X-Cues’ Café and Lounge still live after five decades on Sargent Ave.

Legendary West End staple thrives with Game of Thrones, open jam nights

Musicians playing at the weekly Sargent Jam

X-Cues’ Café and Lounge has been a West End staple for almost half a century. Formerly known as Enzo’s Sports Bar, it first opened on a bustling of Sargent Avenue in 1969. The brothers Infantino, Gaetano and Enzo, arrived from Montreal shortly after leaving their home in Italy and immediately transformed their business into a home-away-from-home for many Italians.

In 1968, Enzo and his wife took a trip to Winnipeg. When he arrived back in Montreal, he asked his brothers which one was coming back with him to open a café. Gaetano brought his wife and two young children, Franca and Sal, to live in Winnipeg and opened Enzo’s along with his brother in 1968 on Notre Dame Ave. The business relocated to Sargent Ave in 1969, and has remained there ever since. The family-owned and operated business is still run by Gaetano’s children Franca, Sal, and Rosie almost 50 years later.

In their humble beginnings, the big hearted brothers accepted anyone into their family, as they left theirs behind in Montreal to start the new business. When Italian families would arrive in Winnipeg with only the clothes on their backs, taxi drivers would take them to X-Cues where they were guaranteed a meal, a place to sleep, and help finding a job in the neighbourhood.

Today, you can still see that customers from a vast number of nationalities and cultures have stayed loyal to X-Cues’ across generations because of the owners’ big, welcoming hearts.

When you enter X-Cues’ before noon on any day of the week, you will immediately be greeted by the sound of a few dozen Italian men playing cards. From mutters which crescendo into roars and back down again, the red card room is always packed with generations of card players buying each other Italian coffees. Wives of the men playing cards on occasion still call X-Cues’ landline phone to remind them to come home, and the room clears before dinner.

Food is expertly prepared by Franca and the beloved Tony Lamorte, who has been working in the X-Cues’ kitchen for more than 20 years. Authentic Italian specials like arancini, chicken parmesan, and meatballs are all covered in homemade sauce and cooked to perfection.

Unlike other coffee shops in the city, baristas do not weigh their espresso or measure the milk before making what is arguably the best coffee in the city. When baristas start their shift, the espresso is to be eyed up, watched, and tasted because even the weather can affect the amount of beans to be brewed.

You won’t find a thermometer in the milk for lattes. Workers are taught to listen to the milk and touch the bottom of the metal frothing jug until it is too hot to handle – that’s when they are ready to pour. If the foam is thick enough to watch the sugar slowly fall through, one will be rewarded with a bravo. Workers have a rolodex in their brain of specialty orders, so that regulars just give their server a nod or glance to have their coffee made to exactly their preference.

The walls of  X-Cues host vintage soccer photographs, and there is a large soccer mural on one of the building’s exterior walls. X-Cues’ is a local hub for watching soccer games in the community, no matter which team is playing. The place fills to standing room only when Italy plays; fans old and young to come see their team compete. There’s nothing like X-Cues’ during an Italian soccer game, particularily after a goal.

The remaining room on the walls is covered with work by local artists and photographers, and rotates on a monthly basis. Local artists have the opportunity to sell and showcase their art to the café’s diverse set of customers. From wildlife photography and landscapes to detailed flower paintings and celebrity-animal hybrid portraits, there are unique artists from across the city using the walls of X-Cues’ as a gallery for their work.

Over the decades X-Cues’ has operated, the business has evolved due to their open-mindedness towards new projects and ideas. Currently, X-Cues’ is host to many weekly events that bring together people that would otherwise not have the chance to meet and share their passions.

Entertainment organizers Cherise Mitchell and Stefanie Infantino spent countless hours trying to keep up with the ever-evolving city around X-Cues’, and their hard work has begun to pay off.

What started as an apparent flop, the Thursday open mic at X-Cues’ would sometimes have no attendees besides than the host. Infantino and Mitchell stuck with it, and now “Sargent Jam” has become a staple for some local musicians who come every week to expand, network, and share their music with the community.

Hosts of Sargent Jam play a set with their band and afterwards, they open the stage to an open mic – jam hybrid where musicians can play alone, with others, or just hop on stage and collaborate with other musicians they have never met or played with before. The experience has left musicians and musicophiles coming back week after week. Generations of music-makers spanning many genres and levels of skill cover and create music that is unique and may never be played the same again.

Mitchell is also the mastermind behind weekly Game of Thrones nights at X-Cues’. Starting in January, X-Cues’ aired two episodes of Game of Thrones every Sunday leading up to the premiere of the show’s seventh season. Mitchell put her heart into having themed skits, props, and a modified version of Cards Against Humanity to share with fellow fans. The first night of season seven was host to a full house, and now over 120 people reserve seats to watch Game of Thrones on six big screens amongst other fans. The season finale had over 150 attendees, and Mitchell is hoping that next season there will be just as many fans coming in to watch.

“Woke Comedy Hour” is one of the newest events at X-Cues’ that strives to create a welcoming and inclusive space. The event is a monthly open mic that showcases women of colour, Indigenous women, and non-binary folk of colour. Mitchell is proud of the success it has become and is hoping that the event continues to expand.

Among the parties, socials, and live music that X-Cues’ hosts, one of the signature events held every year is the annual Christmas Feast. People of the West End that are unable to have a Christmas dinner are treated to a meal prepared with care by the cooks at X-Cues’ and volunteers, served in the café. Hundreds of people line up to sit down and have a Christmas dinner with their families to the sound of live music, and even get free picture with Santa and gifts.

Over the years, X-Cues’ has changed to keep up with the evolving community around it.

Hopefully, X-Cues’ will continue to host events for people in the community as well as become a more competitive music venue in the city during the evenings, while continuing to providing the community with good food and coffee during the day. The small dream of the Infantino brothers to open a café in Winnipeg has become an irreplaceable staple of the West End and an ever-evolving community space that is a second home to many families throughout the city.