Fringe Food

An Anarchist Oasis

Photos Natalia Lara
Photos Natalia Lara
Photos Natalia Lara
Photos Natalia Lara

Nestled inside the labyrinth that is the Pavillon Hubert-Aquin at the Université du Québec à Montréal lies an anarchist oasis.

Deep within UQAM’s Human Sciences facility—whose drab layout belies its outspoken revolutionary namesake, Quebec author Hubert Aquin—I have become completely lost. Only the third person I stop shows the slightest hint of recognition at the words Café Aquin.

“I’ve heard of it. It’s up a few floors, I think,” surmises my informant. When pressed for details, he adds, “When you start seeing graffiti on the walls, you’re probably close.”

Alighting upon Café Aquin is like stumbling upon a box of coloured markers in a Cold War holding facility. After a tangled trajectory through long bleak corridors, past anonymous classrooms and concrete structural beams, I finally reach the elusive not-for-profit student-run café.

A quasi-secret even to UQAM students, I soon learn that Café Aquin may well be the unofficial vessel of Hubert Aquin’s legacy in his own building. It’s the type of thriving student space that keeps political activities alive, that brings the students out of those long hallways of classrooms.

Photos Natalia Lara

It also serves out several hundred cups of coffee per day.

Replete with ragbag seating that appears hell-bent on repurposing the best and worst of furniture designs since 1951, Aquin is an important hub of student autonomy at Quebec’s third-largest university.

If the anti-capitalist-graffiti-soaked hallways leading me to the café’s enigmatic entrance were not enough to reveal its origins in the solidarity movement, the logo settles any debate: the A in ‘Aquin’ is an anarchy sign.

On this late weekday afternoon, the café is overflowing with patrons of all ages. The coffee is fresh, fair-trade, and reusable in-house mugs are plentiful and eccentric.

Unlike several smaller student-run spaces, Aquin’s wide service counter allows for a full-fledged (and rather elegant) espresso machine. Their fair-trade lattes and cappuccinos—rare on any Canadian campus, let alone at an affordable rate—go a long way towards explaining the perpetual lineup.

My companion—a visiting Australian coffee aficionado—declares the cappuccino robust, with the foam dry: both to her liking. I opt for an organic lemon-lime soda, which, though bordering on sweet, gives me a quick boost without the ravaging acidic after-effects of Sprite or 7 Up.

Starving after a long walk, we hope to tuck into some warm, hearty grub. Sadly, we learn that Aquin limits its dished offerings to pastries (fresh, but popular and limited in quantity), pre-packaged salads (organic), and catered sandwiches (from a small local company).

Photos Natalia Lara

Reaching for the latter with expectations low, I’m surprised at the freshness of the tuna and minced veg inside, not to mention the dense moisture retained by the olive ciabatta bun, which looked parched and stale in its original wrapping.

Moist and tasty as it is for a packaged sandwich, I wish that they had offered to grill or press it—our poor fridge-kept sandwiches are almost icy cold.

My companion enjoys her Cajun chicken sandwich, on similar bun, but stops short of jumping out of her seat.

We’re both impressed, however at the the variety of sandwich options: about ten or eleven in all, ranging from tofu wraps to Calabrese-style subs. Despite their pre-packaged format, we both admit they tasted homemade.

Aquin is a colourful place—and an exceedingly loud one. Though one or two students remained steadfastly focused on laptops, the vast majority engaged in lively chatter on all sides.

In the ongoing lineup in front of the espresso machine, hardly a single person was left out of the party—cackles, salutations and first-time conversations rippled through the steady flow of patrons—all evidence to the fact that Aquin serves first and foremost as a community hub.

Check out Café Aquin at 400 Ste. Catherine St. E., room A-2445. If you get lost, feel free to write me for directions… otherwise, just follow the graffiti.