“A Cup of Cafe”
by Britt Julious
The right cafe can make all the difference. Not a coffeehouse full of working students on laptops and cowering behind piles of books and a small level of grime nor restaurants for an evening with a beau, but rather a place to drink and think and do nothing and have that be okay. Sometimes you will talk to a companion, but you can go to one and be alone.
I like sitting and thinking. I like no interruptions. I like glasses of wine. I like to eat real food, not pastries or bagels. I like to have all of these things and I like them to not just be a restaurant. This is difficult to find. Chicago usually has one extreme or the other, but never the cafe which sits somewhere in the middle.
If anything, cafes welcome both silence and noise. They work perfectly together in this space and customers are able to have both without feeling like one rules over the other. This can’t happen in regular coffee shops which often feel embarrassingly quiet or restaurants that require shouting thoughts rather than speaking in a normal speaking voice.
Cafes are made for the wanderers of the mind. I do my best thinking in cafes. They are a perfect storm of contemplation. Expectations are low. Accessibility to the outside world seems impossible. The space is the inspiration. What I get out of a cafe is not truly quantifiable, but each day spent in one is full of grace. Cafes are grace.
I never realized how much I loved cafes until I found the perfect one in the city. And then I couldn’t stop going there. It’s been nearly a decade. This affair feels true.
Iguana Cafe, located on Halsted off the Grand Blue Line stop calls itself a “European coffee house & lounge,” but make no mistake, it is a cafe. It is darkly lit at night and bright during the day. Large windows overlook the street. The food is quite good and hearty. The wine is solid and dirt cheap. I’d never get drunk there, but if I had all the time in the world, I’d sit at a little table in the back and maybe find myself in that place of intoxication by closing time.
Most things in Chicago have a purpose and a cafe, a true cafe, rarely has a purpose beyond “a place to settle.” Perhaps that is why it is difficult to find another true cafe in the city. Iguana Cafe fulfills that need.
A year ago, Caffe Streets did not have a public internet connection. One could go there to work and they would have to actually work. I’ve never gotten as much work done as I have in spaces like Caffe Streets. Restricted to just the white screen of a word document, the only thing one can do is work. Structure is important. There is a belief that structure will hinder the creative spirit or the flow of ideas, but structure often forces one to think clearly and succinctly. Time is of the essence. Ideas must come immediately, or not at all.
I am sitting in Caffe Streets as I write this. A year ago, it became my local source for focus. Without the internet as a constant force of distraction, I was forced to settle with my thoughts and only my thoughts. My writing flowed easily and quickly. I often entered the shop without a laptop, instead relying on a tattered black notebook or even scraps of paper – a receipt, a flyer – to take notes, write down anecdotes, or even craft entire essays.
The owners of Caffe Streets understood something inherently about what is found in cafes and currently missing from most coffee shops: the room to “not” work. Although internet access has been added and increased from only an hour to unlimited, the core principles of the space remain. A Saturday here is louder than many bars I’ve gone to, with groups of friends, strangers, and regulars interacting, speaking, and working without the chain metal fence that is a screen. And much like my love of Iguana Cafe, the appeal of Caffe Streets is born in what it can not provide as much as in what it can provide: noise and quiet, crowds and solitude, “accomplishments” and the room to do nothing much at all.
Follow Britt on twitter @britticisms
Places to try when I go back to Chicago. Now I need to find the Boston equivalent of these places.