Tea and tarot

You know a leisurely dinner in a dimly lit bistro is for romance, that a diner is the place to work off your Sunday hangover, but what about those afternoons when you need a place to contemplate body and soul? It certainly doesn't happen in the drive-through lane. Rather, indulge in the time-honoured tradition of food and fortune.

Before Charles Darwin ruined it for everybody with his ideas of science, psychics regularly inhabited cafés and teashops. However, these days there are few places that still serve fries (or tea or cakes) with cards. Whether you view it as entertainment or counsel, a good session in a café with a tarot-card reader is one of life's great midday pleasures.

Notte's Bon Ton (3150 West Broadway, 604-681-3058) This is Vancouver's grand old lady of tearooms, with pastry cases filled with rich, gooey cakes, and a tarot-card reader so entirely suited to the environment, you wonder if central casting wasn't involved. James has been reading tarot cards at the Bon Ton for 15 of its 79 years.

This is an ideal spot if you've never had a reading, need to focus on one concern, or care to share with a good friend. Readings are 10 to 15 minutes and cost $10 (plus tip-James is very generous). You don't need an appointment, but you may have to wait your turn (time for a coffee and the cake tray). James will ask if you have a question and focus the reading around it.

Like all readers, he shuffles the deck and you cut the cards before he lays them out. When he makes his first perceptive observation, try not to choke on your buttercream. It can be a little unnerving to be known so clearly by a stranger. James will tell you what he sees and, in the most gentle manner, point out what you probably can't see. Listen carefully: even in 10 short minutes, he'll give you something more lasting than the cake's calories.

Available Friday and Saturday noon to 4 p.m. For information on tea-leaf reading, call the restaurant.

The Normandy Restaurant (2675 Granville Street, 604-738-3115) When I was a kid there was a style of restaurant that, for reasons of economy, I never got to explore. These restaurants-with their hot roast-beef sandwiches, ice-cream scoops of mashed potatoes, and raisin pie-fascinated me; particularly as the back booth was often occupied by a woman who read tarot cards. The Normandy Restaurant is that exotic place and Gayle is that very psychic. Going there is every bit as good as I figured it would be. Sadly, the kitchen was seriously damaged in a fire on November 15; the building had already been sold and this 70-year-old restaurant was set to close on January 10.

Gayle offers a seven-card spread for $25 or a 13-card spread for $40. (You can contact her now at 604-435-3639.) She lays out her cloth, her special box, and the cards, and proceeds to show you the "probabilities and possibilities". This description downplays her extraordinary vision. A session with Gayle is better than therapy, and way more fun.

The Bayswater Tea Company (2966 West Broadway, 604-733-5767) It's good to know somebody appreciates tradition and the obvious pairing of tea and tarot. When Sabrina Faas opened the Bayswater five months ago, she knew a tarot reader would be perfect and asked Leigh to join her. Unlike the Normandy and the Bon Ton, there is a private space in the back carefully decorated in "modern medium".

But before you can go back there, you have to let Sabrina make you a pot of tea. As in many specialty teashops, the choice is broad enough to throw a guest into option shock. If you can't decide, let her choose; she's got a tea merchant's nose and sensibility. Finally, choose a tea-infused chocolate made for the store by Dutch Girl Chocolates and head to the back for either a 20-minute reading at $35 or a 40-minute one at $55.

The space may be small, but the output isn't; once the cards are out, hold on. There's lots of energy up-front and remarkable perception from Leigh, who gives the best chat-not all readers are so open.

Available by appointment only.