In January of 2017, I got the idea to visit 52 coffee shops in 52 weeks. As any Chicagoan knows, January-March is a time for hibernation. To escape my apartment, I started hanging out in local coffee shops and got hooked. Some may call that a caffeine dependency, but I think there’s something more to it. Maybe I’m just trying to find my own Central Perk.
Throughout the year, I visited 52 coffee shops in neighborhoods across the city. While each spot holds a unique place in my heart, here are my top 15 (in alphabetical order by neighborhood).
Whether you’re looking to grab a coffee to go, meet for a date, explore the city, or hunker down and get some serious work done, this list is for you.
935 W. Wilson
Everybody’s coffee is relatively large, with long wooden high-top tables and many smaller tables. The clean and simple red-and-white color theme is a great background for the impressive local artwork on display. Given the size, this place is great for chatting, working, studying or just having coffee and a pastry alone. A random fun fact is that one episode of the Netflix series Easy was filmed here.
5317 N. Clark
Kopi is part boutique filled with locally made goods, part restaurant and part coffee shop. It is a bustling spot with a bohemian vibe, including a section with floor tables and big pillows for chairs. They have beer, wine and a full menu that is very vegetarian friendly. Kopi is a great place for a date, grabbing breakfast or lunch with a friend, or just getting coffee and reading a book. It may be a little loud for hunkering down and working or studying though.
2545 W. Armitage
Serving traditional Italian coffee (carefully crafted blends from around the world), Caffe Umbria is a rich addition to Chicago’s coffee scene. They also have a River North location (346 N. Clark), but I visited the Logan Square cafe, roastery and coffee lab, located in a large red warehouse. With red and yellow roasting machines visible through large glass windows, it reminded me of a Ferrari-themed brewery. The coffee and coffee cake, of course, were exquisite. Decorated with colorful local art and board games on the tables, this industrial cafe is a great spot for work or play.
2035 N. Western
Latin for “self-discovery,” Ipsento reminds me a bit of a big treehouse. Beyond the front room with the register, there is a back room just up a set of stairs with a sofa, chairs and tables to seat 10-15 people. The oak paneling, floors and chairs provide a warm and cozy setting. Ipsento’s founders travel around the world to find ethically produced coffee beans, then roast them back in Chicago. They offer coffee classes where you can learn all about coffee and roasting. Beer and sandwiches are also on the menu, and there is now a second location called Ipsento 606.
2806 W. Augusta
C.C. Ferns is the place your hipster friend loves. With vintage furniture (gold velour couches), artfully placed books and games, rustic wood paneling and mirror ceiling tiles, this place has mastered the idea of shabby chic. The quiet and chill atmosphere makes this a perfect place to study, or maybe even write some poetry. I would highly recommend the Chai tea latte, as it is one of the best I’ve had in the city. Other things to note: C.C. is on the smaller side with limited seating. It is also attached to California Clipper, a fantastic speakeasy-style bar with live music and strong cocktails.
2959 N. Lincoln
Heritage Bicycles is a Lakeview favorite and the original Chicago bike cafe. It is connected to Heritage Bike Store and has a modern, all-American feel with white paneled walls and wood floors. The defining decorative feature is a long, rustic communal table opposite the register. There are also a few smaller tables up front. Heritage also boasts a unique gravel-studded picnic garden furnished with a vintage car. This is a great place to work or pick up some local pastries from West Town Bakery.
1201 W. Roscoe
A neighborhood gem nestled on a residential street in West Lakeview, Two-Hearted Queen is a truly local hangout. The café is the first floor of an old house and has several different rooms, each adorned with quirky furniture and coffee-themed décor. I am partial to spots with couches, but Two-Hearted Queen’s cozy, comfortable and relaxed environment make it an ideal spot to work. The spacious and segmented layout also makes it a great spot to chat. Additionally, the mission of the two owners is to support sustainable coffee farms and make customers feel more like family.
2212 N. Clybourn
Kibbitznest is a bright and airy coffee shop complete with an open-concept kitchen at the center, a fireplace in front and a piano in the back room. It looks and feels new, but pays reverence to the old as a “wifi-free zone” with typewriters for customers to use. There are also coloring books, board games and a large book selection, some of which are for sale. The owners were in both times I swung in, and I felt like I was a guest being warmly welcomed into their home. This spot is ideal for curling up with a book, hanging out with a few friends or even spending part of a date (monthly storytelling sessions, a book club, themed talks, guest speakers and open until midnight Fridays and Saturdays). Side note: They have a great wine and beer selection as well!
736 W. Fullerton
This is a Chicago coffee house staple. Located in an old house in the heart of Lincoln Park, Bourgeois Pig has two separate, adjacent cafes and an outdoor courtyard. They are known for their sandwiches, and as such, one room has more of a deli/Potbelly feel. The other area feels much more like a coffee house, including a fireplace with a portrait hanging above, and chairs snuggly situated around it. I was impressed with their large loose-tea selection.
4703 N. Lincoln
Oromo Café is a fresh, sleek and cozy coffee shop. The green ivy on the walls, wooden tables and white-tiled counters make for a refreshing study spot. While the name has an Ethiopian origin, the strongest influence on the menu seemed Turkish. Homemade pistachio milk, rose flavoring and dates appeared frequently. The pistachio and rose latte with homemade pistachio milk was incredible. Despite being on the smaller side (seating for only 15-20), this spot is great for studying, working or peacefully enjoying a latte or one of their homemade vegan snacks.
2385 N. Milwaukee
Its corner location gives Gaslight a triangular shape with sunny tables in the front and larger, darker tables in the back. The atmosphere is rustic with a minimalist feel (the water glasses are old steel camping mugs). A peaceful place ideal for working and studying.
22 E. Jackson (five total locations)
Hero Coffee has a few locations around Chicago, but the Pickwick Alley location is about as adorable and Pinterest-able as they come. Strings of lights and a large “COFFEE” sign welcome coffee lovers into the cobblestone alley where this little shop is snuggly located. It is an incredibly tiny space with no seating, but just enough room inside to wait and order.
112 N. Green
Attached to Green Street Smoked Meats, Sawada has all the rustic, exposed brick and hanging-light feels of its popular neighbor. The atmosphere doesn’t get much cooler than Sawada, but overlooking the restaurant can get a bit loud if you are looking to study or engage in a meaningful conversation. Sawada is perfect to grab coffee before brunch in the West Loop, play some pinball or enjoy a cup of joe and people watch.
2521 W. Chicago
Star Lounge is a bright and warm spot buzzing with energy and fun music. You can tell it was once a tavern; it is long and narrow with gold-colored walls, bar seating, small tables and a back patio. The staff was especially cheery and welcoming. They serve Dark Matter Coffee (a Chicago favorite) and have a creative selection of craft lattes. I got the Wake and Bake, which is one of their most popular drinks. It has pepper and maple syrup, but trust me, it’s delicious and well-balanced. This spot is great for socializing.
1462 N. Milwaukee
Situated right in the heart of Wicker Park, this is where I picture the Big Bang Theory cast would hang out if they lived in Chicago. The moment you step in, you are bombarded with 1980s and ’90s memorabilia and references (this includes an actual DeLorean car, working Nintendo games, an old Macintosh computer, etc.). The furnishings have an ’80s feel with worn sofas and chairs, which are inviting and funky. I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious my ginger curry latte tasted. Wormhole is good for meeting a friend, working in a small group or playing some old-school video games.