Loitering—March 2, 2007

By Echo Gonzalez

Café-hopping is a great way to get to know the city you inhabit without compromising your precious study time. If you can muster the will to tear yourself away from the Reg, you will find that Chicago is filled with cafés big and small, many of them specifically designed for the needs of the city’s stressed and often under-caffeinated college student population. With its endless seating, free Wi-Fi, and espresso menu fit for an aspiring beat king, Mercury Café is certainly one of these places.

For such a huge space, it manages to keep its patrons relatively cozy. Cuddle up among the cushions on a comfy couch to do your reading. Have a paper due? Spend the day at one of the many little tables, armed with your laptop and a Red Eye (the coffee-and-espresso house specialty).

A quick ride on the Blue Line to the Chicago stop will bring you to this urban haven, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served daily.

Order coffee, tea, cider, a fruit smoothie, or a soda with your deli sandwich or gourmet salad (which you can watch a cute employee lovingly make). Choose from an array of freshly baked blueberry scones, lemon bars, and fudge brownies. Prices are reasonable, but not great.

Vegans shouldn’t worry about not being able to fill their tummies, as there are a number of items on the menu that contain neither a trace of dead animal nor their by-products.

Still in its first year of existence, Mercury Café is a little wet behind the ears in terms of its ability to manage its spaciousness in a smooth manner. Décor can seem a bit scarce, but this is hardly important—the café is undeniably spilling over with cool vibes. This may be because of its location at the east edge of Ukrainian Village, or perhaps becuase the employees are sweetly chill, but a sincere desire to become involved with the community is what really puts Mercury Café a notch above the rest.

Whether it’s a jazz session, a themed poetry reading, or a book club meeting, there is usually something fun going on. (Visit the café’s website for a monthly schedule.) This month, Mercury hosted the Critical Mass Art Show, an exhibit featuring pro-bicycle and anti-car paintings, photographs, and sculptures by local artists. Chess matches, open to the public, are every Thursday at 6 p.m. If you’ve been looking to become more involved in environmental activism, show up to a Green and Thrifty meeting. This group meets at the Mercury Café to plan swap meets, put together resources toward a greener urban environment, and discuss general matters of environmental and personal health.

Mercury Café’s spacious and cozy environment, creatively progressive attitude, and convenient location in the center of the city make it a fantastic spot for urbanites to relax, meet, study, and eat. Do not be surprised if, in a couple of years, it becomes one of Chicago’s hottest dives.