At some point in the past several months, a particular intersection in Humboldt Park became an epicenter of coffee culture in Chicago. It’s a surprising development, considering the relatively quiet corner and the fact that California Avenue and Augusta Boulevard aren’t easily accessible to public transportation. But somehow, 2016 became the year that this rapidly burgeoning enclave erupted with unique dining and drinking destinations, and one of the commonalities that ties many of these new spots together is their shared proclivity for quality coffee.
First came C.C. Ferns (pictured above), a coffee shop from the same ownership as The California Clipper cocktail bar around the corner (hence the name). The cafe and bar share a rear connection, but while one peddles classic cocktails and burlesque at night, the other focuses on coffee and espresso beverages by day. The impeccably designed motif makes C.C. Ferns one of the chicest coffee shops in Chicago, with its Americana nostalgia harkening to the fern bar era of the 1970’s. Stools, sofas, and leather armchairs recall a vintage mid-century lounge, accented nicely by an array of old-timey photographs depicting early American aviation. There’s also a wall of cigars for sale, and trays of doughnuts from Doughnut Vault. It paints quite the elaborate backdrop for your caffeine consumption. The coffee hails from Chicago’s Metropolis Coffee, available as cold-brew or strong drip. There’s also Americanos, macchiatos, cortados, cappuccinos, lattes, chai, tea, and various boozy steamers, which are essentially warm milk-based cocktails that you tell yourself is normal to consume at 10:00 a.m. on a weekday.
Right next door to C.C. Ferns is Spinning J, a dose of patriotic nostalgia in its own right. Open since summer 2015, Spinning J is a vintage-inspired soda fountain and bakeshop specializing in all things comforting, homey, and bygone. There’s pies aplenty, housemade sodas in flavors like cranberry red velvet, chewy peanut butter cookies, and hulking sundaes. Coffee plays a large role as well, pairing nicely with Spinning J’s morning provisions like blue cheese-flecked biscuits, cheesy quiche, and maple-glazed scones. The coffee at Spinning J comes courtesy of Chicago-based Big Shoulders and La Colombe, a Philadelphia-based roaster that has expanded to Chicago with three current coffee shops and a roasting facility in Logan Square. Order drip coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, espresso, or iced coffee, with the option to supplement with one of Spinning J’s housemade syrups.
The newest entry to the caffeinated bunch is Cafe Marie-Jeanne (pictured above), located across California in the former Knockbox Cafe space. The all-day space serves as a casual cafe and takeaway market by day, morphing into a full-service American bistro at dinnertime. In the morning, it’s a nice place to swing by and order a cup of coffee and a pastry, like their sticky monkey bread the size of a deep-dish pizza. Local Metric Coffee Co. supplies a certified organic custom blend for Cafe Marie-Jeanne. The cafe offers drip coffee as well as pour-overs and all the espresso essentials. The neat thing here, since the cafe doubles as a retail market selling everything from eggs to wine, customers can also pick up 12-oz. bags of coffee beans for home use.