Each month, Q&Q visits dingy watering holes, upscale cafés, and other haunts in search of the country’s most beloved book-launch venues
Each week, Vancouver poets, writers, and literary performers, and their fans, make a pilgrimage to Café Deux Soleils, an east-side hangout in the progressive Commercial Drive enclave (known to locals as “the Drive”). Monday nights are reserved for the Vancouver Poetry Slam, which includes a youth slam on the fourth Monday of every month. On any other day, visitors might catch an open mic, book launch, or literary-festival event.
1. Opened 21 years ago by Jeff Maisonet, Café Deux Soleils is a vegetarian eatery with a come-as-you-are attitude. Breakfast draws sleepy, dreadlocked students nursing mugs of coffee, seniors reading newspapers, and kids scrawling on a huge chalkboard. The crowd ebbs and flows all day long, tucking into veggie burgers and wraps, eggs, and tofu scrambles. People-watching is exceptional at the front west-facing windows, which offer a prime view of diverse Commercial Drive – known in previous decades as Little Italy. Inside, the space is simple: dark paint, well-worn tables and wooden chairs, and a small open kitchen that churns out affordable dishes without a hint of pretension.
2. While the 100-capacity space hosts a variety of book launches, performances, and cultural events, poetry reigns supreme at Café Deux Soleils. Once the sun sets, the vibe shifts from easygoing to energetic, with a lineup that snakes down the sidewalk on slam nights. Canada’s longest-running poetry slam (going strong since 1996) is “really exciting,” says co-owner Andrea Aleong, who has run the café for the past 15 years with Maisonet, her now-ex-husband.
“It’s always packed,” she says. “It starts getting busy probably an hour-and-a-half
before the event starts.” Fans and performers stay loose with pitchers of local beer and jars of house wine, but there’s no hard liquor. The vibe is lively, loud, and welcoming.
3. Canadian poet, performer, spoken-word artist, and YouTube star Shane Koyczan is probably “the most famous literary person that has come through the café,” says Aleong. “He was here every Monday night for many, many, many years.”
Other local writers and poets who have graced the stage include Billeh Nickerson, Jen Currin, and Heather Conn. For the past three years, Café Deux Soleils has also hosted the Verses Festival of Words, which features spoken-word poetry and storytelling. In late March, the venue hosted a launch party for The Flour Peddler, a Caitlin Press title by Chris Hergesheimer and Josh Hergesheimer about a global journey into local food – a perfect fit for this arts-centric vegetarian hub in its far-left-leaning ’hood.