Us York-ites are spoilt for choice when it comes to indie coffee shops. As if we needed another, up pops Gatehouse Coffee, one of the most interesting cafés you could wish to find.
It’s nestled into Walmgate Bar, one of York’s many ancient sites (note: in local parlance, a “bar” is a gate and a “gate” is a street).
The Bar is a bit out of the way (about 10 minutes walk from the centre) and there’s not much else around, but it’s a wonderful building and well worth the trip. This is what it feels like to stumble on to Platform 9 3/4 (I imagine) and into a bygone age of stone and leather. More charm than a Professor Flitwick class, you might say.
And because it’s out on a limb, it’s a perfect place for sitting reading for a few hours (I’ve happily filled a couple of work-related study days here).
The coffee comes from Union Handroasted, a well regarded London roastery which supplies a few other cafés in this blog. The baristas are passionate about their coffee and they do a fantastic job. I’ve popped in a few times over the last couple of months and tried a few brews, all really good and very well presented.
Intriguingly, most of the voices I’ve heard on my trips have been American, including those of the baristas. Many are students of the nearby Bible College (more on that below). They’re a nice, friendly bunch.
Equally intriguingly, to reach the toilet you have to walk behind the counter. Surely a health and safety issue?! If you still fancy food, there are a limited number of basic options (including a few sweet things).
Now for the interesting part. Gatehouse is owned by Calvary Chapel, an evangelical Christian fellowship originating in the USA with a branch and Bible College nearby. It used to be housed in the Bar and, after moving to bigger premises in 2008, it kept the building and turned it into a café. But this is no pale church room with 50p instant coffee, it’s a right proper coffee shop.
Almost every book on the amply-filled bookshelves has a Christian theme. There are various religious adornments. Christian rock, the Vogon poetry of the music world, plays constantly through the speakers. It’s no surprise that I’ve seen a lot of customers wearing headphones. Bring an iPod or chatty friends (seriously).
The baristas tell me that Gatehouse is first and foremost a missionary; it’s more an extension of the Chapel than a business. Even the price of the coffee is kept low to entice visitors and to spread the word of God.
Even the loyalty card quotes the Bible, and it seems that things don’t bode well for unbelieving customers like me (“whoever believes in him [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life”).
After an internal struggle with one of my least favourite things (evangelical religion) on the one side, and one of my favourite things (a decent coffee shop) on the other, I’m glad to say that the friendliness and comfort of Gatehouse won the day. I’ve been back and I’ll be going back again.
I’m sure some will find the Christian theme a bonus, and others a novelty. For the rest of you, be prepared, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the friendly atmosphere, good coffee, comfy chairs and smashing olde worlde surroundings.
Just remember the headphones.
In the ancient Walmgate Bar, near 3 Lawrence Street. Map icon is a little too far to the east.
Some information about Walmgate Bar at the York Council website.
We visited on 8 August 2009.