Milwaukee Ave Coffee Shops

Just the mention of Bridgeport Coffee Company got me thinking about my favorite places to get a caffeine fix in Chicago–a city awash in coffee. Four of my top choices are on Milwaukee Avenue. For anyone new to Chicago, Milwaukee Ave is a great way to get an introduction via bike ride / walk / El to Chicago’s Northwest Side. It’s the main artery: a street known for heavy bike traffic, vintage stores, restaurants, bars, and cafes. Over the past 20 years, the effects of gentrification (there it is: the g-word) have marched up Milwaukee Ave.

Perhaps more pertinent for new students and alums alike, the neighborhoods along this major diagonal artery (East Village [or, more recently according to silly apartment rental sites: Noble Square], Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Logan Square) are heavily populated by graduates of MAPH. You’ll find them busily at work at Lovely Bakery, Filter, Wormhole, and Cafe Mustache. (For natives: obviously, there are others on the list to be sure. Some, I don’t know well enough to comment on, so feel free to chime in. Others, namely New Wave Coffee, just make me sad. You could be so great New Wave. Why do you suck so much) Tour de Caffeine, after the jump…

Lovely Bake Shop

I don’t know how this place isn’t jam-packed all the time, but it’s a perfect place for early fall. They serve Intelligentsia and charge the standard $3 for a bottomless. Wash down a few of their delicious pastries while you’re at it. Lovely has the best baked goods of any of these shops, and it’s one of the two things that make it worth a stop. The second is Lovely’s quaint alleyway patio, which can be surprisingly empty, even on a gorgeous late summer afternoon. As for the inside, Lovely has a few bar stools and a western general-store feel. with sturdy wooden tables for writing, and a few comfy chairs up front for nuzzling down into a good book.

  • The Good: patio, Intelligentsia, baked goods, easy to get a seat
  • The Less than Ideal: South of Division Street, it’s a brisk walk to the “rest” of Milwaukee Avenue and Wicker Park.

It’s just not the same (allegedly).

Filter Coffeehouse

The *original* Filter, which was replaced by a Bank of America at the Six Corners intersection of Damen / North / Milwaukee is the stuff of Chicago lore at this point. Folks lamenting the loss of the original Filter have a lot to complain about. This coffee house used to occupy the most coveted (or least coveted, depending on who you ask) real estate in Wicker Park–right at the center of it all. The Filter crowd is the biggest draw here. Get the sweet potato fries with one of their tasty sandwiches, and just remember: Since you didn’t remember the old Filter, this one is good enough. Tough to get a seat, and they have finicky wireless rules. So if you plan on checking in at 9 AM and doing a hard day of Facebooking, this place ain’t for you. But if you want to people watch and mingle with the swarms of freelancers working on their design company logo on their iPad, have at it.

  • The Good: bustling scene of silly people trying very hard to look serious. Sweet potato fries.
  • The Less than Ideal: tough to find a seat at peak times. Really tough. Like, climb over the four dudes on the couch to sit on the floor in the corner tough.

There could be seats there you idiots.

Wormhole Cafe

Let’s get this out of the way: there’s a Delorean in the front of this cafe. For those of you overwhelmed and annoyed by the incessant din of nostaglia for the eighties, nineties, and last week, Wormhole can be kind of a drag. There’s kitsch everywhere: Goonies posters, Vader mugs, a Super Nintendo–all of this would usually spell disaster for me.

But the espresso drinks are just. Excellent. They brew Metropolis. And it’s never tasted this good. Go for a latte. Stay for the free wireless and the warm vibe. The staff and baristas are excellent and friendly. The food is not great. Stop in at Bongo Room, two doors down, for a sandwich. Then get down to work at Wormhole.

  • The Good: You care about espresso. So does Wormhole. If anyone can find a better latte in town, I owe you a nickel. And it’s one of the only places where you can sit directly next to someone and not feel weird about it. A friendly joint, if you will.
  • The Less than Ideal: the regular coffee? Not the best. And the food is missable.

Come for the coffee. Stay for the….coffee.

Cafe Mustache

The secret is getting out. Mustache serves Bridgeport coffee and NYC Bagels, spins great–and more importantly–almost never offensively loud vinyl (pop, jazz, classical, country, punk), sells locally made “Nice Cream,” and has among the nicest folks in town. It’s the best actual cup of coffee of the four of these joints. The food menu is only okay, but two items stand out: the Breakfast Wrap ([with or without Bacon], Egg, Avocado, Cheese) and the Chili (veggie or beef).

It’s the farthest out from Hyde Park, so if you’re living near UChicago, it can be a trek to get to. But it’s worth it to leave early on a cold Saturday morning and stay all day. Free unlimited wireless and a surprising number of different nooks to work in for a small place. It’s rare that you can’t find a seat, except perhaps on weekend afternoons.

  • The Good: Coffee. Just come here and drink coffee and you’ll feel better about yourself and your thesis.
  • The Less than Ideal: it’s far from Hyde Park, which can suck if you live in Hyde Park. No outdoor seating for those five days a year you want to drink coffee outside.

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