Chicago’s 7 Best Coffee Shops for Getting Work Done

May 4, 2012 by

Not all coffee shops are created equal, work-wise.  The perfect atmosphere for some serious business time can be hard to come by, especially if you don’t know the lay of the land in a strange city.

Loud music, obnoxious staff, overcrowding, and a poor selection of food and drinks can all make you wish you’d just worked out of your rental car.

Luckily for you, I lived in Chicago for almost six years, and I now come back here on theatre business every couple of months.  When I’m here, I’m still consulting and building websites and tweeting for clients, not to mention answering emails and watching videos of animal friendships, for which I need complete concentration.  I spent a good many years finding the perfect places to write in Chicago, and now that time is of the essence when I’m here, I find myself going back to the same shortlist of establishments again and again.

Below, I share it with you.  These are the cafés where to get stuff did in Chi-city.

Sip Chicago

Sip (Near West Side/West Loop — W. Grand @ N. Ogden)

The open, airy atrium feeling of Sip makes it possibly the most aesthetically inviting café on the list, but its minimal crowding and quiet tone ensure that work is always doable, even in the face of nice architecture and décor.  The fact that Sip is a little off the beaten path ensures that you can always get a table, but does make it slightly harder to get to.  The food and coffee are fantastic, however, and there are lots of vegetarian options.

Pros: Great environment, good prices, good food, outdoor seating, never crowded.

Cons: Not easy to get to via the train, closes early.

The Wormhole Coffee (that car's gone now)

Wormhole (Wicker Park — N. Milwaukee @ N. Honore)

It can be generally agreed that Wormhole isn’t the same since the full-sized Delorean was removed from the front window, but it still remains one of my go-to working coffee shops for many reasons.  First off, the staff are real coffee nerds, and their drinks reflect it.  Secondly, you can order cereal and milk (though not a lot else, food-wise).  Third, it’s open very, very late.  In addition to the great coffee and open late-ness I so enjoy, the atmosphere is also studious to the point of near severity.  Even though there is a vintage video game system you can play if you need a break, Wormhole is always hushed and everyone there looks like they’re working really hard.  Like, on calculus (the 35-year-old woman sitting next to me yesterday was working on calculus).  This makes it a fantastic place to plug in your computer for a few hours and buckle down.  And they’ve gone the extra mile in providing LOTS of outlets and power strips for just that.  One word of warning — it gets full on some evenings and all weekends.

Pros: Open late, easy to get to via public transit, great coffee, very quiet.

Cons: Minimal food selection, crowded on weekends and some late nights.

The Grind Cafe

The Grind (Lincoln Square — N. Lincoln @ Wilson)

The Grind is one of Northside Chicago’s favorite places to work, and it shows — the place is almost always packed.  If you can score a seat, however, it’s pretty ideal work-wise.  Extraordinarily friendly staff, great drinks, and a pretty good selection of sandwiches, salads, and pastries make it worth the wait.  On weekends the crowd can get too big and too loud, as folks chatter over a light brunch.  But on weeknights and especially week days, you can’t beat the chilled-out atmosphere and fantastic customer service.  Added bonus: they serve Southport Grocery cupcakes, which are the best in Chicago in my humble (and very thoroughly researched) opinion.

Pros: Easy to get to via public transit, outdoor seating, great atmosphere, great staff, Southport Grocery cupcakes.

Cons: Cash-only, can get really crowded on the weekends, closes early.

The Perfect Cup

The Perfect Cup (Lincoln Square — N. Damen @ W. Leland)

The Perfect Cup is also in Lincoln Square, but on the quieter Damen side of the ‘hood.  They recently expanded into the storefront next door, which more than doubled their size and turned it from a good place to work if you could get a seat to a go-to coffee office.  The drinks are good, the food menu is expanding, and the prices are really reasonable.  It’s also usually pretty open and quiet, and you can work for hours without interruption.  The owner is often around during the day, which means the staff is very concerned with making sure you have everything you need to be happy.  Not for nothing, this is one of Miles’s favorite coffee shops in Chicago, and that boy spent the better part of six years living in these kinds of places.

Pros: Good prices, great staff, uncrowded, easy to get to via public transit, open late.

Cons: Minimal menu (but it is expanding), cash-only.

Dollop Coffee and Tea

Dollop (Uptown — N. Clarendon @ Gordon Terrace)

A fan of quirk?  This darling establishment features oddities such as boxed water, in addition to out-of-this-world pie.  The coffee is great, the staff is hilarious, and the atmosphere is quiet and soothing.  You’ll go the first time to get work done in a calm, quiet environment, but you’ll come back for the pie. Seriously.  The pie.

Pros: Great prices, quiet, fun staff, PIE, outdoor seating, open late.

Cons: Not very easy to get to from public transit.

Metropolis Coffee Chicago

Metropolis Coffee (Edgewater — W. Granville @ N. Kenmore)

Very far north and thus off the beaten path, Metropolis is serious about coffee — so serious that lots of other cafés in chicago serve the beans they roast.  They also sell the most amazing curried tuna salad sandwich that you will ever eat in your life.  I can’t even describe it.  It is magic.  The staff here are like a big family, and they treat you like a visiting cousin.  Food selection is good, they’re open reasonably late, and they make a really mean hot chocolate and cider during the cold months.  The café is large and rarely crowded, and the vibe is laid-back and casual.  Perfect for snacking on some curried tuna and taking care of business, if you happen to be in the area.

Pros: Great coffee, great food, fun staff, amazing curried tuna salad sandwich, easy to get to via public transit.

Cons: Off the beaten path.

Rewster's Cafe

Rewster’s Cafe (Avodale/Logan Square — Diversey  @ Kedzie)

I discovered this little gem on this very trip to Chicago.  I was meeting up with a friend in his neighborhood (Logan Square), and looking for a place to do a bit of work and have some tea before he arrived.  I found Rewster’s using Google Maps, and as soon as I walked in I knew it would become part of this list.  The atmosphere is boho cool, with plants and weird art carefully curated around the café, and even a little waterfall in the larger room.  There is a full food menu including things like burgers, and of course lots of coffee and an okay selection of tea.  There’s also a little bookshelf full of reading material, should you need a quick work-break that doesn’t involve looking at a screen.  But the best part of the whole Rewster’s experience is how completely chill it is.  Working here feels like hanging out at your easy-going hippie aunt’s house, sitting on mismatched cushions and wondering where all these plants came from and why someone stenciled quotes on an apron and hung it in the window.

Pros: Quiet, chill, full menu, easy to get to via public transportation.

Cons: Only open till 5pm on Sunday-Tuesday.

Those are my top picks for locally-owned neighborhood coffee joints, but I do have to throw one corporation in there with good reason.

The Starbucks on the corner of Belmont and Clark street isn’t very big, but it’s reliably good AND the only café I know of in Chicago that’s open 24 hours a day.  So keep that in mind if work needs to get handled in the wee hours of the AM.  Otherwise, hit up one of these fantastic coffee establishments and get to work on your reports, important writings, and cat videos.

Did I leave one out, Chicagoans?  Correct me in the comments and I promised to take your favorites under advisement.

Hey, you!

 

BLOGATHON REMINDER!

Remember, friends, I’m blogging every day for the month of May, and setting the goal of generating three comments per entry.  If you leave your two cents in the comments below, you’ll be entered to win a fantabulous prize collection on June 1st.  Click here for all the details, and again, thanks so much.

 

17 Comments

  1. 2 things: The Grind does take card now (yay!), and The Perfect cup only allows 2 hours (I think) of wi-fi per purchase (boo). You definitely hit up all the greats though!

    • You’re so right about The Grind! I’m actually there now and didn’t even realize they’d started accepting cards after I moved. Well played, TG!

      Also, I’m not sure about Perfect Cup — I know I’ve sat there for longer than 2 hours, but I probably bought other things after my initial purchase on those occasions, so I didn’t realize there was a time limit. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. I heart the Perfect Cup. I think I’ve been to all of these except for Sip, and it looks right up my alley. Too bad about the location, though… I don’t get to that ‘hood all that often. I also dig the Beans & Bagels on Montrose & Ravenswood.

  3. I recommend Filter on Milwaukee in Wicker Park, it’s eclectic, and spacious. Good food, lots of selection, and funny names.

  4. Sarah

    The Grind makes me so happy. A Med sandwich. A grapefruit Izze. A cupcake. And two caramels to go. Perfection. And I love the outdoor seating. Just like sitting in someone’s backyard.

  5. Breanna McNabb

    This is great stuff Chelsea. Any way you would come to MI and check out the scene? It would be a bit of a challenge, we don’t have the selection like Chicago…

  6. Jean

    Sip looks like the one we stopped into a couple of times on our outings. Loved their muffins!

  7. Nancy

    So glad to see Rewster’s made the list! Another two cafes to recommend in Logan Square are Cafe Mustache and Letizia’s. Both independently-owned! Cafe Mustache plays vinyl all day and the selection is great; also very good teas, the furniture is cozy & comfy, and they have tasty vegetarian options. Letizia’s has loads of outdoor seating, and the wi-fi signal reaches outside and is strong! The food is great, especially the pastry & dinner selections.

  8. Chris

    I love the Star Lounge, at Chicago and Campbell. Home of Dark Matter.

  9. Liz

    I would hardly call Metropolis “off the beaten path” … it’s steps away from the Red Line, and isn’t really even that far north — just a hop and a skip from Uptown.

  10. andrew

    Swim Cafe on W. Chicago Ave is the best place to work, get coffee and delicious food. I’m actually looking for an apartment in this neighborhood just so I go there all the time. Their food is actually delicious, healthy and fresh, something I’m not used to at a coffee shop.

  11. Great list!

    Some additions –
    Cafe Chava, Andersenville
    The Map Room (yes, the famous bar is a coffee house during the day!), Bucktown

    My fave Starbucks is the one at Roscoe/Seeley. Booths, cute neighborhood, local artists’ art on the walls.

    The North/Wells Starbucks is also 24 hours.

  12. Ally

    The car at Wormhole is on this huge shelf in the back of the shop.

  13. Devin

    The Knockbox Cafe

  14. Raj

    Second Devin on the love for Knockbox. The only other 24 hour place I know in the city is the always packed evil-empire of Starbucks at North/Wells. I don’t know why this city doesn’t have more late night places. New York kicks our ass in this department.

  15. Steve D

    I still don’t get why Chicago is now down to only one 24/7 Coffee shop after Starbucks on Belmont/ Clark are no longer 24/7. I’m from Grand Rapids – Lansing, Michigan, and both 2 of those Medium size College Towns has more couple or few 24-hour Coffee Shops. What’s going on, Chicago? Only other 24/7 Coffee Shops that I know to go to is at Southwest Suburb (Oak Lawn) at Huck Finn Coffee&Donut on Cicero & 105th St.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *