544 Rideau Street

544 Rideau Street - 2012
544 Rideau Street - 2012

I located a second floor apartment close to the university at 544 Rideau Street, right above Dr. Dupont’s chiropractic business and residence.  Now that we had a location, we only needed a name.  After several long discussions and many coffees, someone, I can’t remember who, came up with "Le Hibou" (The Owl).  Since we were to open only in the evening, the name seemed perfect.  So in October 1960 Café Le Hibou Coffee House was born.

We had a place, but we still needed furniture, a menu, and a membership card.  A designer friend, Frank Mayrs from Exhibition Canada (a now-defunct federal department that used to set up exhibits all over the world) designed the owl logo for the Le Hibou membership card.  We decided to charge $1 per membership with the hope that it would cover the rent and other expenses.  As George and I were the only ones with cars, we did the rounds of used furniture stores.  Al’s Used Furniture in the market had the best deal, and I picked up chairs for about 50 cents to $1, and tables from $2 to $5.  Taking the cue from my artist friends, we painted all the walls off-white. That was the "in" colour for artists then.

The piece de resistance was a cone-shaped aluminum espresso maker I picked up in Little Italy on Preston Street.  The espresso was served in a demitasse.  Espresso MakerFor the cappuccino, we would heat the milk to boiling point on the stove, froth it with a wire whip, add it to the espresso, and top it with whipped cream with a sprinkle of chocolate or cinnamon.  It was amazing how fast we could produce espressos and cappuccinos on that little stove in the kitchen on Rideau Street.  For food, we offered a variety of cheeses, ham on crusty buns, and smoked meat sandwiches on Rideau Bakery rye bread.

On the weekend a student friend of Andre’s, Paul Mostovac, would bake fabulous buttery European cakes on large trays: mocha, chocolate, hazelnut or black forest, all of which disappeared very quickly.  In the front rooms, with visions of a romantic Paris which I had not yet visited, I covered the tables with white and red chequered tablecloths, and placed on each one a straw-covered fat Chianti bottle topped with a candle—Paris on the Rideau.  The walls, however, did not stay pristine white very long as Nikki Patterson, a very talented artist, soon drew beautiful figures on all of them.

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