This vast space with high ceilings is a combination gallery, café, and lounge. It’s immensely popular, and it can sometimes be difficult to find a seat despite the space. The layout is smartly sectioned off with mobile gallery walls so it has more privacy than an open gallery space might normally have. They offer free wireless Internet with any purchase, so there are many people parking for extended periods with their laptops here. They have numerous sidewalk tables and chairs in front. Inside there’s a number of high stools and tables, dining tables, and seating along a bar.
In the corner of the central service/bar area when you walk in is their espresso bar — but you’ll need to order further down the counter at the register. At the espresso bar is an older three-group Faema originally supplied by Mr. Espresso, but it is now serviced by Bay Area Coffee Service. The difference is not insignificant; Mr. Espresso would be all over a client who wasn’t making good use of their equipment, offering them training and technical assistance.
Although The Canvas pre-grinds their coffee in advance, they have good turnover to keep the grinds from oxidizing much. However, they serve espresso with a paltry, pale crema. Flavorwise, it’s mostly a diluted turpeny and herbal flavor with some ashiness.
So the question is: why is this place so popular? I gather it has more to do with the space, food (even if the service is painfully slow), and “free” Internet. Because the espresso — while doing a brisk business — is dodgy at best. Some of the wiser regulars seem to indulge in gargantuan cups of milk-based drinks to disguise the unremarkable and bland espresso.
The Canvas is something of a paradox. Usually, it’s the neighborhood Starbucks that attracts the crowds to hang out and drink uninspired cups of espresso-based drinks … and the local café with the great espresso down the street tends to struggle along. Here it’s the opposite. They are the popular hang-out with the weak espresso, and I would honestly recommend going further up the block to the Starbucks on 744 Irving Street (though not yet reviewed) for what should be a better cup of coffee.
You can probably chalk up their disappointing espresso to the phenomenon of when an establishment tries to do too much: food, bar, gallery, music club, private event space … The espresso is just an afterthought, and it shows.
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