Monday, December 10, 2018
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs
Philip Johnson's 190 South LaSalle is one of my favorite buildings in Chicago, from its funky, post-modern summit to the vast, gold barrel-vaulted lobby. It's a whimsical shrine to mammon.
So when I walk by, I can't help glancing inside. And on Friday, I was rewarded by a view of this oddly-named coffee shop: "Department of Coffee and Social Affairs" For one confused second, I thought it was some kind of Kafkaesque goverment bureau, so perfectly is its quasi-official name suited to the vastness of the building. Though actually it's part of a chain started in London in 2010.
I had time, and a need for caffeine, so sauntered in. I've been trying to get a good cup of espresso lately—prodded by memories of tiny cups of steaming perfection in Italy—and ordered a cup, just to see what they could do. Not much, I'm afraid. With all the money and creativity expended on the location, the decor and the name, they just couldn't get the ball those last few yards and score on the product itself. The espresso had that familiar wrong note—maybe try a finer grind and longer pull; just a suggestion. Not a complete waste: the clerks were friendly, the room grand enough, a pleasant place to stand and ponder why something the humblest snack bar in Florence can manage to serve up for $1.50 eludes the fanciest American coffee shops charging twice as much. It can't be that hard. Can it? Does anyone know anywhere in Chicago to get a decent cup of espresso? Tell me, please.