Would You Like Some Booze With Your Latte?

When the design for Starbucks’ new Gold Coast store was made public, it struck a familiar chord with us. (See our previous coverage here)  What it reminded us of is this:

The Olive/Summit Starbucks in Seattle

This is the “Olive and Summit” Starbucks in Seattle.

You see, Starbucks operates a pair of skunkworks cafes (700 Broadway East and 328 15th Avenue East) in one of Seattle’s hippest neighborhoods, Capitol Hill. Capitol hill is like a smaller, dirtier Greenwich Village; if Greenwich Village was about to slide off the side of a hill.

Ideas that seem to work in the skunkworks cafes are then implemented in the Olive/Summit store, seen above, where they are refined and polished before being exported to the rest of the chain.

A glass of Washington State riesling. Yes, it's served in a Starbucks wine glass.

The biggest difference between the Olive/Summit Starbucks and every other Starbucks on the planet is that Olive/Summit sells alcohol.

At the end of the day you can cozy up to a craft beer, a regional riesling, or something a little stiffer.

The feel of the Olive/Summit Starbucks is entirely different.  Gone are the soccer moms with their double-wide monster truck strollers filled with proto-douchebags.  Camping vagrants are ejected at first sight.  And rabbles of tittering tween tourists are mercifully absent.

Instead, this is a quieter, more sophisticated atmosphere.  Because it’s a more adult crowd, the furniture is better.  Plusher.  And in more interesting shapes, sizes, and textures.  The interior is outfitted in compliance with Starbucks’ recent environmentally-friendly mandates.  That means locally-sourced materials, and lots of reclaimed wood.

A small selection of the wines available at Starbucks.

The store is configured so that the baristas are at a central bar.  One half is for coffee, the other is for alcohol, though you can order what you want from either side.  Also, the baristas are no longer behind five-foot-wide counters and plexiglass.  They’re only separated from the patrons by a thin wooden rail.  It makes the whole experience much more friendly, even forcefully so.  There’s no piling up of paper cups at the end of an assembly line.  A carefully prepared cup of coffee is handed directly to you.

At about 5:00pm, just as it’s getting dark outside, the interior lights are lowered.  This is, after all, a place to relax.  Many of the tables are sized to fit one person and that one person’s laptop for an evening of writing, perhaps with a warm brownie.

That’s right, I said “warm brownie.”  The food is upgraded here, too.  Real sandwiches, real salads, and real desserts make this a place you could actually go for a quick dinner.

So, why do we think that this is what’s coming to Chicago’s Gold Coast?  Obviously, it’s partially wishful thinking.  But it’s more than that.

Yes, that's a bar. Yes, that's a Starbucks.

The design of the new building (1003 North Rush Street) lends itself to this experience.  With its smaller size, it’s not going to be the coffee factory that the current Rush Street Starbucks is.  The second floor is going to allow for more intimate gatherings.  And the outdoor balcony is perfect for evening cocktails while keeping the alcohol separated from the general public and passersby.

Also, the Rush Street Starbucks (officially known as “Oak/Rush II”) has long been a pioneer in the coffee chain’s history.  We’ve been told that it was the first Starbucks outside of the Pacific Northwest.  We have also been told that it was the first Starbucks with Hear Music, and that the store next to the current cafe was actually a Hear Music store.

Remember that Starbucks likes testing things out here.  Chicago was a test market for Via instant coffees before they went national.  And Chicago was where Starbucks rolled out the ill-fated Tuxedo mocha, which you can still order in other markets if you know the secret word.

One more clue: Look at the location — Right in Viagra Triangle, amid the clubs and bars and nightlife of Chicago’s adult swinging set.  Is there a more perfect location for an adult Starbucks?

Again, this might all be wishful thinking.  But I think a copy of the Olive/Summit Starbucks would work in the Gold Coast.  Maybe Starbucks planners think so, too.

One thing I don’t understand is where all the current coffee drinkers will go.  The existing Oak/Rush II store is a madhouse almost every hour of the day.  Starbucks could easily fill two regular stores in the neighborhood.  But perhaps that, too, is in the works.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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