Stacks of books and community spirit make Dawson City’s Alchemy Café a required stop on any northern tour
Any literature lover’s visit to picturesque Dawson City, Yukon, should include visits to the homes of Jack London, Pierre Berton, and Robert Service. It should also include a visit to the Alchemy Café.
The café was founded in 2014 by Florian Boulais and Sofia Ashenhurst, who wanted to create a community hub and intellectual commons. Boulais works front of house and Ashenhurst “provides the heart” and makes delicious healthy foods and juice potions. The chess club meets there, as do members of the writers’ club, and there are even weekly yoga classes. The vibe is feng shui harmony meets modern log cabin meets backpacker chic.
1. Alchemy stands out amid the town’s gold rush–era establishments. A few steps away is Bombay Peggy’s, a restored brothel where you can hear fiddle music and order chastity belt and titillating tart martinis. If you’re feeling really brave, you can head around the corner to the Westminster Hotel (known to locals as the Pit) and get sweaty in their aptly named microwave dance room.
“We love old books and old wisdom,” says Boulais. Literature spills from the overhead shelves and litters the tables. Sometimes in order to find room to eat, you have to stack the books, including poetry by Coast Salish chief Dan George, Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, and issues of an illustrated magazine about the Yukon called The Colourful Five Percent.
2. Boulais used to fix jet engines, but was drawn to Dawson by the pristine wilderness and sense that it was a place where people come to make positive changes in their lives. Boulais and Ashenhurst cut the café’s timbre frame and built the structure by hand. The level of thought that went into its aesthetics is evident in the exposed wood, mellow paint choices, local art on the walls, overflowing bookshelves, and bright windows.
3. “Alchemy fosters a sense of playful, adventurous, lifelong learning,” says Boulais. “And books are part of that.” Writing is important to him, too. Boulais contributes book reviews to the local newspaper and has been part of the active community library board, which helps administer the Berton House, where four writers-in-residence are housed annually.
Music nights and performance-art events led by students from the local art college have also been very successful at Alchemy. Boulais and Ashenhurst would love to see authors make Dawson a regular stop on their cross-country promotional tours.