Musiikki: Coffee house meets whiskey bar

At first glance, Musiikki Café isn’t immediately noticeable for its “hole-in-the-wall” appearance, but if you’re curious enough to venture in, you’ll be pleased with what you find.

Located just outside the hustle and bustle of downtown at 73 Brock St., Musiikki is a music-oriented café by day, whiskey bar by night.

Since opening in June of this year, Musiikki has attracted growing attention, mainly owing to its variety of live music, stunning back patio and fine selection of whiskey and coffee.

I visited Musiikki for the first time a few weeks ago and was immediately intrigued by the quaint, rustic feel of the place, as well as the unique idea of being served mugs of espresso and glasses of whiskey simultaneously.

Eager to learn more about the origins and ambitions of the café, I sat down with owner Kris Clendining to hear the whole story.

What made you want to open a place that is both a café and a whiskey bar?

Actually, what made me want to open the place was more music driven — the idea of having a music venue and a place for recording music. Generally, I wanted the place to be based and revolve around music. The whiskey bar idea came after that as an option for drinking while enjoying music or playing music. I looked around Kingston and noticed there wasn’t anything with a real good whiskey selection — well, there are some decent places but I thought to myself that it’d be nice to stand out in that respect. Then I was thinking of daytime options and the coffee idea came after that.

Why did you choose the name “Musiikki”?

It’s “music” in Finnish. My mother’s side is Finnish so that’s where it popped up. I went through a few different names trying to think of one that would suit the best and after talking to people for months and months, “Musiikki” is the name that stood out in everybody’s minds the most. In the end, it was the most catchy name and it looks neat and it’s different.

Does Musiikki have a signature dish or drink that you would recommend?

Right now our specialty is a “Fall Breeze”, which is a bourbon-based drink. There’s a shot of bourbon, some cider and then wine to top it off. It’s got the different colours as you go up the glass, so some people drink it in its separate layers but you can also mix it up.

Have you been attracting a lot of students?

Not right away — not with frosh week because I think everyone stays down in the hub a little more at that point. The curious ones start to venture out, it seems, and find new places so I’ve been noticing more students starting to come recently.

Why did you choose this location?

Having that back patio is half of what sold me on this place. It wasn’t originally part of the lease but once we got talking and negotiating it worked out to be the perfect space for what we were after. We have two separate spaces inside, downstairs and upstairs. The upstairs is going to be the music venue and recording area, which is going to be a work-in-progress for a while but we’ll have it open for people within the next week or two. Up there will mostly be the music aspect and downstairs will be more of the bar. And it was always kind of part of the plan to have an outdoor music area so the patio is a bonus. In my opinion, we got one of the best places we could’ve found for what we’re doing in Kingston. This strip of Brock St. is mainly locally-owned businesses and it’s nice to be a bit back from Princess Street.

What kinds of live music do you usually perform here and how often?

It’s usually more of an acoustic style because it kind of matches the ambience of the place. We’ve had a lot of folk, bluegrass, blues, some jazz, some Latin-jazz fusion. We’ve had some alternative stuff — its actually been a real good mixture, but it’s all keeping a softer, more acoustic feel. We have live music here almost every night. Right now we’re at five or six nights a week.

Do you have any prior experience with cafés and/or whiskey bars?

I used to work in a little café out in B.C. It was a similar thing to what we have here but it was more café based, it didn’t have a bar. The owners would do live music once a week, or something like that. On the East Coast, in Newfoundland, I had some bartending experience.

How did you choose to decorate the place the way you have?

Well, I’ve done carpentry work for about eight years now and I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of different decorating styles. In that time I’ve been able to choose things that I like. For Musiikki, I definitely decided to go for more of a rustic feel because it matched the whole concept of the place, with the exposed brick and whatnot.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Bar, Cafe, coffee, downtown, Kingston, Music, Musiikki

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