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Coffee and Sunshine

Few combinations are as seductive.

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As art students at SAIC, we spend the better part of a year confined to white studio walls, and as art students in Chicago, we spend the better part of our school year avoiding the cold gusts of winter. Summer is a time to remember what it feels like to have the sun on your skin, and it’s never too early to stockpile outdoor study spots around the city (especially considering how woefully small SAIC’s library is). In the interest of academic achievement and repairing Vitamin D deficiencies, and because there are few combinations more winning than really good coffee and the ability to sit outside, I have scoured the city for Chicago’s best outdoor study locations, with the best study fuel. Here’s a breakdown of local coffee shops that make the best coffee and can also provide you with the great outdoors (or the closest thing to it) to caffeinate in the sun.
Efebina’s Café

1640 S Blue Island Ave |

It turns out that Pilsen is a real place and a pretty sweet place it is. Efebina’s is a neighborhood gem, hidden behind the McDonald’s on Blue Island Avenue. The owner is a sweet, middle-aged woman who will probably be standing behind the counter when you arrive. The café is spacious, with equal capacity for laptop warriors and weekend languorers, and may be one of the only places on this list where you can pair a tall glass of cheap and delicious iced coffee with a slice of chocolate flan. Outdoor space: Efebina’s just opened up a back patio area, which is a cozy spot for summertime adventures. If you never had a reason to come to Pilsen, Efebina’s will give you one.
The Wormhole

1462 N Milwaukee Ave |

I’m not a 14-year-old boy, but, okay, I love the Wormhole. Where else can you sip on a Honey Bear Latte made with local honey while listening to Patti Smith under a row of Gremlin stuffed animals as some kid plays Nintendo 64 and the baristas ring orders up on an iPad? That’s right, nowhere. This is to say nothing of the ability to order Cocoa Puffs with your coffee, you know, like any self-respecting adult. Outdoor space: As Ipsento is to Western, the Wormhole is to North Milwaukee. You’ll be sitting in a prime spot for keeping count of Wicker Park’s ironic mustaches as they make their daily parade down the street. What this stretch of sidewalk lacks in aesthetic appeal, it makes up for in unparalleled people-watching opportunities.

53 E Randolph St |

Admittedly, Intelligentsia is offensively overpriced, but it’s also offensively Chicago, and, alas, to the dismay of my bank account, no list of coffee shops would be complete without it. Outdoor space: Get your $3 drip to go and head out to Millenium Park. Dodge the tourists and find a spot at the long table next to the Bean. Or go for a walk in Grant Park, visit the ornate Buckingham fountain, and speculate as to why the athletic fields are never in use. If by August you still haven’t regained your Vitamin D, ease the burn of back-to-school time with a little outdoor downtime before and after you scan that ARTICard. Repeat as needed. Save up a little color for wintertime.
Ipsento Coffee

2035 N Western Ave |

Is it an act of blasphemy to say that the best coffee in Chicago comes, not from the suspendered, mustachioed hipsters of Intelligentsia, but a little spot down the street from Arturo’s Tacos on the border of Logan Square and Bucktown? If so, I am not repenting. Ipsento Coffee smells like a real coffee shop and has an inviting, clean aesthetic. For those times you’re feeling vaguely European, they serve macchiatos in tiny ceramic cups, along with a dizzying array of espresso drinks made with everything from Nutella to roses, and breakfast sandwiches named after famous writers. A Nutella Mocha is exactly what it sounds like and should not be missed. The Jane Austen sandwich is an adorably sensible breakfast made with apples, cream cheese and honey. Outdoor space: Ipsento ascribes to the Chicago summertime sidewalk patio school of thought, with a set of outside tables edging up against Western Avenue. Some naysayers might not want to be so close to the traffic of a busy thoroughfare, but it seems appropriate for the neighborhood. Full disclosure: I live around here, and nothing seems more Chicago to me than a tiny, partially hidden oasis surrounded by a relentlessly urban landscape. Bring on the outside arterial traffic — this is how I know I’m home.
New Wave Coffee

3103 W Logan Blvd |

New Wave is my default coffee shop. It can be relied on for a solid Americano, filling and charmingly-named sandwiches (may I recommend the Flashdance, made with no fewer than four kinds of cheese?), and an ambiance that resembles the basement of somebody’s parents’ house in the late 1980s. Outdoor space: Like Ipsento and the Wormhole, New Wave is all about the sidewalk seating, except that instead of sitting beside the traffic on Western or Milwaukee, New Wave’s back entrance opens onto peaceful, charmingly manicured Logan Boulevard. Watch the strollers and bikes go by while you sit back and enjoy a beverage and some of the most inviting green space Chicago has to offer — or take it a step farther, get your coffee to go, and find the perfect spot to loll on the boulevard’s grassy mid-section. On a sunny day, there’s nothing better. On a Sunday, pair your caffeine intake with farmers’ market samples and that’s breakfast.

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