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Why the new W2 Media Cafe is more than just another cafe

By Hilary Henegar Brewed at a perfect 87 degree Celsius, the inky dark brew steamed from its cup, the surface a creamy puce. I can hardly wait for my Americano to cool before bringing it to my lips...

By Hilary Henegar

Brewed at a perfect 87 degree Celsius, the inky dark brew steamed from its cup, the surface a creamy puce. I can hardly wait for my Americano to cool before bringing it to my lips...

"A long time coming" is how many might describe it, that cup represents the culmination of years of planning and hard work—and the next chapter in the eight-year history of W2 Community Media Arts Society: the opening of W2 Media Cafe.

Excited about the new cafe, Vancouver Is Awesome asked me to write a little bit about this amazing space and its place in the Downtown Eastside community.

W2 Cafe

W2 Media Cafe injects life, art and a sense of community into the Woodward's Atrium.

Devon Lougheed Beekeeper

W2 Media Cafe is located at the centre of Gastown's creative tech and culture hub, which means you're likely to run into artists, technologists and social entrepreneurs. Above: Vancouver musician Devon Lougheed (of the band Beekeeper).

W2 staffer Dakota Prince and former intern Sakura Yoshita on opening day at the cafe.

It's hard to believe the cafe is finally open, after construction delays and other obstacles kept pushing back W2 Media Cafe's Grand Opening.

After stints at the Perel Building and Storyeum, W2 finally moved into its final, permanent home in the Atrium of the Woodward's complex in May. Named W2 Media Cafe, the new, purpose-built 10,000 square-foot space spans three floors, with a "Bassment" space—for live performances, conferences and other events requiring audio/video support and space enough for up to 200 people—tech lab, Creative Tech Incubator, Letterpress Studio, community meeting room, public lounge, hot desk spaces and, now, a social enterprise cafe.

With an almost entirely female staff—all hired from the neighbourhood and nearby SFU Woodwards campus—and a menu reflective of the various cultural heritages of W2's members, the cafe serves as an important community gathering space and cultural hub for the area, offering light healthy meals and what is likely to be among the best espresso in Vancouver.

UNIC Machine coffee

W2 Media Cafe is one of the first in North America to get its hands on the oh-so-exquisite Unic Stella di Caffe espresso machine.

Brewing only shade-grown, organic, Fair Trade coffee beans from (carbon-neutral) Salt Spring Coffee Company, the cafe aims to make a name for itself through its premium coffee program, which includes a Japanese-style pour over option in addition to espresso and, for those on a budget, the usual drip.

One of the exciting elements of the new cafe is its distinctive menu. The cafe's mandate is to serve fresh, healthy foods that are locally sourced, accessibly priced and that cater to the diverse heritages of W2's membership. That's the basic concept. Beyond that, however, there's a lot of room to play—which is exactly what Mark Smith is doing as the current "Cook-in-Residence."

One of the architects of the cafe's menu and W2 Media Cafe's current "Cook-in-Residence," Mark Smith.

Serving as the front porch to the community media arts centre, the cafe offers more than just a lively place to sip an espresso—and the significance of its success has broader implications than, say, that of the cafe chain also situated in the Woodward's complex.

Primed to be W2 Media Cafe's key revenue generator, sales from the cafe (and its companion catering service) will go toward funding W2's primary mandate: to empower Downtown Eastside residents and artists to bridge the digital divide on their way toward achieving economic self-sufficiency—and revitalizing the neighbourhood economy.

Which means that cappuccino you just bought could be subsidizing a workshop, or a piece of equipment, or a teacher to train, say, an Aboriginal youth to share her story—and her perspective—through a W2 TV production, a video installation piece, a transmedia campaign or a citizen journalism app—built from the ground up and harnessing the talent and mentorship of W2's dynamic community.

Vancouver DJ workshop

DJs Betti Ford and Veronica lead an all-female "How to be a DJ 101" workshop as part of W2's inaugural Utopia Festival: Women in Digital Culture.

Comprising digital artists, DJs, technologists, writers, filmmakers, activists, community organizers, festival producers, historians, students and more, it's the W2 member community and small core staff who are building the media arts centre. Contributing knowledge, mentorship, relationships and sweat labour, what they get in return is access to the centre, a community of collaborators to help them with their own projects and, of course, a stronger DTES community.

Personally, I've already experienced the inherent reciprocity of the W2 volunteer-member model—and the powerful potential of W2's network: On opening day, a casual conversation with Roland Tanglao, who'd stopped by for a coffee, turned into a serious discussion about a common interest of ours (data visualization) and how we might collaborate in the very near future.

Roland Tanglao, who works at Mozilla in the nearby Flack Block, stopped by for a coffee break on opening day.

Learn more about W2 Media Cafe and join its 5,500+ membership online, on Facebook and on Twitter at @W2MediaCafe and @W2Woodwards.

Hilary Henegar contributes social media strategy and training as a volunteer at W2 Media Cafe. Read her W2 blog, Follow her on Twitter and learn about her newest scheme, the Vancouver Amphitheatre Project.