Buzz Cafe breaks the ice with coffee

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Having breakfast or lunch in an art gallery strikes a welcoming chord

Mia Stainsby

Owner Chris Harrison at the Buzz Cafe has found the addition of a coffee bar tends to attract previously intimidated visitors to Harrison Galleries. Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun


901 Homer St., 604-732-9029. Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday; from 8 a.m. Saturday; from 9 a.m. Sunday.

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Oh, heck, I’ll be the drama queen and let George Bernard Shaw make my point: “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

And if you’re having one of those crude reality days, The Buzz Cafe and Espresso Bar might be a good place to charge up on the bearable life. The Buzz is tucked inside Harrison Galleries, which relocated to this downtown spot from south Granville four years ago. You can roam the extensive art gallery with a cup of very good 49th Parallel coffee or sit and have a light breakfast or lunch. The Buzz is wired in another way, with Wi-Fi, so there’s often someone tapping away on a laptop. You might also see Zbigniew Kupczynski, a regular and one of the painters the gallery represents.

Owner Chris Harrison is the second generation of the family that opened the gallery in 1958. The newish home is a 1911 heritage building that Harrison once played in as a kid. “My uncle ran Evergreen Press here and he did my father’s printing,” says Harrison. “My father was quite chuffed with that.” The space also housed Chintz & Co. before it moved a block south.

About 95 per cent of the eclectic mix of painters represented are Canadian and three quarters are from B.C., he says.

“I always joked about coffee being a passion of mine, but I saw the mix of coffee and art in New York and other places around the world,” he says, explaining the convergence. “Part of the concept was to make the art world more approachable. The biggest comment we’re getting is that people have wanted to come in but felt intimidated.” He’s sold four or five paintings to coffee customers who fell in love with a painting.

The food is simple and casual. Panini (chicken cheddar chipotle, wild salmon, tuna cheddar melt, caprese and others) which sell for $8 and wraps (breakfast, salmon, turkey, chicken fajita) for $6.69. Baked goods (muffins, croissants, squares) are brought in.

The food isn’t the main attraction. Sure the panino I tried was fine; a breakfast wrap was good and the coffee is worth the trip alone.

But having breakfast or lunch in an art gallery strikes a welcoming chord. There are tables and chairs at street level and a couch for deeper relaxation. Harrison likes the art-meets-food idea enough to be dreaming bigger and is thinking of ramping it up to a bistro/wine bar, maybe in about six months. He’s not a painter himself. “Art dealers shouldn’t be artists,” he decrees, “and vice versa. They’re full-time jobs. If you have a creative streak and you end up too much on the business side, you lose the whole reason you got into the painting world.”

But there’s nothing saying an art dealer can’t be a barista or perhaps down the road, a sommelier?

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