Getting to Know Chicago Through Its Coffee Culture"As I have gotten older, I have really gotten to see how Chicago embodies its own rhythms. There are certain intangibles of a city that you learn as you go around."
When Johnny Loftus describes his gig with Metropolis Coffee Company, he says it's "like working at a record company. It is an independent company and it exists at my speed." Loftus delivers coffee around town for the roaster, and also blogs for the firm's website. But he's not giving advice on java. "I'm more interested in the lifestyle side of coffee," he says.
Riding around town delivering beans, and writing for alternative papers like The Village Voice, gives Loftus lots of opportunities to explore the city's coffee culture, and few people are as qualified to give a Chicago coffee lifestyle tour.
Loftus grew up in the Chicago suburbs (raised as a White Sox fan), moved to Detroit, then returned to Chicago in 2007. "As I have gotten older, I have really gotten to see how Chicago embodies its own rhythms. There are certain intangibles of a city that you learn as you go around."
Loftus now lives in Logan Square, a hip, up-and-coming neighborhood on the city's northwest side centered around a public square of the same name. He hears the caffeinated rhythms of Chicago in its food and drink, music and bustling public spaces. "All these neighborhoods make a patchwork," he says.
In Logan he loves the Puerto Rican sounds, authentic taquerias — his hunt for the city's best taco allows him to practice his Spanish — and gastropub Longman & Eagle. "They have a ton of really good whiskeys and local art, and they are planning to have a place where touring bands can stay upstairs. I like places like that, with a nod to a city's past. It used to be like that — you could find somewhere to get a sandwich, a beer and a place to stay."
The owners of Longman & Eagle are also behind The Empty Bottle, which Loftus calls, simply, "my all-time favorite rock club." For roots and indie-minded music, he heads to long-time standard Schubas Tavern on West Belmont Avenue. Many of his favorite shows happen in what he calls "fly-by-night punk squats," the kinds of places where you get a text and show up, rather than see it advertised at a club.
His requisites for a good bar include a comfortable place to sit and decent beer prices. "I have put together a pretty good dossier on places that embody those requirements." On his list is Cole's, which has a good room for live music in the back, and Archie's, an "old man bar" in Ukrainian Village.
Of course, Loftus is partial to coffee shops that sell Metropolis coffee, but he has other criteria, too. The Wormhole has a sci-fi theme and "a contemporary sense about it. It is a comfortable place to hang out," he says. New Wave Coffee is another that makes his grade.
When Loftus wants to go for a stroll on a warm day, he heads to Rosehill Cemetery in Bowmanville on the north side. "It is from the Victorian era, with all these headstones of old mayors. It has a real sense of history. It is not spooky."
For a final photo op to wrap up Loftus' counterculture Chicago tour, he'd stop at the Nelson Algren Fountain where Milwaukee and Ashland avenues meet Division Street. "That corner is funny. It is always a real snapshot of the city."
Check out Johnny's Chicago.