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Inside Fairgrounds, A Roaster-Agnostic Coffee House In Bucktown

The first location of a new chain gives coffee drinkers a choice

Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea Bar
Nick Fochtman
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Next week, another coffee house will open along Wicker Park/Bucktown’s “Hipster Highway.” Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea Bar differs from most others as it’s not a tied house. A tied house is the term that once applied to bars which poured suds exclusively from a singular brewery. Fairgrounds is roaster agnostic, providing grounds from an all-star cast of locals including Dark Matter Coffee and from elsewhere, such as Portland, Ore.-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Fairgrounds opens on Wednesday at 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Founder Michael Schultz isn’t the first to devise a plan to provide coffee from more than one roaster. Revival Food Hall is doing that in The Loop, as is Beatrix in River North. Schultz also owns a stake in Debra Sharpe’s Goddess & The Baker chain which uses the same multi-roaster philosophy and there’s some acrimony between Sharpe and Schultz over the opening of Fairgrounds.

While the idea is in dispute, Schultz’s first coffee shop for the general public (he runs coffee shops for corporate clients) doesn’t exactly resemble a Goddess & The Baker. Not many coffee shops have fireplaces, for one. Take a look around in the photos below.

Besides Dark Matter and Stumptown, Fairgrounds’ coffee roster includes Verve from Los Angeles, Colectivo Coffee from Milwaukee, and Irving Farm Coffee Roasters from New York. For tea, Fairgrounds has shunned local tea purveyors Spirit and Rare Tea Cellars, opting for Milwaukee’s Rishi Teas. It’ll mix up “elixirs”—essentially tea cocktails without alcohol. There’s also sparkling tea on tap and matcha whipped to order. There’s food, too. Check out the menu.

Schultz plans on opening more locations, with the next located on Michigan Avenue inside the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. He isn’t just sticking to Chicago either: there are plans for Los Angeles, Houston, Minneapolis, and Miami too. But Chicago’s Bucktown will be No. 1.

Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea Bar, 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave., open 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday to Thursday; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday; 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

A line of five pour-over coffee machines. Nick Fochtman/Eater Chicago
Nick Fochtman
Nick Fochtman/Eater Chicago

Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea House

1620 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL Visit Website