A Wonderful Surprise in the Back of the Alley
Should anyone (friend or foe) ever say to you: "Meet me in the back of the alley", it might immediately stir feelings of apprehension. And rightfully so. Alley's are known as the dark, dingy lurking places of overstuffed trashcans, nasty odors, rodents, and sometimes questionable activities.
But there's a small alleyway, situated in the heart of a bustling downtown block in Chicago, that contains a 361 sq-ft surprise so tantalizing, it draws even the most prudent of persons.
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I've walked past this alley a thousand times before. Food delivery trucks and other vehicles used to hide here, all in vain attempts to avoid parking tickets and tow trucks. But now when I turn the corner to peer down the shadowy outdoor hallway, I see this...
A Small Coffee House with a Big History
Yes, it's a coffeehouse! A teeny-weeny, 19' x 19' coffeehouse. The 160-year old property was first home to the family-owned Pickwick Stables, which was unfortunately destroyed by the Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1878 a new structure - Col. Abson's Chop House - was built on the site of the former horse stable. The chop house became the hangout spot for bankers, actors and politicians of the late 1800's. Since then, the building has changed hands many times.
Finally, in 2013 the property was redeveloped by its current owners, and is now known as the Pickwick Coffee Roasting Company. Let's go inside and take a look .
RECENT UPDATE: As of 2018, Pickwick was sold to a new owner. The name has changed, but the awesome use of a tiny space remains. For this reason, I've decided to keep this post live.
When you step inside the café it's as if you've been transported to a really cool speakeasy. Music filters through the speakers, and you are suddenly enveloped in a luscious blend of warm woods, cool cement, shiny chrome and the scent of coffee. Fine coffee. Euphoria sets in...aww yeah... this is IT! The baristas must be used to this reaction, because they simply wait until you to slowly return to earth before asking for your order. Recalling their patient smiles tickles me even as I type this.
Clever Use of Space
At first glance, I thought this was a fireplace that was carefully preserved and made to fit into the aesthetics of the room. Instead, it was a strategically placed double-sided fridge. Commercial beverage coolers can be so unsightly. Yet, what a sleek way to "hide" an appliance in plain sight without eating up any extra space!
Of course, open shelving in a commercial space is nothing new. But it never gets old either. This is especially so when the open shelves are mounted onto exposed, roughly honed brick. That is SUCH a Chicago signature look.
Open shelves are not just for structural walls either. The photo below shows how smaller shelves were mounted onto a privacy partition, and used to display Pickwick's signature coffee , and all kinds of yummy deliciousness.
Every single serving of coffee is manually pulled on a Kees Van Der Westen Mirage - a $12-14K espressonic coffee machine. Clearly, every effort has been made to give each customer a unique experience.
Check out some of the complex coffee blends you can order here. The Lavender Rose Latté, and the Golden Spice Chai with coconut milk (a great choice for tea lovers) sound delicious!
Of course I'm explaining all of this as though I were a seasoned coffee drinker. I am not. In fact, I love the smell of coffee much more than the taste. But this place could certainly make me a believer.
On this day however, I opted to try the farm-to-table, homemade quiche instead. So, so incredibly delicious... I - I have no words. This is the first time I've ever had the courage to try quiche. I'm so glad I had it here.
One other design point before I go... As I've always said, when horizontal space is lacking - go up. This small coffee house is probably 3 times taller than it is wide. So the owners wisely decided to continue the aesthetics all the way up to the ceiling. Notice how all the design eye candy naturally carries your eyes upward.
I loved every moment of my visit to Pickwick, and will definitely be back for more. I might even try a bit of coffee next time. :)
Tell me, are there any tiny gems like this where you live? If yes, what kind?