From the sounds of jazzy Spotify playlists to the grinding of coffee beans to casual debates about the best kind of milk to put in an iced latte, here at UChicago, student-run coffee shops brim with energy. Perhaps our addiction brewed thanks to the plethora of coffee shops campus has to offer: There are bougie professional seats for the econ bros and casual couches for napping, and a calm ambience 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 a chance to pursue your dream of becoming a barista, here are some student coffee shops and off-campus favorites for you to check out.
Note: Student cafés are currently in talks with administrators and are waiting to hear back regarding the 2021–22 school year. Keep an eye on the Student Center page for details. More information will follow closer to the start of autumn quarter.
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 café not allowed to play music, the lack of tunes 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 bookstacks, or drop by to meet with TAs to discuss paper topics. Keep on the lookout for its quarterly Ex After Dark events, in which the baristas invent creative drinks and desserts past midnight!
Harper Café* (Common Knowledge Café) is conveniently located just a few steps away from UChicago’s most Hogwarts-esque study spot, the Arley D. Cathey Learning Center. One of the busiest cafés on campus, students refer to it as a chiller alternative to Ex Libris Café. Harper’s cozy recliner couches and smaller space make it a perfect place to nap or meet for small group study. For a firsthand experience of a Harper barista, check out third-year Noah Tesfaye’s testament to Harper’s welcoming environment. We personally recommend its mochas and muffins.
Cobb Coffee Shop* defines the motto “Anything Goes.” There’s a tinfoil hat hanging from the ceiling. It has a Minecraft server. There’s a retro TV behind the counter. You can also get a free cup of lentil soup if you ask nicely. Located in the basement of Cobb Hall, this café offers packaged food from Hyde Park restaurants as well, and rumor has it that it has the cheapest pizza by the slice 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 full 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 it 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 its exclusive Mug Club. As a member, you receive discounts on every drink you buy, free mug washings, and $1 off any drink or a free cup of coffee every month! But be careful: This basement study spot only accepts cash. (Details to follow post-pandemic about the Mug Club and traditionally cash-only registers.)
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 offers a range of packed meals from local eateries. The billiards tables make it a student hotspot, and its cozy couches are a good place to catch up with friends (or make some new ones). If you stay until 11 p.m., you can snag free coffee and baked goods! It also hosts artsy RSO events, including Sliced Bread’s magazine parties.
Other cafés on campus (though not student-run) include Peach’s at University* in the Media, Arts, Data, and Design Center, Pret A Manger* in Reynolds Club, Dollop Coffee at Campus North Residential Commons (temporarily closed according to its website), Café Logan* at the Logan Center, Quantum Café* at the Eckhardt Building, the Law School Café* on East 60th Street, and the two Starbucks* stores at the campus bookstore and Saieh Hall.
While we are all fond of our on-campus cafés, make sure to venture out and check out a few off-campus favorites.
Plein Air teems with a French-inspired ambience, met with equal aesthetic in its 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. Due to the pandemic and social distancing policies, it is currently only offering takeout using its online form, DoorDash, and Ritual as well as outdoor dining. All items on the menu will still be available for purchase. For those 21 and over, make sure to check out Plein Air La Cave, Plein Air’s new wine shop. Bottles are available for purchase on its website, with tastings and by-the-glass offerings on the way.
situated at the Experimental Station on 6100 South Blackstone Avenue, is a small walk away from Woodlawn Residential Commons, and it strives to be more than just a coffee shop. A hybrid bookshop-café, 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 its shelves. Its Build Coffee Meal-Based Residency Program also provides local artists opportunities for gallery shows and residency. As an added bonus, Build is located right by the 61st St Farmer’s Market, which is held outdoors on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the summer and fall, and indoors at Experimental Station in the winter and spring. If you get the chance to wander down one Saturday, we personally recommend Build’s Cardamom Rose Latte and Café de Olla, and the ice cream from Yoberri Gourmet sold at the market.
Also just a few blocks away from Woodlawn Residential Commons, Robust Coffee offers the most delicious smoothies in town, as well as large (and well-priced!) cups of coffee and delicious breakfast and sandwich items. This vintage-themed gem is the perfect place to grab a drink or bite to eat with a friend on the weekend or to sit and study at one of its many tables. And calling all chess-lovers: At Robust, you’re more than likely to stumble upon lively chess games happening in the back room, so be sure to join in and test your skills!
Whether you choose to spend all of your Maroon Dollars on coffee this year (honestly, we wouldn’t blame you) or frequent one of Hyde Park’s delicious off-campus coffee shops, all of the places on this list are certainly worth a try!
*Takes Maroon Dollars.