The Big Smoke
Cannabis culture, like the humble coffee-shop, has evolved into unrecognizability over the past couple of decades. Across the continent, new laws are swiftly making marijuana usage as ubiquitous, brand-conscious and gentrified as any Starbucks.
Case in point: Tokyo Smoke Found, a head-shop-cum-café catering to upscale urbanites in Toronto’s artsy Queen Street West neighbourhood. Opened in fall 2015, it is the first of a planned chain of outlets purveying espresso, baked goods, the occasional designer item and reefer-related accessories. Its real selling point, however, is style. Style good enough to make an impression on the hard-to-impress. Style soon enough to be parlayed into a brand name for designer grass (currently available only through government dispensaries) as well as a clothing line by high-end Québec designer Philippe Dubuc.
Tokyo Smoke Found’s subtitle subtly references both its locale – a 330-sq.-ft. former storage garage wedged into space “found” between two converted warehouse buildings – and its “pop-up” nature – the insertion into this space of an 80-sq.-ft. shipping container sliced open to create inside and street-side coffee-bar counters.
Steven Fong Architect, in collaboration with Tokyo Smoke’s founders, design entrepreneurs Lorne and Alan Gertner, has purposely riffed on the site’s gritty ancestry to generate décor gravitas. The garage’s roll-down corrugated door is still there, enlivened by a black-and-white mural by Brazilian street artist Alex Senna. Rusty propane-tank pendants by Toronto collective Fugitive Glue illuminate a central communal table; while against the west wall, two huge pontoon floats that had been abandoned in the garage now hang like artwork above a rack of metal display shelves closely illuminated by garage flood-lights.
Inside the café, polished concrete floors are overlaid with industrial plates whose painted yellow chevrons “direct” customer traffic. Outside, diagonal yellow lines indicate a no-parking zone, further stressed by a rim of rusting Corten steel planters surrounding patio tables and vintage Eames chairs.
The irony at play on what “used to be” compared to “what is” should not be lost on Tokyo Smoke Found’s clientele. Back in the day, you’d buy your weed from some guy named Larry or Steve, and then duck into an alley to light up away from prying police eyes. Now that it’s relatively legal, you’re still in an alleyway, just one with lattes and boulangerie munchies and designer magazines. Adding to the irony is the fact that the alley is, for the moment, smoke-free – although that too could change in an Amsterdam minute.