The best coffee shops do more than pour a good cup of joe. Like the Parisian cafes of centuries ago, which served as a social gathering place for noted actors, authors, artists and musicians, today’s coffeehouses are incubators for all things creative.
Here are just four of our favorites.
Bucktown: Ipsento 606
1813 N Milwaukee Ave
Photo: Ipsento 606
“Ipsento” is a word invented by the coffee shop’s founders – the combination of two Latin roots: ipse, meaning “self”, and sentio, meaning “to discover.” It’s a great metaphor for an establishment that enjoys the ritual of coffee-making and the art of self-expression. Don’t expect your coffee to come out quickly, but do expect it to be exceptional. You’ll watch baristas carefully crafting your order in what looks a lot like a test kitchen (one day, I’d like a kitchen just like it). While you wait, indulge in Ipsento’s “healthy” mini donuts, made from scratch using freshly milled kamut and sweet potato, then fried in organic coconut oil. There’s always a selection of flavors, including a flavor of the month. Best of all, as the name implies,
Photo: Ipsento 606
Ipsento 606 sits right on the 606 trail – an elevated 2.7 mile jogging, walking and cycling trail that connects Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown and Wicker Park. Or simply sit and soak in the serenity of Spire Garden just outside Ipsento, and contemplate the vast Jeff Zimmermann mural on the side of the building—a montage of scenes inspired by people and nature, and the perfect selfie backdrop.By evening, the coffee shop transforms into a full bar, with an exemplary craft cocktail menu, wine and craft brews. Its sister location, located in Bucktown, also offers classes on everything from Coffee 101: History, Selection and Brewing to learning Barrista basics.
Lakeview: Uncommon Ground
3800 N Clark Street
Photo: Annie Jo Kjar
Helen and Michael Cameron’s Lakeview outpost, just steps from Wrigley Field, started as just a small coffee house, but has rapidly expanded to include Greenstar Organic Brewing, the first certified organic brewery in Illinois, and one of the many breweries that populate the city. It’s also the site of live music, showcasing local and national talent every night, not to mention an Open Mic Night every Monday. Not by any means your typical coffee house, you’ll also be welcomed with a full brunch, lunch and dinner menu, the ingredients for which are largely sourced from the first certified-organic rooftop farm in the United States, located at Helen and Michael’s Edgewater outpost (1401 W Devon Avenue).
Logan Square: Café Mustache
2313 N Milwaukee Ave
Trek Talk at Cafe Mustache, courtesy of Mary McKane
This cozy, bohemian coffee shop is located in the hip hub known as Logan Square, and was pegged “Chicago’s Best Non-Traditional Music Venue” by the Chicago Reader. While it serves a loyal clientele of artists, musicians and creatives breakfast and lunch daily, along with big mugs of coffee, it transforms into a bar and entertainment venue by night, featuring everything from comedy and live music to Trek Talk, a screening of Star Trek episodes followed by an always hilarious panel and audience discussion. (Trek Talk generally takes place the second Thursday of the month; check out the podcasts here). To encourage connecting with friends and strangers, WiFi ends at 6pm.
Tip: If you’re after a light bite, grab a bowl of Vegan Chili and some pickled eggs at the bar.
South Side: Build Coffee
6100 South Blackstone Ave
Photo: Build Coffee
The fact that Build serves coffee might be an afterthought since it’s also a bookstore (selling new and used books, local small press publications, journals, comics, art books, and zines)and performance and workshop venue. Oh wait, it also hosts gallery shows, book groups and game nights. By its own admission, “Build is designed as a hub of great coffee and radical collaboration.” But coffee is most certainly not an afterthought at this non-profit, which is committed to building a strong cultural community on Chicago’s South Side (hence the name).
Photo: Build Coffee
The two-story brick building, known as the Experimental Station, is also home to a bike shop, three journalism projects, and the 61stStreet Farmers Market, a year-round fresh food market featuring produce from local and regional farms. Build sits close to both the Museum of Science & Industry and picturesque 543-acre Jackson Park. So grab a cup of coffee and explore all that this vibrant neighborhood has to offer.