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chicago coffee shops

For Study Breaks and Lunch Dates: Chicago’s Cafes

I spend 3-5 hours, 4-5 times a week in a coffee shop/cafe here in Chicago. Many times, due to geography and time constraints, I may opt for my closest Starbucks, and since I worked there back in 2003-04 during college, I have a very mild loyalty to what I feel is a fairly positive corporation. What I prefer; however, any day of the week, is to walk or bike to an independently run, private shop where you know the owner and employees, you have a favorite drink or snack, a preferred table and chair, and permanently engrained memories of conversations with friends, long hours writing or reading, and a satisfaction in spending your dollar at this type of establishment. I live in Lakeview, so my selections center around where I live and work. I can’t even fathom the awesome cafes to spend hours in neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Logan Square, Lincoln Square, Andersonville, the South Loop, Pilsen, and many tiny villages in between. If you’re in or around Lakeview or Lincoln Park I highly recommend Kickstand, Savor the Flavor, and the Bourgeois Pig. Kickstand is most certainly for the cool kids. With a very modern design, mixture of paintings and bicycles, along with their young, friendly and fashionable baristas, and a myriad of eclectic music playing, this espresso bar offers a fantastic alternative to the numerous Starbucks and Caribou coffees that surround it. I happen to love their Darjeeling tea, prepared with loose leaf black tea placed into an individual bag and tied, with hot water poured over a generous sized cup and saucer (did you not know how tea was made? well, you know now. ). I love having the saucer because I can easily save the bag for extra cups, and when you’re sitting, trying to be productive for a few hours, multiple cups is a must. Little details make this place stand-out, make me want to continue going, and that includes their sugar options; raw, white, substitute and simple syrup; their pies and pastries, wisely selling Hoosier Momma Pie; and their sandwiches, if you’re there over a meal time, I suggest the Pepper Crusted Turkey sandwich. I love anything with avocado, and if a cafe is smart enough to include that buttery ingredient on a sandwich, they’re keepers in my book. Kickstand provides an excellent environment to be productive. I personally love to grab a tea or espresso drink, one of their flaky, savory croissants, and park myself in a stool by the window to people watch while I procrastinate.

Kickstand is located at 824 W. Belmont, open from 7 am to 9 pm, everyday.

My second pick is most certainly my first choice. I wish I lived closer, but this winter has gifted us so many nice days, that I enjoy my roughly 2 mile walk from my apartment in Wrigleyville to Savor the Flavor. Truthfully, Savor has a very special place in my heart, stemming from my permanent boyfriend working there for the first year we lived in Chicago. Owner and now friend, Geri Schapira, has superb taste in staff. Everyone is impossibly attractive, with an equally unbelievable humility and kindness. Savor attracts artists, both as employees and as customers, so it should be no surprise the staff there are some of Chicago’s most impressive young talents, musicians in particular. I now count more than 5 members of Savor’s former and current staff as friends, a couple being close, influential connections. It’s because of these bonds and what we’ve all shared together that allows Savor to hold such a strong significance in our lives. It is the hub, the ground zero of some meaningful relationships and emotions, ones that none of us will ever forget. And we have Geri and Savor to thank for it.

Beyond my emotional attachment is an efficiently run, eclectically decorated cafe with beautiful exposed brick donning the walls, a comfy mixture of sofas and chairs to cushion your body, and some of my favorite espresso, tea, milkshakes, Italian ice, grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade soups in the city. Their red lentil soup, which happens to be vegan, with chunks of celery and carrot, topped with oyster crackers (the best cracker!) happens to feel like medicine for my body and a bowl for my soul. I love getting a cup with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. And good cheese. None of this Kraft American singles BS, but genuinely good options; Muenster, provolone, Colby jack, swiss, etc. Get it with a side of chips or baby carrots and you’re satisfied for hours, fueled with energy to concentrate and converse. During various nights of the week, you may see one of Chicago’s talented singer-songwriters showcasing their passion and artistry, singing their hearts out for Savor’s audience. It’s also great to peruse the very interesting pieces of art on the wall, noting the Arts for Life connection and you’ll feel Savor’s heart even more. I wrote an article for an online magazine about this very special cafe, feel free to check it out if you want even more insight into Savor’s soulful flavor.

Savor the Flavor is located at 2545 N. Sheffield avenue, with entrances on both Lincoln and Sheffield. On weekends they’re open 8ish to 7ish, as expressed on the sign, and weekdays 7ish to 6ish. Looking forward to some summertime milkshakes and Italian ice, but for now, I’ll continue to enjoy my time with friends and the Savor staff as I enjoy some delicious soup. Hope you can make it here.

My final choice made the list merely for the sheer cavalcade of interesting salads, soups and sandwiches, along with the very unique, Parisian ambiance. A simple few blocks away from Savor is The Bourgeois Pig. It may seem like a conflict of interest to like and support both, but such is life, and I support both for very different reasons. Not to disparage anyone at the Piggy, as me and my nerdy friends call it, but their staff is nowhere near as friendly or helpful as Kickstand or Savor. As if they’re adhering to the American stigma and stereotypes of the French, the hipster staff at BP are a bit flippant, sarcastic, sometimes dismissive, and sometimes plain cranky. I do not give a damn. As long as someone isn’t spitting in my food or truly working hard to make my day worse, I don’t care about the 45-60 seconds I spend ordering with them. I am friendly, of course, but if they’re just meh back, what do I care? I absolutely love going to this cafe in the summer, the elevated iron Eiffel Tower structure welcomes you to a really charming outdoor seating area, surrounded by flowers and foliage, lit by the sun. Inside is very old-timey European with some great twists. There’s a beverage side and a food side. Bourgeois takes up every room of a very old Chicago home, so you can ascend one of two stair wells to select one of many rooms to eat, drink and work in. They have a vast tea selection, pretty solid espresso drinks made to order, and plenty of healthy or unhealthy soda and water options to wash down your grub, should you choose to order some.

The Bourgeois Pig is a writer’s paradise. The setting is conducive and inspiring, dedicated to great writers of the past. The sandwiches are all named after literary classics, both in author and in title. My favorite sandwich is still The Great Gatsby, Focaccia Bread, Layered With Basil Pesto & Mayonnaise, Crumbled Bacon, Oven Roasted Turkey, Avocado, Swiss Cheese, Tomatoes & Leaf Spinach...And Then The Whole Contraption Is Grilled! That’s straight from their menu, served with chips and a pickle, this is one of my favorite sandwiches in the city of Chicago. I love their Midsummer Night’s Dream salad and their Potato Leek soup. Many of their items are seasonal and their list of options is more expansive in person than it is online. You can still look over the menu to get excited.

The B. Pig is located at 734 W. Fullerton Parkway and is open 7 am to 10 pm Monday through Saturday, 8 am to 10 pm on Sundays.

All three of these shops carry quality coffee, tea, ingredients and care. They also each provide free wi-fi for customers and some sincerely earnest people running the show. I’m grateful to have such unique and inspiring places to sit comfortably, alone or with friends, with a book, to read or write, laugh or quietly cry (that doesn’t happen often, but if you are going to cry in public, these are good places) in this endlessly giving city. Next time you’re have a lunch date, a business meeting, or some quality time alone, check out one of these cafes.

Life is meant to be inspired and inspiring. Your surroundings are pivotal. Spend your money and time wisely. Choose local. Enjoy.