Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.
Exchanging ideas, catching up with friends, conducting a casual meeting or losing yourself in the aroma of delicious coffee blends are just a few of the many reasons people visit their favourite local cafe. But if you’re looking for a cafe AND a rooftop patio AND a bar AND an art gallery, Forth, located at 171 McDermot Avenue, is everything you’ve always dreamt of, without even knowing it.
Forth’s Programming and Operations Manager, Ben Jones, was looking for something more. After a stint in Toronto running programming at Casa Loma, and jobs in Winnipeg with the Graffiti Gallery and Studio 393 (in addition to founding and running the annual Rainbow Trout Music Festival) Jones landed himself at Forth in May of this year.
“Forth, as a venue, as well as a community hub, seemed like a very interesting prospect,” he says. “Even just coming here and spending time, I valued this as a location to go in Winnipeg. As a destination to meet friends, to make new friends, to see bands playing, art shows, to enjoy great food and drink in the bar… to be able to to be a part of that and to direct it was a great opportunity, so I took it.”
In addition to the programming, Jones is quick to point out how in love with the space he is. Even after a few months, he’s still clearly energized by his surroundings.
“I think presentation-wise, Forth clearly stands out,” he says of the space, which features angular seating areas and a diverse collection of handmade wooden tables and chairs. “From the moment people enter Forth, they’re in a space that feels comfortable but unfamiliar in the context of Winnipeg. For people who have been overseas or more metropolitan cities, Forth may be a space that reminds them of those areas, which is a nice addition to the visual landscape of Winnipeg.”
Another way that Forth stands out is with their amazing candle-lit bar, and (weather permitting) a rooftop patio, complete with DJs and an incredible view. All of this is presented in a beautifully minimalist fashion. “I think what Forth tries to do is present really excellent coffee, cocktails, food, and environment in a simple way,” Jones says. “Simple, elegant and really high quality.”
Jones’ goal for his new gig is to create a full calendar of events with designated evenings, so you’ll always know what’s going on each night at Forth. From speaking engagements and panel discussions to performances, film screenings, and gallery showings, Forth is covering a lot of bases, and working to create a dialogue around each and every event.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t have this place get to a point where people thought of Forth as an intellectual place, or stumble upon an engagement in the space that really does challenge them,” Jones says. “We don’t want to steer away from things that are challenging to some.”
Upcoming events include Free Films at Forth (every Wednesday at 7pm) and a panel discussion on Indigenous issues this Saturday from 3-5pm curated by Red Rising Magazine. Saturday also finds a one-day contemporary exhibit from University of Manitoba BFA graduate Jillian Bagan.
In addition to these diverse events, Forth is home to a second floor co-working space. Mainly inhabited by web-based companies Tipping Canoe and Upfeat, there are multiple workspaces available for rent in one of the most impressive offices in town (everyone has access to the classic office environment staples, in addition to a slick boardroom table made from a vintage surfboard). “They can share their experiences and their passion for their work, and those networking opportunities could help their businesses,” Jones says. Another tenant is Dogwood Coffee Co., who roasts their coffee on-site. They first opened up in Minneapolis and expanded to Winnipeg in 2016. Forth proudly serves Dogwood Coffee, naturally.
Jones notes that those who operate out of the co-working space often attend the events (many of which are free to the public) or simply come and immerse themselves in the environment.
“There’s a good crossover between the floors, it’s a fairly fluid space,” he says. “We encourage everybody from the second floor office spaces to attend our events. They like being able to take 20 steps and be a part of something that’s taking place.”