Evanston is a rubbish place to get a drink. The only nice bar is the Celtic Knot, and that’s an Irish pub, which seems a bit wrong for the would-be embracer of the American experience. This seems to be a relic of Evanston’s status as a dry city until 1972 (and a liquor-store free zone until 1984). The upside is that it does have some great coffee shops. Time Out Chicago did a feature last week on coffee in Chicago proper, but didn’t make it out to the suburbs. So here’s a miniature guide to the best independent places to get a coffee in Evanston.
Opening hours: 6.30am – 8pm. Coffee: Fair trade Metropolis. Vg, and available in a civilised 8oz size for those who prefer not to drink a bucketful of coffee. Though I am always disappointed by how infrequently you get the glass mug rather than the ultracheap white cup. Snack offering: good muffins, dodgy croissants, limited sandwich choice. Atmosphere: friendly staff in indie clothes, feels like a meeting place for all kinds of Evanston people in all kinds of moods, plays good music from time to time. Workability: excellent wi-fi, lots of people with laptops and space. Other features: great green credentials: refuses to sell bottled water. My regular Saturday morning breakfast place, partly for its convenient location in the heart of downtown Evanston.
Opening hours: 11am – 1am. Coffee: available in an overwhelming array of forms, along with an overwhelming array of hot chocolates, hot milks, milkshakes, smoothies. But always too sweet. Snack offering: does a mean roast beef sandwich (though server always distressed by my refusal to order it with cheese), and has a range of cakes that I have not sampled. Atmosphere: battered sofas, bookshelves with books you might actually read, cool music, boxes of Trivial Pursuit cards on tables, open mic Monday nights. Very, very studenty. Workability: yes, but the fact that there is table service means you’ll feel compelled to tip heavily if you stay around too long. Other features: always seems like a good spot for a girly chat, maybe because the acoustics are better for comparative privacy.
3) Café Mozart
Opening hours: 7am – 8pm. Coffee: Intelligentsia, seemingly the brand of choice for the independent Chicago café. Snack offering: the menu promises a far better range of sandwiches, cakes and salads than either Kafein or the Unicorn, but I have yet to put them to the test. Atmosphere: dead, dead, dead. To be honest I only went to Café Mozart because I felt a blog about Evanston coffee shops needed five reviews to round it out. It wasn’t a horrific experience, but at 5pm on a Friday there were two people there, including me. I fear its days may be numbered, but maybe it does good take-out business. Workability: my iphone couldn’t connect to the wireless, but that may have been a one-off problem. Also, if you’re working in a café to get a sense of connection to the world, this is not the place. Other features: some awful murals relating to the Mozart theme, and barely audible music that may have been Mozart too.
4) Brothers K
Opening hours: 6.30am – 8pm. Coffee: another Metropolis user, and the coffee here is probably the best in Evanston. But make sure you order it traditional style if you’re sensitive to caffeine or you’ll be jittery for hours. Snack offering: nice quiches and pies. Atmosphere: friendly staff, small and intimate, corner spot with outdoor terrace great for watching the world go by. Local artwork on the walls. Workability: yes, definitely. More of a grown-up than a student place, which gives me hope that their monthly open mic is better than the appalling standard at Kafein. If I lived further south, I would be there all the time. Check out their website – it’s so cool!
Opening hours: 8.30am – 4pm. Coffee: very good, but not the main attraction. Snack offering: outstanding. I’ve tried to go to Fraîche three times and only managed to secure a table earlier this week. It is packed all the time for good reason. I had a gorgeous quiche of the perfect texture: buttery, flaky pastry, fluffy, creamy egg custard, filled with tasty vegetables, accompanied with a fresh salad dressed with fruit vinaigrette. Then M forced me to eat half of a tiny round raspberry cheesecake which was one of the finest pieces of patisserie I’ve ever eaten: just sweet enough, light, crunchy base… Atmosphere: bright, pleasant space with wooden seats. Off the beaten track near the north end of Northwestern campus, in a row of shops and cafés that seem to cater to Northwestern lunchtime trade. Workability: poor, at least if you have an ounce of conscience. There are not enough tables. But I am going to put my mind to securing one on a more regular basis.