A Starbucks can be found on just about any corner. But a branch with five floors and 35,000 square feet is hardly an ordinary Starbucks. The Starbucks Chicago Roastery (646 N. Michigan Ave.) is the biggest branch in the world. With a full bar, pizza and a rooftop terrace, coffee is only a footnote of the experience.
Opened Nov. 15, the hype was incredibly real. With a line not only out the door but extending through a nearby hotel, this opening proved to be quite the event. Those deterred by an extreme wait can rest assured though — while a 6 p.m. visit will put visitors at the high end of a 45-minute wait, they can easily find a 15-minute wait around lower traffic times later in the night.
Once inside, people can find a beautifully designed opening floor with a placard greeting sign. The first floor is an experience in itself with a coffee bar, coffee bean scooping bar and a roaster to boot. Given the high volume of traffic, the first floor can be overwhelming and uncomfortably crowded.
Thankfully, this problem pertains mostly to the initial entry. The second floor and up bustled with visitors but at a more manageable rate. Those who want a bakery trip will love the second floor’s bakery and cafe.
While Starbucks has delved into its bakery in recent years with the addition of sandwiches and snacks, this one goes well above that caliber with an offering of artisan breads, a plethora of fresh pastries, salads, soups and even pizza. Customers chowed down on pizza and pastries, many noticeably lacking a coffee drink.
The third floor offers another coffee bar because one apparently isn’t enough. This bar is branded as experiential, offering more specialized drinks than the traditional ones found below — plus nitrogen-infused gelato. This bar is stylistically similar to the other and doesn’t have many differentiating factors aesthetically.
Whereas the third floor’s bar lacks, its seating area is refreshing. After waiting in the extensive line and weaving through the first-floor crowd, the area devoted to seating is well-needed. Customers lounged, some with coffee and others without. The store didn’t have strict standards, so people don’t need to buy something to enjoy a seat.
The Chicago Roastery amps it up once again on the fourth floor with a cocktail bar containing coffee-infused specialty drinks as well as classic cocktails. Those wanting a holiday drink may opt for the Cold Brew Spiced Rum. One seeking a classic option can order a Roastery Old Fashioned.
Though it’s anyone’s guess how good these drinks necessarily are, this offers a change to the traditional coffee shop some consumers may find refreshing.
The Starbucks cocktail bar offers a more sophisticated and low-key vibe. No frat boys nor bachelorette parties are going to be caught anywhere near this scene. Customers chatted with friends over a drink or two but intermingling was not part of that equation.
The fifth and final floor should be a dream location with an incredible view of Michigan Avenue. The reality is an incredibly tight space lacking any memorable design or noticeable effort. It closes earlier than the store itself which seems odd for a last-stop location. All in all, the rooftop terrace is an anti-climactic end to one’s journey up the floors.
The Starbucks Reserve Chicago Roastery is intended to be a grand, transcendent experience. Never before has a coffee shop visit felt like such an event. However, the floor design remaining surprisingly similar throughout the floors was a bit of a turnoff. While each floor offers different experiences, the atmosphere itself hardly changes.
The most glaring flaw though is there are four full floors and a rooftop terrace yet not a single one is dedicated to lounging. The first few floors have respectable lounging areas, but nowhere in this Starbucks does one ever find a truly calm, cozy atmosphere.
This Starbucks wasn’t designed for students getting work done. There’s no place to sprawl out and lay into a paper for a few hours. The hustle and bustle never ends which makes this coffee shop more a novelty than a truly logical place to go.
Tourists will eat it up but locals and students may opt to go anywhere else. It’s a marvel of a building but that’s hardly the concern of those who just want a cup of coffee or a quiet place to read.
The problems shouldn’t deter those curious from a visit though. The Starbucks Reserve may be an impractical routine visit but it provides a worthwhile first-time experience. And the wait is much less egregious than the line may suggest.
The Starbucks Reserve Chicago Roastery, located on 646 N. Michigan Avenue, is now open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight and Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.