First in two-part series on Evanston’s 21st-century “speak-easies.”
From morning until night, hot weather or cold, Evanston’s unique cafés provide its residents with the drinks and snacks to get through the day. A visit to Evanston’s ten coffee shops revealed ten different looks, vibes and menus. However, all ten devote themselves to satisfying Evanstonians across the street or across town. Those who take a moment to scope out the different locations around the City might find the perfect neighborhood coffee shop right around the corner.
Italian Coffee Bar
The Italian Coffee Bar at 1549 Sherman Ave. stands proud and strong among the locals. Not a day goes by when the café is not filled with eager patrons, residents as well as businessmen and -women enjoying the cappuccinos the owners see as their signature.
Though the rectangular room is small, barely seating more than 10, the busy staff works diligently to offer what one barista described as “the best-quality service.” The effort the staff has put into the popular cappuccinos, fresh gelatos and bakery goods seems to be paying off. But the real kicker is the wide variety of tasty bite-sized cookies complementing any beverage, hot or cold.
After only a few weeks in business, the Enigma Café at1620 Orrington Ave.
is the newest of its kind to hit the Evanston scene. There is a homey yet artistic feel to the space, once occupied by Café Ambrosia. Enigma has a similar layout but a very different approach to presentation. Instead of the usual menu of teas served loose or in bags, Enigma offers a broad selection of teas for its customers to see and smell. This allows them to make an educated choice of the tea best suited to get them through a study session while settled at one of the two-person tables spread around the room.
In addition to Enigma’s ambience and history as a café spot, one barista said she believes the popularity of Enigma is still building.
The teas and classic on-the-go coffees are not the only attractive features, though. A six-person dining room table sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by paintings. After a long, hot day of summer shopping in downtown Evanston, Enigma Café might provide the perfect oasis.
After six years in business, Café Mozart, located at600 Davis St.
), continues to attract a steady flow of local residents and college students. The eight or so petite tables in the back of the café offer space for a few small lunchtime meetings over a cup of freshly ground coffee or a house-made Italian soda. With a distinctive menu featuring cappuccinos and their popular Café Americano, Café Mozart provides two offerings that its patrons seem to favor above the many tantalizing options available. A barista said the espresso sets the café apart from a Starbucks or any big coffee chain. “We grind it ourselves,” she said. Bringing a large bag of freshly ground coffee from under the counter, she explained that not all cafes offer what she said she believed to be a better and fresher alternative to pre-made espresso. With a fresh atmosphere and trendy animal-print couches lining the entrance, Café Mozart makes a nice place to sit on a hot summer day while enjoying a cup of frozen yogurt, the most sought-after item.
Kafein, at1621 Chicago Ave.
, across the street from Whole Foods Market and next to Tapas Barcelona, is a popular spot for high school students and Northwestern University students alike. A late-night visit revealed the dim lighting and retro-chic design attracting numerous young studiers and groups of talkative friends, hungry for the café’s coffees, pies and sundaes.
Kafein also features many items of eclectic kitsch, such as the classic Pacman gaming machine and a large painting of the Mona Lisa with a coffee cup resting in her hand.
But it is not just the look of the place that generates popularity. One of the café’s baristas had a clear idea about why Kafein remains popular after 18 years in business: “We have an open-mic night.”
Even more, the baristas provide attentive service to the clientele, eager to suggest menu favorites. Anybody looking for a quick midday pick-me-up might walk away with one of Kafein’s signature Aztec Mochas, joining a slew of other loyal patrons.
The smell of freshly ground coffee can lure even the most selective of coffee drinkers to Casteel Coffee, a small café at 2926 Central St. Neighbors have been patrons since the café opened in 1993, but Evanstonians from every corner of the City visit Casteel for its ground-fresh coffee and beans sold in bulk.
The coffee has a fresh taste and aroma because it is roasted on-site.
It is no surprise, then, that the café’s lattes and espressos are so popular. Casteel also sells a large variety of mugs, gifts, and colorful kitchen décor, displayed near the few tables nestled in the back of the shop. In summer heat or windy winter freeze, the quiet neighborhood outside of Casteel Coffee offers a comfortable juxtaposition to the sensual refuge within.