The world’s largest coffee chain is putting its stamp on the Midwest’s largest city with the imminent opening of its largest location to date. Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago, slated to open to the public on Friday morning, jams nearly every product and experience the chain can offer into five floors and 35,000 square feet on the most prominent stretch of real estate in the city.
In essence, the Chicago roastery on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile — the brand’s sixth and largest in the world — is a Starbucks theme park. The themed floors showcase its roasting process and nearly every type of the chain’s drinks and food. The offerings include alcoholic beverages, retail items, and coffee education, all while incorporating some love for the city.
“We wanted to create an immersive customer journey around roasting, brewing, and small-batch coffee — the pinnacle of customer experiences for all things coffee,” CEO Kevin Johnson says.
“Experiential” was representatives’ most uttered buzzword during a media preview on Tuesday morning. Here’s what customers will be able to experience when it opens to the public on Friday at 9 a.m.
First Floor: Reserve Coffee Bar
Customers enter the glassy white-washed building on Michigan Avenue into an area for greeting, meeting, and taking a peek at the roasting process, as well as a reserve coffee bar. Patrons can order pour-over coffees and espresso drinks, sandwiches, pastries, and other quick-serve food items, and consume them at standing tables. There’s also a retail space and gift shop here that offers coffee-making equipment, cups, bags of Starbucks’s “rarest coffees,” and clothing. Signage similar to what one finds at a mall dictates what’s on the other levels, which are accessible via elevators, a staircase decorated with a mural of a man harvesting coffee beans, and what designers say is “the first curved escalator in the Midwest.”
Coffee-themed design is constant throughout the space, most prominently in its focal point that begins on the first floor. A tower made of eight bronze-colored tubes which management call a “cask” and designer Jill Enomoto describes as a “coffee hourglass” starts on this level and runs through every floor. It audibly distributes all of the coffee beans the roastery uses every day throughout the space via pipes, as the escalator circles around it.
Second Floor: Princi Bakery & Cafe
While food items are available on every floor, the largest selection is available here. Acclaimed Italian baker and frequent Starbucks collaborator Rocco Princi’s food is the focus on this level, which is served at a large counter that showcases a daily-changing selection of pastries, breads, sandwiches, pizzas, salads, and more. An open kitchen and its ovens are on display, plenty of seating is available at both the counter and tables, and a conveyor transports food to the other floors. The rarest food item in the roastery is gelato made with liquid nitrogen — this location is the only Starbucks in the country to offer it.
While another Princi location has been open on Randolph Restaurant Row in the West Loop for more than a year, this one is much larger with a more distinct design. “The experience here is completely different [than the West Loop location],” Princi says.
Third Floor: Experiential Coffee Bar
This is where Starbucks offers its most interesting and sophisticated coffee drinks while showcasing “the art, science, and theater of coffee.” Customers can sit at long counters in the center of the room, watch staff make more unusual drinks and talk to baristas, while learning about the brewing methods and process, beans, tasting notes, and more. In addition to the education aspect, there’s also a social component here with the coffee providing a conversation starter. This level could be a destination for people with interest in outside-the box coffee drinks, expanding their palates, and gaining coffee knowledge to nerd out.
Fourth Floor: Arriviamo Cocktail Bar
The fourth floor is the early bet for the most popular aspect of the Chicago roastery. The ability to drink cocktails at a Starbucks is a rarity, especially off a menu that includes exclusive Chicago-themed drinks from three of the city’s top bartenders. In addition to those “Chicago Exclusives” that include the “Roastery Boilermaker,” the menu includes nine signature cocktails that all incorporate a type of coffee as an ingredient, a seasonal holiday cocktail that’s currently a pistachio buttered rum, classic cocktails, plus a selection of wines and local beers.
A large horseshoe-shaped bar sits at the center of the room underneath skylights. Tables provide more seating and more retail is available for purchase on this level. The space seats around 175 people, making this floor alone one of the larger cocktail bars in Chicago. A barrel-aged coffee bar also exists on this floor, offering non-alcoholic drinks made with coffees aged in whiskey barrels.
There’s also a fifth-floor rooftop space that’s open seasonally and for private events. It’s closed on this frigid, snowy November day.
All in all, the size, breadth of coffee drinks, availability of quality cocktails, and prominent Magnificent Mile location make this Starbucks Reserve Roastery one of downtown Chicago’s most noteworthy new businesses in years. Stay tuned for more coverage before its opening on Friday morning at 646 N. Michigan Avenue.