Monday, June 25, 2007

The Devon Renaissance

The brick building on the Southeast corner of Devon and Magnolia has just been repainted. I like the new color - it's this creamy sandy straw-y yellow. It makes me think of The Sheltering Sky, Timbuktu, my pack of Camels when I used to carry one, and Dr. Livingstone frantically searching for the source of the Nile.

That color is rather fitting, since, according to Tom, the owner of the Blue Elephant, the corner space in the building will be occupied by an Egyptian place. Yes, that storefront with the door facing the corner that has for years been hiding behind vinyl letters that spelled 'Coming Soon'. I'm not exactly sure what 'Egyptian' means, but I know we are in for some falafel, and some hummus, in the very least.

I also know that this new Egyptian joint is part of the Devon Renaissance, as is Stella, and Urbanimal next door, and the newly opened Viet Bistro. There is also Dhuwan, the hookah lounge. On top of that, there are all kinds of rumours swirling around regarding the now vacant Speakeasy building.

That's a lot of new bidnis for a stretch of Devon that until recently had nothing but two funeral homes and the Babushka House - the gigantic ramshackle Section 8 building on the corner of Devon and Sheridan where everyone's Russian grandmother lives.

Now, does that mean Devon is becoming the new Montmartre/Montparnasse/West Village, or at least the new Andersonville? Hardly. We are about a hundred busy storefronts away from that. We need places that peddle everything from books to furniture. We need haberdashers and milliners, greengrocers and cobblers. We need... Wait, are those professions dead? Indeed they are, or else they are moribund. Apparently, all the old-time professions are dead, except for the undertaker, and Devon has those in spades.

One that is still kicking, though, is the florist. Even in the suburbia the supermarket has been unable to attain complete floral domination. All of us enjoy the knowledge that we can walk into a Jewel, grab a bouquet, pay expeditiously on the Osco side, and be on our way. Still, we do prefer the florist, with his wry smile and his eyes quietly passing judgement as you yet again reach for those roses.

So there you have it - a dashing young, albeit rough around the edges neibhorhood in search of a florist, to help smooth over those edges. Corner storefronts abound. Any takers?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Crazy Coffee Shop Guy

Have you ever noticed how so many blogs out there have the word 'crazy' in the title? There is the Crazy Guy on a Bike, then come many a John's, Jane's, Steve's or Rajeev's Crazy Blog, not to mention the demented rantings of various crazy professionals - the insane college student, the certifiable flight instructor, the mad insurance salesman.

Apparently, crazy sells, so here I am, the Crazy Coffee Shop Guy, polluting the air with my insane inanities. I am not going anywhere, and even though there is a lot less to talk about buildout-wise, there is still plenty to discuss. In the next few days, I plan to elaborate on the topics of the Devon Renaissance, Millwaukee, and the traditional latte, to name a few.

Stay tuned or you'll miss all the crazyness.

Monday, June 18, 2007

July 6th

That's right - Friday, July 6th is when we are going to have our Grand Opening. Actually, we have no plans for it to be particularly grand. It will be no more grand than every subsequent day in the life of Stella Espresso Company, but also no less.

We will be opening at 6:30 am, so you can get your morning latte on with us before your grueling two hour Red Line ride downtown. Make sure you tell everyone on the train where you got it.

We will stay open until 10:30 pm, so you can come in for a late evening double espresso fix before you hit whatever it is you hit at night - bars, clubs, the library, the all night dungeons & dragons session, what have you. I am sure you know what your scene is, so you can let Stella be your launching pad.

Don't forget - Friday, July 6th, 6:30am to 10:30pm, corner of Devon and Lakewood.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mystic Coffee

As I was trudging down the alley off Devon after midnight last night, loaded down with about a ton of trash, I spotted a book lying on the pavement. A hardcover, no less. I bent down, trying to read its title without spilling the junk I was carrying. It was a long title, and I couldn't focus on it at first in the dim back alley lighting. But when I finally did, I read 'The Man from St. Petersburg'.

That was quite eerie, because, you know, that would be, since this is where I grew up. Now, what might that mean? Should I treat it as a good sign or a sinister omen? Is there a hidden message in this cheap (albeit hardbound) edition of one of many of Ken Follett's historical thrillers? Oh no, not the Kabbalah again! Right.

At the end, I decided to take it as a welcome mat of sorts. The thing is, I broke a mirror inside Stella the other day, so I think this was the spirits of the building sending me a message: "Don't you worry, dude from St. Petersburg, that was just a crappy old mirror, and we are still 'thrilled' that you are here."

On a more practical note, if this is your book and you want it back, you can pick it up at Stella.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dare To Be Urban

Here is something that has become an occasional weekend morning routine for us: after everyone rolls out of bed, Maya and I take our two girls and walk a mile and a half to Intelligentsia.

Once there, we outmaneuver everyone for a spot outside, where we drink our coffee and feed the kids breakfast. I listen to Maya fret and quip about how we make too big a deal about going to Intelligentsia. The place is not even that great, she says. The Wi-Fi isn't free, the wait is interminable, and worst of all, inexplicably, they do not stock bagels.

I heard it all before, but yesterday it was different - with our daughter jumping up and down clamoring for more food, I had to think on my feet. So, in a moment of clarity, I got up, walked the 50 feet to The Bagel, and brought back a wonderful, life-affirming sesame bagel, slathered thick with cream cheese. Smiles all around ensued.

That was some urban ingenuity, wouldn't you say? Not really, considering we've been privately bitching about the bagel situation for years. Nonetheless, dense as we are, we are pretty good at making the city serve as our surrogate back yard.

For the privilege, we give up an actual backyard, and also some square footage. Our apartment is becoming increasingly Japanese, where soon in order to buy something we will need to throw something else out, and we often rue the lack of a rabu hoteru industry in this country. Still, when we are sitting in our back yard and realize that we are out of bagels, we don't need to drive to the supermarket to get them. Wherever you are, everything is just a dart across the street away.

And so, time and again, we find a table under a tree, and as we watch the world go by, we can see wayward Cubs fans as they are making their way back to their car. Their faces always betray discomfort, as if they'd been caught on their front lawn wearing nothing but a towel. It has something to do with their not knowing how to find a public bathroom in the city, but also with feeling naked without their cars. Either way, we don't envy them. We feel smug and superior, because we dare to be urban.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Set The Date! Set The Date!

Mr. Health Inspector stopped by yesterday, and he found nothing wrong with our shop that cannot be fixed over one weekend. How do I feel, you ask? Well, I am giddy and terrified in equal measure, all because Stella's opening date is now under my control.

Tonight, I will be figuring out just when our opening date will be. I will need to crunch a lot of numbers, come up with a finishing stretch schedule, and at the end of that there will be a date. I will need to pad the schedule to account for stupor and cold feet, and then I will announce the official opening date.

And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here? And more importantly, where the fuck is my large automobile?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Yin and Yang of Coffee in Chicago

So, there is Yin and Yang, Bird and Magic, Elvis and The Beatles. They are dichotomies, and not necessarily along the tired good vs. evil lines. They are the more friendly ones of the briefs/boxers ilk. There are no epic struggles there, no rocks or hard places. Such is the the Intellgentsia/Metropolis dichotomy.

Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso is thick, rich, and well-rounded. It's the coffee equivalent of a California Cab. It is undeniably smoooove. Metropolis' Redline can be described in similar terms, except it has more zest than body, more lemon than fruit. There is not even a good wine analogy out there to describe it. Redline is more akin to cognac, and it packs more of a punch.

The Intelligentsia espresso is more pleasant to drink. The Metropolis shot is a little too ristretto, for my taste, but the extra punch really comes to shine in a latte or a macchiato, while the Intelligentsia latte could use a little more character. I suspect most of my customers will be ordering lattes and cappuccinos, but I do feel an obligation to serve a fabulous espresso.

Dichotomies bring dilemmas, boys and girls, and they can leave one paralyzed, like Buridan's ass. I don't like that, and in the spirit of keeping my ass in constant motion, I am ordering samples from some illustrious out-of-town (I know, gasp) roasters. Stay tuned.

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