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The Café Workstyle: Eleven Center Square Spots To Eat And Work

By Anna Roberts | Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Barista Daniel Wintercorn at Café Neo. Credit: Anna Roberts

As more people chose to work from home and more employers choose to have workers telecommute, Lincoln Square and Northcenter coffee shops have become the home-away-from-home-office, the water cooler and the modern day Roman forum all rolled into one.

More than just providing the first cup of the day, out-of-office workers and networkers are using local java joints to help ease other aspects of the work day. Between wifi access, free refills and a setting to share ideas, these Center Square coffee shops could be the best assistant you never hired.

Cafe Neo – 4655 N. Lincoln Ave.

Perks: Free wifi, free refills on drip coffee, $1 dollar refills on lattes and other drinks

Start of Day: Cafe Neo opens at 8 a.m. on weekdays

Why its better than the boardroom: Spacious shop with ample tables give room to think with no fear of someone spying on that Excel spreadsheet you’re working on.

Key Team Player: Barista Daniel Wintercorn says they’re known for their crepes.

More comfy than a cubicle: In between trains that go roaring overhead, Cafe Neo is pretty quiet. Its big windows give it more natural light than any corner office.

Welcome Distraction: The newly opened Lincoln Square Athletic Club is across the street.

Indoor seating at The Grind. Caution! It gets crowded fast on inclement days. Credit: Anna Roberts

The Grind – 4613 N. Lincoln Ave.

Perks: Free wifi, 1 in house refill, 50 cents additional refills and outdoors seating where the wifi “usually” works.

Start of Day: The Grind opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays

Why it’s better than the boardroom: Barista Chelka Posladek says everyone is “really nice” and customers end up sharing tables which leads sometimes to networking opportunities. “It’s like they become each others coworkers,” she says.

Key Team Player: Posladek boasts their great sandwiches

More comfy than a cubicle: There’s a motivating hum to The Grind. Busy, focused workers, a bulletin board full of business cards and a lack of families help with focus.

Welcome Distraction: It’s just across the street from The Davis Theater.

The bright, airy space of Crepes a Latte. Credit: Anna Roberts.

Crepes A Latte – 1840 W. Irving Park Rd.

Perks: Wifi, free refills on coffee, patio seating facing busy Irving Park

Start of Day: 7:00 a.m. throughout the week

Why it’s better than the boardroom: Supervisor Matthew Mustain says the service is their standout offer. “We check on guests throughout their visit,” he says. “We make sure they have what they need.” They encourage customers, which he says also include students and teachers, to stay as many hours as they’d like.

Key Team Player: The crepes of course.

More comfy than a cubicle: The high ceilings, large windows and pop music provide an extra shot of energy when your caffeine buzz wears off. They also have easily accessible outlets to charge any mobile devices.

Welcome Distraction: A big pile of boardgames are at the ready to help kickstart any brainstorm.

The quiet, spartan Delicious. Credit: Anna Roberts

Delicious – 3827 N. Lincoln Ave.

Perks: Wifi, 1 free refill on coffee, quaint patio in back

Start of day: 8 a.m.

Why its better than a boardroom: Owner Chelsea Waldrop says customers like the fact that they are supporting an independent coffee shop by spending their hours here. And she adds, “They come for the friendships and the personalities behind the counter.”

Key Team Player: Delicious serves the somewhat hard to find Alterra coffee.

More comfy than a cubicle: Delicious is on a quieter stretch of Lincoln and is smaller in size, making it a calm place to work.

Don't be surprised if you witness a sales presentation at Julius Meinl. Credit: Anna Roberts

Julius Meinl – 4363 N. Lincoln Ave.

Perks: Free wifi – but only Mondays – Thursdays, free refills on regular drip coffee, outdoors seating along the bustling corner of Monrtose and Lincoln (so expect traffic).

Start of Day: You can get the earliest jump start to your day here, Julius Meinl opens at 6 a.m. on weekdays.

Why its better than the boardroom: If other neighborhood spots seem more like individual offices, Julius Meinl is the conference room, with people holding meetings and interviews here often. Manager Alexis Culpepper says some people will even hold presentations at tables.

More comfy than a cubicle: Depending on the time of day, Julius Meinl can be the favorite sugar source for neighborhood families with children. Culpepper says the mornings are the busiest times for business-related happenings.

Key Team Player: Julius Meinl has servers for each of its tables which is kind of like giving you your own executive assistant. And the cupcakes don’t have to just be for the kids.

Welcome Distraction: Bowman’s bar and its big screens is nearby for a quick shot of “confidence” before a meeting or to check the score of the Sox game.

Beans & Bagels - 2601 W. Leland Ave., 1812 W. Montrose Ave.

Perks: Free wifi, patio seating on the quieter corner of Leland and Rockwell

Start of Day: Opens at 6:30 on weekdays

Why its better than the boardroom: Beans and Bagels seems to be the artists agora of the area. Manager Adam Snow says their artists and writers that live and work in the neighborhood use the shop as “a cultural center and a place to get to know one another while exchanging information.” Some ,he says, will use the space to do their work if its small, like sketching. Bonus: They also have a location on at 1812 W. Montrose.

More comfy than a cubicle: The residential setting helps keep the volume low and the vibe peaceful. It’s indoor seating area has a living room feel.

Key Team Player: Bagels. And lots of ‘em. And if your work is less about spreadsheets and figures and more about figure drawing, Beans and Bagels atmosphere can be a muse.

Welcome Distractions: If you need to hop the train to the Loop for a meeting, or the Lake for a swim, the Brown Line stop is steps away.

Honorable Mentions:

Red Eyes Cafe. Credit: Anna Roberts

Angel Food Bakery at 1636 W Montrose focuses more on food but owner/baker Stephanie Samuels says as long as customers pick slower times to work, they are welcome to stay.

Cafe Lutz at 2458 W. Montrose Ave. has free wifi, opens at 7:00 a.m. (except Mondays at 7:30 a.m.) and boasts some pretty excellent pastries that have been showcased on The Food Network. There’s also a patio in back for the warmer days.

Red Eyes on 4164 N. Lincoln Ave. opens early at 6 a.m. and offers wifi and outdoor seating.

Perfect Cup at 4700 N. Damen Ave. may have one of the better welcome distractions: Gelato.

First Slice at 4664 N. Manor St. may leave you feeling the best as profits there go to help Chicagoans dealing with hunger and poverty. They say the Manor location more than their cafe in the Lillstreet Art Center accommodates those looking to “camp out for a few hours” because they have more seating, including a patio.

While not in the caffeine biz, Sulzer Regional Library at 4455 N. Lincoln Ave. is an excellent site to work. Wifi, personal computers, printing resources and a reference collection that can’t be beat are at one’s finger tips. If you can make it past the bustling entry way and 1st floor children’s area, the 2nd floor has plenty of seating, tables, outlets and windows. And as far as welcome distraction goes, there’s enough magazines and books to turn procrastination into an art form.

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  • http://twitter.com/sayahillman Saya Hillman

    Great article! I love coffeehouses and am always on the hunt for the perfect one.  Have a list of ones I’ve found thus far: http://www.macncheeseproductions.com/Referrals.html

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