Now being served at coffee shops: booze

Why offer one buzz when you can offer two?
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Illustration: Michael Mesker Coffee shops as bars
By Lauren Viera |
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There are cafés, and there are bars. You visit one in the morning, one in the evening, and like your go-tos for brunch and dinner, one is seldom substituted for the other. But now a few venues are blurring the lines, offering downers in addition to their uppers. A few months ago, Andersonville’s Coffee Studio (5628 N Clark St, 773-271-7881) extended its hours until 9pm and began offering a half-dozen craft beers, wines by the glass and an aperitif. Co-owner Lee Corrina Cano says booze had been in the works for the Studio—which has always featured bar stools along its counter—since day one.

“We’ve got this space that people want to hang out in, we’ve got stuff going on here in the morning and at lunchtime. [So we thought] let’s offer something to pick up business in the afternoon and evening,” she says. Five years into operating, “we’re not worried anymore about people being confused as to what the Coffee Studio is about. We’re finally fulfilling our vision of the Coffee Studio as an evening place, as well.”

If the word evening reminds you of another coffee-liquor option, then Starbucks is working its magic. The megachain initially introduced its Starbucks Evenings concept in Seattle back in 2010. Last summer, Schaumburg got the first wine and beer (and bar snacks) Starbucks outside of the Pacific Northwest. Six more Starbucks Evenings locations have since opened in Chicagoland.

No one—especially not Starbucks—is reinventing the wheel. Historically, Europeans have often embraced boozing where they caffeinate. And with the high margin on alcohol, business owners usually make a nice profit on booze. But Rachel Antalek, vice president of concept innovation for Starbucks, stated via e-mail that for her brand, at least, offering beer and wine was “in response to customer feedback for more options to unwind” in the evenings. And, in fact, according to the financial analyst reports we reviewed, Starbucks Evening has yet to boost the company’s bottom line.

And yet booze looks to be the future of coffee shops nonetheless. Late last year, Little Goat Bread (820 W Randolph St, 312-888-3455) opened as a hybrid coffee/cocktail bar. And last month, coffee and pastry shop Toni Patisserie & Café (65 E Washington St, 312-726-2020) quietly began offering a list of French whites, reds and dessert wines by the glass, and to-go bottles of French and American wines. “It’s very much in line with our brand,” says Paul Pell, husband to owner Toni. “We’re a European-style patisserie and café.” Right away, Toni started selling $200–$300 worth of booze a day, and Pell expects that to quadruple. As for Starbucks Evenings, he isn’t intimidated. “I stopped into the place on Michigan and Adams, and it wasn’t in the evening,” he says, “but it still looked like a Starbucks.”

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