-key) is a brand-new café, musically themed and littered with string instruments. Better than just a coffee shop, it also has a liquor license, perfect for the seasonal transition from iced mochas to hot toddies. Aside from carrying Somersby, my favourite cider, Musiikki has a growing whisky list. An aficionado friend of mine commended the list as “off to the right start”, but worried that the higher prices might deter the younger undergraduate clientele. In my opinion, this pricing is a smart move on Musiikki’s part, as it caters to the more discerning demographic that patronizes lower Brock Street shops and restaurants like Cooke’s, Atomica, and Le Chien Noir.
The distinguishing feature of Musiikki is that it’s not only music-themed: it’s musically driven. This becomes apparent when the owners and manager speak so passionately about the recording studio that they’re building upstairs. They plan to make the music upstairs and play that music downstairs, so that guests, too, can be immersed in the creative experience. It’s clear that music is the number-one focus at Musiikki; the baristas are experts at setting up the sound system, but are still working on their speed and knowledge on the bar. Improvement, my own barista experience leads me to suspect, will be the result of time and practice. In the meantime, in a world of automated lattes, it’s a rare pleasure to stop and smell the espresso beans, ground and pulled fresh for every drink. While Musiikki is not a café for those in a rush, it’s ideal for enjoying a coffee and pastry with a newspaper, before ambling down to the farmer’s market.
Since its opening earlier this summer, my favourite feature of Musiikki has been its gorgeous backyard, the product of months of hard work and landscaping. I’ve spent many lazy mornings there, writing away under the giant tree that provides welcome shade. With the staff perpetually tending to it, the backyard space is meticulous and the outdoor patrons are never forgotten. After spending so many daylight hours there, I was shocked at how the backyard could be even more beautiful at night. It’s this time when the space really has a chance to shine: the view begins with tree branches covered in dainty lights, but opens up into the starry night sky.
Musiikki hosts musical acts nearly every night, and welcomes local favourites and newcomers alike to participate in their open mic nights. A few nights ago, I watched a performance that included a standing bass: for some reason, the instrument seemed to convey the entire attitude of the café: grab a whisky, relax, and let the music move you. At one point during a duo’s performance, a gentleman joined them onstage with his fiddle, rousing the entire audience with music’s mounting tempo. Shortly afterwards, a female vocalist joined them, adding her own unique talents to this expanding group. What resulted was a harmony so beautiful, it almost felt indecent to be there and not participate. The collaboration was inspiring; it was wonderful to see musicians producing not so much a recital as the joyful sharing of improvised music-making. It made me want to stay there all evening, feeling the wonderful vibes of this new, exciting place. Above all, it showed me that at Musiikki, music isn’t something you listen to: it’s something you experience.