In Northern France, cyclists are preparing for the Paris-Roubaix: one of the oldest races in the world. With 260 kilometres of bone-shaking cobblestone and dusty roads finishing in the iconic Roubaix Velodrome, the spectacle epitomizes athleticism.
Nearly 8,000 kilometres away in Vancouver, riders and caffeine enthusiasts alike are trickling into Musette Caffé’s new location. It is within this space that owner Thomas Eleizegui (former co-owner of what is now known as The Message Cafe in Chinatown) has found a way to encapsulate the rich history of that race, and the sport of cycling as a whole.
Formerly occupying a humble plot of land in an alleyway off Burrard Street, Musette was a haven for those who could actually find it. Eleizegui’s new spot opened on Jan. 2, 2017 and is far less inconspicuous—which is certainly good for business. Located right on Burrard between Drake and Harwood, it’s a prime location for both foot and cycling traffic. The modern space is open and comfortable, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed piping, and an expansive seating area.
Eleizegui grew up in a town just outside of Rome and fell in love with cycling as a young boy. When he moved to Vancouver in 1984, he wanted to bring a piece of the riding community with him. From the abundance of cycling paraphernalia on display throughout his 2,200-square-foot cafe, it’s safe to say he is on the right track.
Setting the tone for the space is the classically celeste-coloured Bianchi bike, which sits on the wall above the coffee bar. Bianchi is the world’s oldest bicycle-making company and has played a substantial role in leading some of the greatest riders to victory. The long tables near the entrance are made from repurposed wood from the now-demolished 80-year-old Sportpaleis Antwerp cycling track in Belgium. There are only 28 of these unique tables in the world, and two of them are at Musette.
Eleizegui also specially designed a slightly elevated section of booths that emulate the famous shower cubicles in the Roubaix Velodrome, complete with brass name plaques.
Even the cafe’s name is a nod to the cycling world. Musette refers to the lightweight shoulder bag containing food and water that is given to moving riders as they pass through a feed zone. Eleizegui collected musette bags for 10 years before opening the cafe. The oldest in his possession is from the 1930s and can be found hanging on a rack near the window. The walls are lined with jerseys, old riding caps, and photographs of famous racers. A giant Coca-Cola banner from the 2000 Tour de France is wrapped around a pillar near the back.
“It’s about bringing energy into this new place through the old pieces,” Eleizegui says. “When someone walks in and they don’t necessarily know the history of cycling, they can still feel it. And they walk out having learned something new.”
Beginning in March, the cafe will offer monthly adventure rides for cyclists, and currently hosts a running club every Tuesday. Musette also rents Pinarello GAN road bikes and provides custom cycling and hiking tours. “It’s about bringing people together, because I know I couldn’t have done this on my own,” explains Eleizegui. “On the days when I just wanted to walk away, the team believed in me and kept me going.”
At the Paris-Roubaix, the thunderous roar of the crowd encourages riders in the final stretch to victory. Once they enter the Velodrome, they complete one-and-a-half laps before crossing the finish line. While there may not be a finish line at Musette, when you enter through the doors, you still feel you have arrived somewhere special.