In a recent conversation with a university friend, I found myself saying: “I would rather not work than work somewhere with no cafe’s nearby”. That is when I realized how out of hand this cafe obsession had gotten. I know I spend more time in and visiting cafe’s than the average person, and I know that I have memorized the name of every cafe, tea shop, and restaurant with a cafe vibe in Uptown Waterloo – but I never realized how much I depend on them to make me happy until today when I started laughing at how ridiculous my statement was.
It’s true – I love cafe’s. And I honestly feel inadequate living or working further than a 5 minute walking distance away from one (Tim Horton’s doesn’t count because that’s not real coffee). That’s why I chose to move into the heart of Uptown Waterloo for my last 2 years of university. By living on Princess and Regina I was able to discover all the little shops between Death Valley’s Little Brother (DVLB) and Sabletine, whether I liked it or not. I had privacy in my apartment, but the location was so central that there was always this tugging feeling that led me outside, even to wander aimlessly. I would never question the magnetic pull because it only seemed too obvious why I was responding to it.
Even though Uptown Waterloo has its flaws and needs some improvement, it truly does have a distinct character with many places to visit and many things to do. To begin with, I cannot count on my fingertips how many salons and cafe’s there are within a 100m radius from Erb and King. Second, Waterloo Park is a 2-5 minute walk from Princess and King – a wonderful place to visit with a whole new sense of place. Third, the enclosure of the 1-6 storey buildings that date back to Waterloo’s roots along with the illuminated trees lining the sidewalks give pedestrians the desire to stroll and wayfind. The short widths of the shops add interest to the street and entice the pedestrian to keep walking, the same way a reader is enticed to keep reading because they want to reach the next chapter (reading a book with no chapters is like walking past Costco or Wal-Mart). Fourth, the Waterloo Town Square has been criticized to no end but has provided the community with a versatile nodal milestone, which adds to the public realm – it is actually used almost ’round the clock and all year ’round, and is very safe.
I have 3 main criticisms about Uptown Waterloo, which can be used as room for improvement: 1) the uptown strip doesn’t have enough seating (seating is inviting and psychologically helps visitors feel taken care of and safe – without the seating people are less likely to stroll through uptown with the subconscious fear that they won’t have anywhere to rest or seek shelter from weather); 2) uptown retail does not target a wide range of demographics and therefore does not invite many teenagers and university students to go shop and ‘hang out’ as they would in a mall – this leaves uptown seeming empty sometimes, and forces the younger demographic to visit other big-name places elsewhere; 3) even though there is currently a sense of enclosure in uptown, there is still room for increasing height and density through infill, and this could help spruce up the ‘downtown’ image which is currently lacking.
I sometimes like to argue that my apartment is situated in the best possible location in all of Waterloo. There are many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons is that the Princess Cafe is practically my second home, my kitchen, my livingroom. There are so many reasons to love the Princess Cafe. I would start off by listing the number one reason why, but there are 3 reasons that are totally tied: the atmosphere (cute, sweet, retro, and simple), the service (speedy and extremely kind), and the coffee (bluntly the best coffee in all of K-W). A few other reasons are: they have award-winning homemade soups and Panini’s that are renowned to be delicious across the city, they make absolutely delicious salads, they support local bakeries by selling their goodies at the cafe, they serve coffee in random old mugs with humorous or pretty graphics, they play the best music, they have hardwood flooring and wooden chairs and tables, their storefront is over 90% glazed which wonderfully fosters a connection between the outdoor and indoor public realm, and they have a pullout awning which creates a mini public room right in front where you can sit on little blue chairs and enjoy a chat with a friend.
I have visited the cafe so many times on many different occasions. I have literally done it all from rushing a coffee to-go before catching the bus, to spending 5 hours working on an essay while slowly but surely going through their entire menu. It is a place for bringing friends, making friends, doing some homework, and coming alive. It’s a sweet place in the summer and a cozy place in the winter. It’s even open late on Friday’s and Saturdays as “Cheeses Murphy” when they serve the best grilled cheeses you will ever have to the people stumbling out of the bars and clubs (even as I am writing I am craving one). And on top of that, it is attached to the Princess Theatre, which has a dinner-and-a-movie deal with the Cafe. It is rare for me to choose another cafe over the Princess because it beats all the others on so many levels. Some may argue that it’s pricy, but it’s only because they make everything from scratch and they buy the best ingredients. This is not to mention that it’s not like you can get a better deal next door at Huether or DVLB (unless you want breakfast, burgers, or whiskey). I am moving out of my apartment soon. Visiting the Princess Cafe is going to be one of the top 10 things I will miss about living in Waterloo.