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.
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|
|www.intelligentsiacoffee.com||+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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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.
Indeed it is! Hopefully the coffee scene makes it through COVID-19 relatively unscathed, although I know that there have been a few casualties.
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