For the Bibliophobe and the Cafeine-ophile: Coffee Shop Alternatives When the Library Just Won’t Do

Do you get nauseous at the thought of frittering away hours upon hours at a small desk in a corner of the book stacks?  Does the complete silence of the library increase your anxiety more than your concentration?  Are you the type of studier that requires direct access to caffeine at all times if you are expected to retain any of the information in your books?  Well, then you’re not alone.
Having studied pretty much day in day out for all of April and May, and having spent an ungodly number of hours in coffee shops to the point where both my books and hair perpetually smelled of espresso, I’ve come to know quite a bit about coffee shop culture in the fine city of Chicago.  Knowing I was in it for the long haul, I felt compelled to branch out from the Starbucks down the street and see what the city had to offer in terms of purveyors of caffeinated beverages.  Don’t get me wrong, as is the case with any med student, Starbucks holds a special place in my heart, and  I dare not bite the hand that sustains me; but in this case, I just felt I needed a change of pace, to ramp up both my motivation and productivity.
As such, I figured I’d give a quick run-down of some of my favorite locales around the city (mostly north side) for a good cup of java and even better cram session when you just can’t study in the library.
 Intelligentsia: 3123 N Broadway (Between Barry and Briar)
                Neighborhood: Lakeview
One of my mainstays.  Although Intelligentsia is a little pricier than some of the other options, for any self-professed coffee connoisseur the product is well worth it. With fair-trade options brewed by the cup via a variety of methods (just ask the barista and they’ll take the time to explain why they brew certain blends certain ways!) and a staff that’s well-versed in latte art, Intelligentsia puts Chicago on the map in terms of café culture.  And beyond that, the shop offers a spacious feel, with good lighting and plenty of big tables where you can park yourself across from other caffeine addicts and students alike.
                Pro’s: lots of space, outstanding coffee, and a regular group of studiers
                Con’s: pricier than most and no discounted refills; too busy and chaotic on weekends
The Coffee Studio: 5628 N Clark St.
                Neighborhood: Andersonville

If you’re from Andersonville, a surrounding neighborhood or just don’t mind travelling a little for a few good hours of productivity, then The Coffee Studio is not to be missed.  Of all the coffee shops I frequented during the lead-up to my board exam, this was hands-down one of my favorites.  The coffee is excellent, the staff amiable, and the space immaculate.  This place offers ample outlets for laptops, cushioned seats and a quieter atmosphere than most anywhere else.  The verdict: studying in comfort.  The prices vary, but can be on the higher side, and the baked good selection is better than most.
                Pro’s: newly-finished, well-lit space, quieter atmosphere than most coffee shops
                Con’s: earlier closing hours, higher price-point
Ipsento: 2035 N Western Ave.
                Neighborhood: Bucktown

If you’re into the hipster scene and don’t mind the indie band of the moment as background noise, then this hole-in-the-wall café may be a good fit.  Even if it isn’t quite your scene, it’s worth checking out at least once if just for the drink that bears its namesake.  The Ipsento is a latte made with coconut milk, honey, and a touch of cayenne pepper, and can make any day of studying bearable. (Seriously, it is out of this world).  Although the locale is a little gritty and the space is dark and reminiscent of your friend’s parents’ basement, the baristas are incredibly friendly and the overall atmosphere is one that is pretty conducive to getting work done.

                Pro’s: the Ipsento, the staff, and the younger crowd
                Con’s: pretty dimly lit, not necessarily the quietest coffee shop
Asado: 1432 W Irving Park
                Neighborhood: North Lakeview
This place is one of Chicago’s hidden gems.  Up against bigger primary producers like Intelligentsia or Metropolis, Asado seems to hold its own, processing and roasting their own beans in-store for a cup of coffee that is so smooth that milk and sugar are rendered completely unnecessary.  Despite its meager square footage, this place has a good number of tables for spreading your books out and is generally well-suited for studying.  If you don’t mind the distraction of the barista roasting a batch of beans every now and then in the gargantuan metallic roaster that serves as the centerpiece of the shop, then this place just may be for you.  And if you’re interested, and want to learn something that you’ll probably never be tested on, ask the employee behind the counter how the roasting machine works and they’ll likely give you an impromptu tour (at least they did when I asked).  In contrast to the other coffee shops in the city, this one has a mom-and-pop feel that makes it a comfortable place to be, and excellent coffee and food to boot.  Definitely worth checking out.
Pro’s: coffee roasted the same day you order it, comfortable space, street cred for knowing about this place before your friends
Con’s: small and easily crowded
New Wave Coffee: 3103 W Logan Blvd.
                Neighborhood: Logan Square
 Frequented by all types (but mostly hipsters) New Wave offers a lot when it comes to a coffee shop study session.  Located just off the infamous Logan Square roundabout, this shop offers a spacious setting with numerous couches, love-seats, tables, and yes, even desks – for some reason a desk is just easier to stomach within the context of a coffee shop.  Regardless, whatever your preferred posture while cramming information into your brain, you’ll find it here.  Oh, and the coffee and pastries (which are vegan) are good too.  So if you want a more lax feel with a lot of the same perks, all in an up-and-coming area of the city, New Wave is certainly a destination to check out.
                Pro’s: located off the blue line (i.e. UIC-accessible), spacious and comfortable
                Con’s: Noise level can get a little high at times
Honorable mentions:
Kickstand Espresso Bar (824 W Belmont) in Boystown: good on the weekends as it tends to avoid the hoards of people that make any given Starbucks unbearable from Saturday to Sunday.  Very gay and very hipster; doesn’t hurt to look the part.
Atomix (1957 W Chicago) in Ukrainian Village: spacious place to study; not the best-lit, but overall not a bad choice for studying.
Picutre of author

About Justin Fiala, MD Candidate

Justin is currently in his third year of medical school at UIC's College of Medicine, and is hoping to pursue a career in internal medicine. He has a strong interest in addressing the health needs urban communities and is part of the College of Medicine's Urban Medicine program. Aside from academics, Justin enjoys cooking, listening to public radio, and perusing the New York Times website. He is also a trained pianist and self-professed lover of all kinds of music.

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