Doughnut Vault, Canal Street

Some gorgeous latte art in Amanda's cappuccino at the Doughnut Vault on Canal Street, Chicago.The Doughnut Vault is one of Chicago’s better kept (speciality coffee) secrets. Put onto it by my friend Phillip, it was touted as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago, Phillip recommended the Franklin Street location, a small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, which Amanda and I visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. It was only while we were there that the server pointed us towards the Canal Street branch across the river.

Given the aforementioned polar vortex, we didn’t venture out much, so couldn’t get to Canal Street on that visit. However, I returned the next time I was in Chicago, first with Amanda on Monday morning and again on my own on Wednesday lunchtime. As we discovered, Canal Street is somewhat bigger, best described as a “proper coffee shop”, serving, espresso, batch-brew and, of course, the aforementioned doughnuts.

A word of warning, though: the doughnuts sell out quickly. Best be there before nine o’clock if you want to be sure of getting one!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The River Center on Canal Street, just west of the river in Chicago.
  • And here's a more useful view looking the other way along Randolph Street.
  • Entry is by this set of revolving doors (there are also entrances on Canal & Washington).
  • The first hint of what lies within: the name plate to the left of the door: Doughnut Vault!
  • Steps lead down inside the door. The Canal Street entrance is wheelchair accessible.
  • A long corridor leads off at the bottom of the stairs. But wait, what's that on the left?
  • It's the Doughnut Vault! As well as the table outside to the right...
  • There are three more of the octagonal tables against the opposite wall...
  • ... and another around the corner.
  • A handy sign reminds you where you are.
  • Inside, the layout is fairly simple, chairs in the middle and to the left, counter at the back.
  • Pride of place are these four armchairs around a central coffee table.
  • There are a pair of two-person octagonal tables between them and the counter...
  • ... with another pair of two-person tables against the left-hand wall.
  • There's a takeaway station on the opposite wall with sliding steel doors behind.
  • The counter is at the back...
  • The (empty) display case holds the doughnuts, freshly baked each morning.
  • To the left is this gorgeous old till...
  • ... while to the right is the La Marzocco espresso machine...
  • ... and this neat, old change dispenser.
  • There are plenty of lights on the various walls, but the chandelier is the best feature.
  • Isn't it gorgeous?
  • The menu is painted on the exposed brick of the left-hand wall.
  • Nice logo.
  • The drinks are repeated above the counter. Dollar shots refer to the price of the espresso!
  • Coffee for two on my first visit with Amanda.
  • I had a cortado...
  • ... while Amanda had a cappuccino.
  • This had some lovely latte art...
  • ... which lasted all the way to the bottom of the cup.
  • I returned on Wednesday lunchtime for an espresso...
  • ... a real old-school classic served in a classic cup, which is where I'll leave things.
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The Doughnut Vault is inside the River Center, a squat, rectangular tower block/office building occupying the block between Randolph and Washington Streets, opposite the Ogilvie Transport Center, one of Metra’s four terminus stations. Despite an address of 111 Canal Street, the best entrance is on Randolph Street, although you can get to the Doughnut Vault through any of the three main street entrances (Randolph/Canal/Washington), each leading to a long corridor which converge in the centre of the building. The Doughnut Vault is on the eastern side of the northern corridor (on the left, entering from Randolph Street).

It’s a pretty simple set-up, an open-fronted, roughly square windowless space with a gorgeous chandelier hanging down from the centre of the ceiling. Four armchairs cluster under this around a small, round coffee table, while there are two octagonal two-person tables between them and the counter and two more against the left-hand wall. This also contains a large, painted menu, while the right-hand wall has a takeaway station and what looks like massive, sliding steel doors. Finally, at the back, there’s the counter, with the doughnuts (when there are any) in the centre, an old-fashioned till to the left, and the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine to the right. You can also take your coffee and sit at one of the handful of octagonal tables out in the corridor or in the central lobby to the left.

The Doughnut Vault is part of the same restaurant group as Sawada Coffee, home of renowned barista Hiroshi Sawada, located six blocks over in the West Loop. They both share the same roaster, Metropolis, the Doughnut Vault using Sawada’s Project X blend on espresso and batch-brew (conversely, you can get Doughnut Vault doughnuts at Sawada).

Doughnut Vault serves a cut-down espresso-based menu which Amanda and I tried on our Monday visit, Amanda opting for a cappuccino, while I had a cortado. Project X is a strong, rich coffee, with classic chocolate notes, which goes really well with milk. In the cappuccino, it came across as milder, the balance of coffee/milk tipped towards milk, which is much more Amanda’s preference, so we both chose well! Intrigued by the coffee, I had an espresso on my return on Wednesday lunchtime, finding it to be an old school espresso (in a good way), well balanced, with plenty of body and a lovely, syrupy mouthfeel.

If you’re curious about the doughnuts, Amanda and I tried them at the Franklin Street Doughnut Vault in January. Check it out to see what we made of them.

111 NORTH CANAL STREET • CHICAGO • IL 60606 • USA +1 312-285-2830
Monday 07:00 – 15:00 Roaster Metropolis (espresso + batch-brew)
Tuesday 07:00 – 15:00 Seating Tables
Wednesday 07:00 – 15:00 Food Doughnuts!
Thursday 07:00 – 15:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 15:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday CLOSED Wifi Free
Sunday CLOSED Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 6th, 8th May 2019

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