There are certain touchstones of living in a big city like Chicago that really can’t be reproduced in the suburban strip mall. These are the places, events, and experiences that shape what each of us thinks of when we think of “city life.” For me, the Intelligentsia line of Chicago coffee shops (or “coffeebars” as they call them) is one of those things.
Upon first moving to Chicago, I stumbled upon the Washington Avenue location by accident. It’s a somewhat hipper take on the modern coffee bar than your average Starbucks, and appeals to the socially and environmentally sustainable sensibilities that the hipper coffee connoisseurs among us increasingly demand. Without recounting my addiction-at-first-sip love story, I’ll only say that if you haven’t tried their grinded-and-hand-dripped-on-demand brews, you really are missing out.
Several years later, I find myself sitting in the Intelligentsia café at the corner of Jackson and Dearborn in the Loop, and coming to the “touchstone” realization of this post’s first paragraph. The coffee here is just as great as it is at the company’s other locations, but there is something about the dark wood molding, white granite tabletops and floors, and from-another-time barista bar that screams “this is a place you can’t find in Schaumburg.”
Add to that the shop’s placement inside the historic Monadnock Building* and the constant stream of business people striding past outside, and you’re left with a window onto another world: one part turn-of-the-century Chicago and Elliot Ness, one part Mad Men and Don Draper.
If you get a chance, stop by Intelligentsia and have a coffee. You won’t miss the MacBook-wielding mob of Starbucks, or the pervasive mocha-choca-latte crowds of everywhere else. You’ll have room to take a breath, make a little space in the middle your day, and maybe, at least for a few minutes, experience one of the small moments that can only be had in the big city.
The Jackson Blvd. Intelligentsia location (and the Monadnock Building) can be reached via the CTA’s Jackson Blue Line or Red Line stops, as well as the Harold Washington Library stop on the Brown/Orange/Pink/Purple lines.
* Note: The Monadnock Building deserves its own write-up in a separate posting. If you haven’t heard of it, check out the Wikipedia article for a solid recap of the building’s architectural and historical importance. It really can’t be overstated. I also highly recommend taking the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s “Historic Downtown: Rise of the Skyscraper” walking tour for more information on the Monadnock and its contemporaries.