BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘If Death Valley’s Little Brother is my home,’ suggests Katherine Chiles, ‘then Blackwing is my cottage: a place that I’ve just recently claimed as my own, and that has so much potential. A place that, over the years, will be filled with laughter and friendship and love. And memories.’
She adds: ‘A place that I need to put my stamp on.’
A stamp that’s already begun being administered to this newest downtown Galt venture – through a distinct brand of aesthetic with which rabid fans of Katherine’s other business, Uptown Waterloo’s Death Valley’s Little Brother (or DVLB for short), are very familiar. A sort of mixture of opulent elegance and hipster chic, I think to myself as I gaze about the fantastic space that occupies the former South Waterloo Agricultural Society building planted directly across the Grand River from the stunning Cambridge Mill.
Luxurious wood textures. Sumptuous leather furniture. Exposed brick. Gold accents. And an attention to detail that sets both DVLB and now Blackwing apart. A potted lemon tree residing in a false fireplace framed with chopped wood. A library area shelved with everything from travel books to Elon Musk’s musings. A bear skull topped with dried flowers on display in a corner. And a deliberate duality at play in the design elements, a duality evident here at Blackwing just as it is at Katherine’s DVLB – and at Kitchener’s Smile Tiger, too, where Katherine’s collaborator-in-business, Joel Gingrich, is part-owner.
The warm, orb-shaped lights contrast with the sharp geometric shapes of the light fixtures and chevron flooring. The stark exposed brick sets off the substantial frondy green plants. Joel was behind much of the interior design of Blackwing, just as he was at DVLB and Smile Tiger. Here, as there, he points out, the design language emphasizes dichotomy and opposition – and complementarity.
The contrasting design cues are embedded in the logo of each of these places. The Jackalope of DVLB – a combination of jackrabbit and antelope. The tiger and dove at Smile Tiger. And at Blackwing, the two black birds – who look like they’re either coming together to attack each other or to embrace. ‘If you look carefully at their talons,’ Joel remarks, ‘you’ll note that they’re grasping at a heart. Either to rip it apart – or to hold it up together.’ Tension and balance. Love and hate. Up and down. Coffee and beer.
‘While Waterloo’s DVLB has made a name for itself serving coffee and whisky,’ Katherine tells me, ‘Blackwing is about locally-roasted coffee [from Smile Tiger] and local craft beer.’ She adds: ‘We have seven taps for beer, and an eighth tap for nitro-infused cold coffee. And a simple food menu too.’ Olive plates. Sourdough bread. Hummus, veggies, figs and flat bread. Sausage rolls. Charcuterie plates. All locally-made, with locally-sourced ingredients. And great for sharing. For which Blackwing seems perfectly configured.
Indeed, the single-room space is divided in an ingenious way – with specific sections raised, divided. It’s a space conducive to solitary contemplation or group gatherings. And event programming too – including live music. With a weeknight closing time of 10pm that extends to 11pm (or later) on Saturdays, there’s opportunity for all sorts of events. And because Blackwing opens each weekday at 7am (and weekends at 8am) there’s opportunity for morning rituals too. Your first coffee with a newspaper or magazine, a favourite book, a colleague or friend – while the natural light warms the gorgeous wood floors and eclectic décor. Settling in, at whatever time of day. Much like at a favourite cottage.
Katherine’s ‘cottage’. And yours too. In downtown Galt. Blackwing.