Intelligentsia, Wicker Park

The latte art in my decaf cappuccino, served at Intelligentsia, Wicker Park in Chicago.Just before the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a day exploring Wicker Park, one of many Chicago neighbourhood clustered along Milwaukee Avenue. I visited three coffee shops along the way, Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea, Purple Llama (now sadly permanently closed) and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Intelligentsia. It’s appropriate that, in the week that I wrote about Canopy Coffee, the first coffee shop I visited since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, that I should also feature the last coffee shop I visited before COVID-19 forced many coffee shops to close.

As regular readers know, I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, one of Chicago’s pioneering roaster/coffee shop chains. I first visited its coffee bar in the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard in 2003, long before my Coffee Spot days. The Wicker Park location is a more recent addition, occupying an open, light-filled space on the ground floor of an apartment block on the corner of Division and Ashland. There’s the usual Intelligentsia offering of coffee, Kilogram tea, cakes/savouries and a large retail selection. There are three espresso options: Black Cat, single-origin and decaf, while pour-over and batch-brew each have their own single-origin.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Standing on the corner of Division and Ashland in Wicker Park is this apartment block.
  • This is what we came for, on the ground floor, facing Division: Intelligentsia, Wicker Park.
  • There's also an outdoor seating area off to the right...
  • ... which is separated from the building by the entrance to the parking lot.
  • The coffee shop extends a little way forward of the entrance to the apartments.
  • The view from just inside the door, which is on the right-hand side. The counter is...
  • ... at the back with the seating to your left between the counter and the windows.
  • Another view of the seating, seen from the right-hand end of the counter.
  • And here's a view from the other end of the counter, diagonally opposite the door.
  • There's also seating against the left-hand wall where you'll find this bench.
  • The bulk of the seating is in the middle, starting with this 10-person table by the counter.
  • A pair of two-person tables form a row in the middle of the space...
  • ... with three more two-person tables by a bench running along the windows at the front.
  • A view along the bench in the windows, as seen looking left from the door.
  • A view of the counter and the back of Intelligentsia.
  • Almost the entire right-hand wall is given over to retail...
  • ... starting with this display cabinet immediately to the right of the door.
  • The next set of shelves, after the window, has mugs and other merchandising...
  • ... before there's a change of pace with a refrigerated grab-and-go cabinet.
  • Finally, there's a wide selection of retail bags of coffee and coffee-making kit.
  • Despite the front of Intelligentsia being floor-to-ceiling glass, there are plenty of lights.
  • Unsurprisingly, I was fascinated by these, which, to me...
  • ... look like upside-down coffee filters.
  • Last lighting shot, I promise.
  • I really liked the painting on the left-hand wall above the takeaway station.
  • The rest of the left-hand wall has an array of hanging baskets...
  • ... each of which houses one or two plants.
  • You order at the right-hand end of the counter, which is in the back, right-hand corner.
  • There's a tempting glass display case with the cakes, pastries and savouries.
  • The menu is to the left of that: when I visited, COVID-19 restrictions were in place.
  • The menu in more detail: coffee on the left, tea on the right.
  • Next comes the filter section, with pour-over and batch-brew flasks...
  • ... before we reach the La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, with its grinders beyond.
  • I'd already had a lot of coffee, so I opted for a cappuccino made with the Black Cat decaf.
  • Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Intelligentsia was serving in disposable cups only...
  • ... so I had to ruin the latte art by pouring my coffee into my HuskeeCup for drinking!
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One thing that I’ve learnt about Intelligentsia (I’ve now visited all six of its Chicago locations, having written about five of them) is that there’s no such thing as a typical Intelligentsia coffee bar. While the coffee offering is very similar, each is its own place, with its own quirks and character. In the case of Wicker Park, Intelligentsia occupies part of the ground floor of a quirky, 11-storey apartment building (1611 West Division) on the south side of Division, just to the west of its intersection with Ashland Avenue and diagonally across from the Division station on the Blue Line.

Located on the right-hand side, facing Division, Intelligentsia has a fenced-off outdoor seating area to the right, separated from the building by the driveway to the parking lot. The store front projects slightly, leaving a small window on the right-hand side, which is next to the door to the apartments. Intelligentsia’s door, meanwhile, is also on the right, leading you into a large, almost square space with high ceilings, the sense of space enhanced by the floor-to-ceiling windows which run all the way along the front.

The counter is at the back, running the full width of the store, with the seating between it and the windows. This is joined by a bench which runs along the wood-clad left-hand wall, while the right-hand wall is given over to retail shelves, plus a grab-and-go fridge. There’s the usually selection of retail bags of coffee, coffee-making equipment and merchandising.

The seating is well spaced out, leading to a very uncluttered feel. Three square, two-person tables line a wide bench which runs along the windows from the door to the left-hand wall. There are two more two-person tables forming a short row from left to right in the middle, and then comes a ten-person communal table that stands in front of counter. The seating is completed by the bench along left-hand wall, which has three small, shelf tables.

You order at the right-hand end of the counter, where a built-in display case for the cakes, pastries and savouries tempts you as you stand next to the till. Next comes the pour-over, batch-brew and the nitro cold brew. Finally, standing on its own, is a three-group La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, its three grinders (Black Cat blend, single-origin and decaf) off to the side. In typical Intelligentsia fashion, it’s counter service, so once you’ve ordered, shuffle along past the espresso machine where you can wait to collect your coffee.

My visit was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, that evening, it was announced that all coffee shops, bars and restaurants in the state were closing (as a result I made hurried arrangements to fly home the following day). Normally, I’d have wanted to try either the single-origin espresso (a Samaipata Java from Bolivia) or the Cruz del Sur organic from Peru which was on pour-over.

However, I’d had plenty of coffee already that day, so decided to go with an old favourite, the Black Cat decaf (the counter-part to Intelligentsia’s famous Black Cat espresso blend) which I had in a rich, creamy cappuccino, milk and coffee in perfect harmony. Served in a disposable cup (part of the COVID-19 precautions), I immediately poured it into my HuskeeCup to drink, promptly destroying the rather neat latte art!

1609 W DIVISION STREET • CHICAGO • IL 60622 • USA +1 773 516 5833
Monday 07:00 – 14:00 Roaster Intelligentsia (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 14:00 Seating Tables, Bench; Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 17:00 Food Cakes, Savouries
Thursday 07:00 – 17:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 17:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 07:00 – 17:00 Wifi Free
Sunday 07:00 – 17:00 Power Limited
Chain National Visits 15th March 2020

You can also see what I made of the other Intelligentsia locations that I’ve visited.

Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of Chicago’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Chicago.

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7 thoughts on “Intelligentsia, Wicker Park

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  3. Good to hear coffee is alive and well in Chicago. I lived in Wrigleyville in the early 90’s. My favorite coffee house was hidden off an alley and nearly under the El. Great atmosphere.

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