Here at UChicago, student-run coffee shops constantly brim with energy, from jazzy Spotify playlists to the grinding of coffee beans to casual debates about the best kind of milk to put in an iced latte. Perhaps our addiction brewed thanks to how spoiled we are when it comes to choices: There are bougie professional seats for the Econ BrosTM; casual couches to nap on; and calm ambiance for hardcore homework sessions.Whether you are seeking a dose of caffeine for a midterm paper writing boost, a game of pool with your friends, or pursuing your dream of becoming a barista, here are some student coffee shops and off-campus favorites for you to check out.
Note: The student cafes (Harper, Ex Lib, Cobb, and Hallowed Grounds) will be closed for Fall Quarter 2020. Student cafes are currently in talks with administrators and waiting to hear back regarding the rest of the 2020–21 school year. More information will follow later in the year. Check with Plein Air and Build Coffee individually for more details on reopening.
Ex Libris* is tucked away in the corner of the first floor of the Reg—quite hard to miss for the lover of bustling atmospheres. While it is the only cafe not allowed to play music, that doesn’t take away from the lively nature of the shop any hour you step in. People stop by to grab coffee in between classes, stagger in for a break from homework-cramming sessions in the Stacks, or drop by to meet with TAs to discuss paper topics. Keep on the outlook for their quarterly Ex After Dark, in which the baristas invent creative drinks and desserts past midnight!
A student hotspot, Ex Libris provides a large study space as well as some of the most inventive drinks on campus.
Harper Cafe* (Common Knowledge Cafe) is conveniently located just a few steps away from the Hogwarts-esque study spot, the Arley D. Cathey Learning Center. One of the busiest cafes on campus, students refer to it as a chiller alternative to Ex Libris Cafe. Harper’s cozy recliner couches and smaller space make it a perfect place to either nap or meet for small group studying. For a doting experience of a Harper barista, check out second-year Noah Tesfaye’s testament to Harper’s welcoming environment. We personally recommend their almond croissants and cake balls.
What's not to like about Harper's cake balls, reclining couches, and baristas' excellent taste in music?
Cobb Coffee Shop* defines the motto “Anything Goes.” There’s a tinfoil hat hanging from the ceiling. They have a Minecraft server. You can get a free cup of lentil soup if you ask nicely. There’s a retro TV behind the counter. Located in the basement of Cobb Hall, this cafe offers packaged food from Hyde Park restaurants as well, and rumor has it they have the cheapest by-the-slice pizza on campus. Catch students and professors running in and out between classes, or first-years avoiding the space because they’ve been scared off by the eclectic music pounding through the speakers—on blast. What can we say? We like the chaotic vibe.
Grounds of Being, the Divinity School coffee shop, is Where God Drinks His Coffee. Put in mere mortal terms, it has the best cup of joe available on campus and is surprisingly cheap! Don’t feel out of place among the grad students and notoriously attractive baristas: Many undergrads stop by to enjoy its wide variety of Hyde Park fare. Wait for the Purple Haze latte in the spring: it’s the perfect combination of lavender and espresso for a sunny morning of classes and meetings. For $5 a year, you can also join their exclusive Mug Club—as a member, you receive discounts on every drink you buy, get your mug washed for free, and receive $1 off any drink or a free cup of coffee every month! But be careful: this basement study spot is cash-only. (Details to follow post-pandemic about the Mug Club and traditionally cash-only registers.)
Attracting professors, grad students, undergrads, and local Hyde Park residents, Grounds of Being is one of the most popular coffee shops on campus; truly, a place where God would get a dose of caffeine.
Hallowed Grounds*, located on the second floor of Reynolds Club, boasts one of the artsiest spaces on campus. The baristas curate new and exciting music and the café hosts a range of packed meals from local eateries. The billiard tables make it a student hotspot, and its intimate couches are a good place to catch up with friends (or make some new ones). If you stay till 11 p.m., you can snag free coffee and baked goods! They also host artsy student-RSO events, including Sliced Bread’s magazine parties.
Billiard tables, a wide assortment of tea, and artsy nights define student-favorite Hallowed Grounds.
Other cafes on campus (though not student-run) include Peach’s at University* in the MADD Center, Pret A Manger* (C-Shop) in Reynolds Club, Dollop at Campus North, Cafe Logan* at the Logan Center, Quantum Cafe* at the Eckhardt Research Center, the Law School Cafe* on East 60th Street, and the two Starbucks* stores at the campus bookstore and Saieh Hall.
Plein Air teems with a French-inspired ambiance, met with equal aesthetic in their drinks and dishes. Nestled between the famous Robie House and the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Plein Air is the perfect choice for the lover of espressos and brunch. Following the pandemic and social distancing policies, they are currently taking orders for takeout using their online form, DoorDash, and Ritual. All items on the menu will still be available for purchase.
Plein Air owner Soo Choi sat down with The Maroon to talk about how the cafe has transformed since March, noting the new to-go window and exciting new updates coming soon for older customers.
“We are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for now, and no customers are allowed inside yet,” Choi explained. “We will be super cautious and wary of Illinois’s pandemic protocol until the State declares it safe to reopen fully again. Outdoor spaces will be in full bloom, though, and there will be seats spread out more than six feet apart.”
Nestled between the famous Robie House and the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Plein Air is the perfect choice for the lover of espressos and brunch.
There are also new items on the menu coming soon to Plein Air, including bagels, collaborations with local farmers via a special market on Wednesdays, occasional special dinner menu options, and a partnership with Hot Doug’s to sell hot dogs.
“It’s a hard time for everyone financially because of the shelter-in-place,” Choi stated. “But these fun little programs are a good way to help one another and introduce our old and new guests to more local producers and chefs around Chicago.”
When asked about new drinks, Choi hinted at the availability of alcohol in the shop in the future: “We are in the process of obtaining a liquor license for our older patrons. We hope it’s a hit with our loyal customers!”
For those unable to drink alcohol, there are still plenty of drinks to choose from. Choi recommends the matcha latte, or, if in need of a quick dose of caffeine, the cortado. We personally savor the apple butter latte and hazelnut beignets.
Build Coffee is a small walk away from the new Woodlawn dorms, situated at the Experimental Station on 6100 South Blackstone Avenue, and strives to be more than just a coffee shop. A hybrid bookshop-cafe, Build Coffee also acts as a small venue for artists’ gallery shows, game nights, and mini-workshops and sells used press publications, magazines, comics, and other books on their shelves. Their Build Coffee Meal-Based Residency Program also provides local artists opportunities for gallery shows and residency. We personally recommend their cardamom rose latte and café de olla, should you stop by one day.
A hybrid bookshop-cafe, Build Coffee also acts as a small venue for artists’ gallery shows, game nights, and mini-workshops and sells used press publications, magazines, comics, and other books on their shelves.
* Takes Maroon Dollars.