Santropol Café, the sandwich eatery located on the south west corner of St Urbain and Duluth has moved its kitchen across the street, in the former quarters of Santropol Roulant, the meals on wheels that has since moved to a new location at Coloniale and Roy.

The concept initially came off as odd to me. I imagined waiters fumbling across a snowy street, dodging traffic, simultaneously balancing soups and sandwiches as they made there way from the kitchen to the restaurant. It turns out that they prepare everything in the kitchen across the street (i.e. soups, spreads, complicated dishes) and assemble the sandwiches and plate the dishes in the cafe proper.

The lack of kitchen has really opened up the restaurant nicely, and I look forward to exploring the space more next time I decide to have a good soup and sandwich there.

The implications and effects on the local urban form are bound to be interesting. I lamented the move of Santropol Roulant, a neighbourhood institution and anchor, last spring. Santropol was effectively a community centre that brought people from all over the island who came to volunteer or partake in various workshops. As a result, the sidewalk in front of Santropol was always buzzing with activity, and the corner really established its sense of place. Now that Santropol has moved, there has been noticeably less activity and chance encounters with people I’ve met over the years. The empty kitchen was a sad site for someone who has had a lot of nice experiences in that space.

But now that Santropol Cafe has colonized another piece of the St Urbain Duluth intersection, the spill over of activity has been restored. Granted, it will be much less activity, and extremely specific to the functions of the restaurant, but the presence of a kitchen that has a constant flow of people will be a positive element to this lovely streetscape.

This is just another element of Santropol Cafe’s experiments with outdoor urban space. Their patio offers an oasis of shade and luscious greenery. But the patio is very private, open to the public only by virtue of small viewing-windows in the fence that surrounds it. Last summer, the cafe established an outdoor smoothie and milkshake bar, a wonderful mix of public and private uses of space. And now, the restaurant’s very functionality has moved outdoors.

This is a beautiful and successful instance where public and private urban space have been woven together, seamlessly.

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