Thursday, December 12, 2019
Super mega grande Starbucks
I'm so glad, I though, again and again, wandering the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Michigan Avenue Tuesday, that I didn't go into business.
Because, the thought continued, I have no idea what people want.
The largest Starbucks in the world, 35,000 square feet, opened in the middle of November to great fanfare. I barely noticed the hoopla, out of the corner of my eye—big lines—but didn't bother to read it. A big Starbucks; so what? I'm not even a fan of the coffee: too strong, generally. I mean, I'll drink a cup, if nothing else is available.
But now I had been hoofing up Michigan with an hour to kill, between lunch at The Purple Pig (roast cauliflower, mmm) and an appointment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (pre-op interview; more surgery at the end of the month, booo), the place offered exactly what I needed: something to do. The ropes were still set up on Erie Street, in case a few hundred people suddenly mobbed the place, as they did when it opened Nov. 15 and lines formed at 5 a.m., four hours before the doors opened. But now they were empty. I could just walk in.
I spent the next 20 minutes or so methodically drifting through the place. There had to be 200 people spread over its four floors (I skipped the rooftop deck—cold outside—so can't tell whether it was empty or crowded too).
Every seat was taken, by people eating complicated little sandwiches, plates of truffles and pastries and pizza. A spiral escalator—I can't recall ever seeing one before (uncommon, first because they cost four times as much as a straight elevator, and second because they are "stupidly twiddly" when it comes to mechanics, according to a surprisingly long history of the contraptions you can find here) led to a bakery on the second floor, a bar on the third, with gleaming bottles and artisanal cocktails. More coffee on the fourth. Barrel aged coffee seems to now be a thing, or at least Starbucks is trying to make it a thing—and tea, ironically, seemed to be big, with mosaics of teabags—one spelling "CHICAGO"—on the walls.
This is the sixth of what Starbucks calls "theatrical, experiential shrines to coffee passion”—the others are New York; Tokyo; Shanghai; Milan and the company's home, Seattle, where the first Roastery opened in 2014. That puts us in good company.
There were glowing gas fireplaces and displays about beans—I could have spent an hour reading the walls, had I been so inclined, though in truth none of the information being presented caught my attention. The Smithsonian this is not, though there was a museum gift shop vibe to corners of the place: high end t-shirts and various cups and souvenirs for sale.
I easily resisted ordering anything—I have an overabundance of coffee mugs, and had coffee after lunch at the Purple Pig—but immediately saw the great appeal of the place: a perfect location, the perfect place for tourists to flop down and recharge themselves after shopping, grab a coffee and a chocolate croissant and watch the crowds below.
The building opened as Crate & Barrel in 1990, the year I got married, and its commercial usage over the past 30 years seems to be tracking my own life. Then I needed glassware and the various kitchen tools that Crate & Barrel offered in massed array, to feather our new nest and entertain our squads of friends. Now a place out of the cold for a solitary coffee is far more appealing, and the glassware gathers dust or is packed away. I suppose that means that in 2049, with Starbucks a shadow of itself, the place will be turned into a columbarium, displaying gleaming niches of urns. I'll be ready.