In New York I’ve found myself thinking about Chicago often. Perhaps it’s the urban environment or the City Year backpack I’ve been using. Maybe it’s the contrast of staying in hectic Times Square and not being able to pocket a subway map that have made me miss my quaint neighborhood and CTA routine. No matter the reason(s), it seems time to write more about my year of service. Topic of the day? My favorite Chicago coffee shop.
My roommates and I lived in Bucktown near Wicker Park and Logan Square. We were on the blue line, the Western stop. When we brought guests to our place we favored walking up Oakley instead of Western so we could show off the cute neighborhood that always smelled faintly of warm laundry. It wasn’t even out of the way since we lived on the corner of Fullerton and Oakley. I loved saying that – the corner of Fullerton and Oakley.
Amanda found Ipsento first. I want her to get full credit. Once she passed it on to the roommates, I was hooked. Kira and Jane may have already had coffee or tea houses of their own, but I really took to this place.
It was cozy and eclectic. There were window seats overlooking the street and a back room for quieter work or conversation. Manda and I used to have dates there, just the two of us. Kira and I had plenty of things that were our own what with City Year, so Ipsento was something that Amanda and I made a point of to share exclusively from time to time. I distinctly recall us discussing my younger cousin’s hypothetical Pepperdine experience (Cousin Kimberly was all of thirteen at the time). Kimberly would be a Pi Phi and go to Florence. She would be a Campus Ministry or UM darling. We would go to her graduation when… “How old will we be when Kim graduates?” we asked simultaneously. Mental math, mental math. We gasped together, “Thirty! Ugh!” All this took place in the back room over two tea lattes, mine seasoned with vanilla, Amanda’s cardamom.
My order of choice was the London Fog. It was my first London Fog and it’s been my favorite warm drink ever since. Earl Grey tea latte with vanilla. For months I also drooled over the house made caramels at the counter, always wanting to buy one but never willing to cough up the cash. They had a vanilla honey one that always tempted me. Eventually I started dreaming about them, so I added the 65 cents to my order. The flavors of Earl Grey, vanilla, honey, and caramel swirled together over the scents of old books, dusty cushions, and tasty sandwiches.
The sandwiches at Ipsento are all named after famous authors. Kira favored the Garrison Keillor. I loved the Jane Austen – crisp apple slices with honey and cheese on a croissant. On the menu it’s cream cheese but I always substituted cheddar because I love me some apple and cheddar. Note, too, that this is the only way that I enjoy croissants. For about a month as a kid I was obsessed with croissants and ate too many, so I get slightly queasy at the thought. This also happened with Butterfingers during my childhood. I digress.
Another go-to date of mine at Ipsento was Michelle. Miss Michelle. Michelle was on my City Year school team. She’s kind, smart, hard working. We read through (most of) Tim Keller’s The Reason for God that year and would meet up to discuss our doubts and faith. We met at Ipsento at least twice (plus an Argo Tea once and a sandwich shop off the red line if I remember correctly). Ipsento was the last place we ever saw each other. Only days after our corps year ended, we met up for one last coffee and hugged goodbye.
I took my brother when he visited Chicago in the spring. We discussed traveling to Oxford someday to see the Eagle and the Child. I might have a picture from that particular visit, but it will take quite a bit of digging to unearth it. I have precious few photos from Chicago, which is why the headline shot is from Ipsento’s website.
Many hours at Ipsento, with friends and alone. Reading, chatting, working on my laptop. I miss it. I miss the walk to and from. I miss the flavors and music and originality of the whole place.
Thank you, Samantha and Brian, for giving me the perfect coffee house sanctuary for writing up this piece. Your home in the Bronx is delightful, your hospitality a joy.