What exactly is a coffee shop bro? The definition is debatable and subjective so it’s up to you to decide. I began this operation with a vague idea of what a coffee shop bro could look and act like, but stereotyping is never good, so I needed to do some research. I also wanted to visit a place I hadn’t been before, so I selected a local brew unique to Chicago, and went from there. I’ve tasted the delicious Dark Matter coffee many times before, but I’d never been to a coffee shop that is exclusively Dark Matter. After receiving a sound tip from an anonymous cohort, I made my first stop at Dark Matter coffee on Western Avenue at the cusp of the Ukrainian Village.
I brought my computer and book to hide behind the cover of work while secretly spying on all of the coffee drinkers. It turns out that Dark Matter is not a place you can camp out at for hours. The place is small, only one room, and the tables and chairs are sprawled out on the sidewalk. The line was already out the door when I arrived at 11 am, full of people eagerly awaiting their turn. As it was steaming hot and I was carrying a heavy backpack, I was not too hasty to order a hot coffee and join the sipping throngs sitting outside. I did a cursory walk through of the shop inside and felt like I was at a venue for a punk rock concert, except it smelled much better than a punk rock concert probably would. (Although I’ve never actually ever been to a punk concert.)
Anyway, everyone waiting in line was wearing a lot of black leather, quite an impressive feat considering it was 86 degrees in the shade that morning. I know this is an article about coffee bros, but there were many more coffee shop gals that morning, and a considerable amount more of coffee furry friends. After delivering a quick scratch behind the ears of one particularly friendly pug, I was on my way to the next recommendation: C.C. Ferns in Humboldt Park.
I didn’t know what I was expecting when I walked into C.C. Ferns, but certainly not what greeted me. It was like stepping directly into an Ernest Hemingway novel, or slipping into the film “South Pacific.” The walls were decorated with vintage advertisements depicting colorful vacations to Havana and Hawaii. I was so distracted by the display of cigars and the retro crystal vodka glasses lining the walls, I momentarily forgot why I was here. Re-focus: Coffee bro observation time.
I order my drink (latte, small. Yes, I’m boring), and find my way to a squashy armchair in the corner where I have a perfect vantage point of all the customers. I hope nobody notices my blatant staring…
- Coffee Bro Number One: Grey cargo shorts (Yes, he had items sticking out of every single pocket!) and baseball cap with a green dinosaur printed on the back that’s perched atop his dark-haired head. He is wearing black hipster glasses (I am too, but just for fun because they make me feel smart, and I like dressing up on Sundays). He’s typing on his laptop with one hand while eating a cashew Larabar with the other. The supreme multitasking is impressive.
- Coffee Bro Number Two: Black jeans and black vans. He has tattoos up and down both arms. I’m curious if there are tattoos up and down both his legs, but alas no way to tell unless I ask. (Update: I asked, and he does in fact have tattoos coating both his shins.) Jacob — he told me his name — has a full beard and has been taking pictures of the tin ceiling since he arrived. The coffee gal sitting next to him has platinum blonde hair and black eyeliner painted almost to her ears. I make a mental note to attempt that look at some point this week. She’s drinking an iced coffee while Jacob is sipping something out of a tiny glass jar, and I don’t inquire as to its contents. His blonde friend also has tattoos but many more, mostly flowers, that blossom all over her hands, arms, shoulders, and neck. They are definitely super cool people and I am definitely freaking them out with all of my attention, which leads us to:
- Coffee Bro Number Three: Clean-cut dude. He’s donned in fitted jeans and a dark blue button up shirt, complete with handlebar mustache. He’s wearing black vans too but orders what looks like plain black coffee. Ah but wait, he’s asking for sugar, but not just any kind of sugar, brown coconut sugar! I didn’t even know you could make sugar from coconuts,* thank you clean-cut dude for teaching me something new today.
- Coffee Bros Number Four and Five: They sit across from each other, perched on wicker chairs with their feet sharing a velvet foot rest. Both wear black glasses similar to mine and are deep in conversation about the oil crisis (real talk), Trump (real talk squared), and the seventh Harry Potter book (the most important talk of all). I’m in agreement with them that the seventh book was extremely disappointing, but I won’t get into that now. They’re both wearing more or less the same outfit: dark plaid shirts and khaki cargo shorts — apparently part of the coffee bro uniform. Coffee bro four has his hair braided, and coffee bro five is rocking a comb over — and I mean he is truly rocking it, something I never thought possible. I make brief eye contact with comb over bro and quickly break the connection, but it is too late, he has noticed my spying and both bros are now whispering close together, while shooting me furtive glances.
I’m not sure if I should continue to observe these coffee drinkers, or if I have any validating conclusions to report after ample observation. I’m also not sure if it’s the Dark Matter coffee being served, or C.C. Ferns itself, but the drinkers here have certainly been some of the most interesting bunch of all the coffee shops I’ve frequented. I almost feel like we have become a little family here at C.C. Ferns, simply because of all my creepy spying. I realize that although it is a favorite pastime of mine, I rarely people watch while in coffee shops, but going forward I should. My favorite coffee drinkers of the day are in fact a family of four, who have been playing Uno this whole time while speaking French. They are sharing one chocolate croissant among them. The little boy has just shouted Uno triumphantly, and brandishes his winning card in the air. I take this as my cue to exit, and as I leave, two men pass me on their way in, one of whom is holding a copy of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” and the other cradling a small grey hamster in his hands. I pause on the threshold and think, ‘Maybe just one more cup of coffee?’ A moment passes, but I decide to let these two bros enjoy their coffee without my interloping eyes and go on my way.
*Coconut sugar is in fact NOT made from coconuts, rather the nectar squeezed from the coconut flower. Fascinating.