Eat Your Way Through Chicago: Not-so-basic nearby coffee shops to study for finals in
  • This hot ginger tea kicked my mid-quarter cold. Photo by Elissa Gray / North by Northwestern
  • Kitchen Sink is the perfect, calming place to spend a rainy afternoon. Photo by Elissa Gray / North by Northwestern
  • The shop offers lots of table space for spreading out your study materials. Photo by Elissa Gray / North by Northwestern
  • Royal Coffee Corporation definitely prizes presentation. Photo by Elissa Gray / North by Northwestern
  • The earthy decorations create a calm studying environment in Sol Cafe. Photo by Elissa Gray / North by Northwestern
  • Sol Cafe has a deli vibe, but its drink concoctions are far from ordinary. Photo by Elissa Gray / North by Northwestern

From Norbucks, the campus sweet spot, to Backlot Coffee up north on Central Street, there’s a collective group of coffee shops that everyone gravitates toward for cram time. Now that Reading Week is upon us, these hot spots will only grow in popularity, which makes it harder to hit the books in peace and avoid that one person you possibly made out with at a Dillo darty (but you can’t exactly remember). If you’re on the hunt for a cozy place to study that offers an escape from campus life, you have a few options that are only a quick L ride away. With the Center for Civic Engagement’s new CTA Fare Initiative, your travels outside of Evanston won’t even break your wallet.

Sol Cafe

1615 Howard St., Chicago, IL 60626

Monday – Thursday: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Friday – Sunday: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Starting with the shop closest to Northwestern’s campus, right off the Howard L stop on the Purple Line, Sol Cafe is definitely a shining star. From their unique drink creations to their hipster artwork and chalkboard menu, there’s no denying that Sol Cafe is the ideal, quaint coffee shop. Just beware: it’s no secret how desirable this spot is to hit up. Even though it’s roomier than most cafes with an abundance of wooden tables, the tables can fill up fast, especially on the weekends.

WHAT I ORDERED: I indulged in the “Rosie Cheeks,” a combination of ceylon tea, steamed coconut milk, cardamom rose water and crystallized ginger, because I don’t consume coffee. It was an absolutely elegant drink – if I could have this every day, I totally would.

WHO I RECOMMEND THIS COFFEE SHOP FOR: Anyone who prefers drinks and decorations with a fancier and more hipster edge. If you want to study and take a cute Instagram in one stop, this place is for you. What’s even better: you won’t have to hurt your bank account – most drinks, even the specialty ones, are under $5.

Royal Coffee Corporation

 6764 N Sheridan Rd., Chicago, IL 60626

Sunday – Thursday: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Friday – Saturday: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday: 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with open mic from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

If you’re seeking a place that focuses more on high-quality coffee than trendy decorations, Royal Coffee is right up your alley. It’s a bit of a hike from the nearby Loyola L stop on the Red Line, but trust me: it’s worth it. Whether you’re into simple cappuccinos or seeking an adventurous Turkish coffee, Royal Coffee has you covered for the ultimate sleep-deprived and over-stressed caffeine boost. Their menu has more to offer than coffee; from fresh juices to Ethiopian cuisine, you’re bound to be satisfied no matter what mood you’re in. The best part might be that it’s not super popular, making it easier to claim a seat and settle in for a lengthy finals study session.

WHAT I ORDERED: Because the tea I had earlier gave me all the caffeine I could handle, I opted for fresh mango juice at this location – and trust me, it was the right decision. I love anything super sweet and fruity, so this drink was my cup of tea (even though it was juice). My friend, who is a die-hard coffee connoisseur, went for the famous Turkish coffee. Not only did this beverage look cool, but, according to him, it was impressive in taste.

WHO I RECOMMEND THIS COFFEE SHOP FOR: Hit up Royal Coffee if you care about coffee excellence more than fancy decor. This is not to say this shop isn’t visually appealing, but it definitely doesn’t have the aesthetic of Sol Cafe. But what it lacks in style, it makes up for in high-quality caffeine options and affordability in terms of drinks (although their food options, especially their Ethiopian specialties, can near or surpass the $10 mark).

Kitchen Sink

 1107 W Berwyn Ave., Chicago, IL 60640

Monday – Friday: 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The final stop on our L coffee shop adventure was the Kitchen Sink, right next to the Berwyn Red Line stop. With a name as unique as that, the expectations for this cafe are bound to be high. This spot offers the perfect balance of classic coffee offerings (espresso, anyone?) and less-traditional combos. The ambience is calm and quiet, and the menu also includes a long list of food options (like breakfast burritos and bagel sandwiches), which make this the best place to bust out that ten page paper due the next day.

WHAT I ORDERED: I was intrigued by the hot ginger lemonade. I couldn’t say that it was my favorite order of the day, but I could see the appeal of this cold-weather favorite, especially for when you’re suffering through your fifth bout of the flu this quarter. The lemon and ginger combo is exceptionally smooth and soothing. This time around, my friend went for the cappuccino, which was attractive in both flavor and design (who can complain about a little latte art?).

WHO I RECOMMEND THIS COFFEE SHOP FOR: Those who fit nicely in the limbo between trendy hipster and hardcore coffee lover. The atmosphere is better for a focused study session than it is for a social media photoshoot, which makes it the best choice for those long, reading week days. And while the food can get a bit pricey, most drinks are cheaper than their Starbucks alternatives.

This is proof that you can expand your coffee adventures beyond Peet’s and Unicorn Cafe. With reading week and finals upon us, it’s time to invest in a Ventra card (or take advantage of the previously mentioned CTA Fare Pass Initiative) and travel down the L line for a bit more excitement. Plus, you might just get some cute Instagrams (and hopefully finish some work) in the process.


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