Tourists, locals, and influencers descended en masse upon the world’s largest Starbucks Reserve Roastery when it first debuted mid-November, when more than 1,000 fans lined up in freezing temperatures outside the Michigan Avenue store on opening day. The brand’s new flagship five-floor, 35,000 square-foot space offers locally made chocolates, baked goods, cocktails, retail (including a $6,500 espresso machine) and — what else? — coffee. The mammoth monument to consumption garnered a flurry of media attention, but what are customers who finally made it inside saying about the experience? Here are some early reactions:
Nearly all visitors agree, a trip to the new Reserve Roastery takes commitment — wait times just to get in the door seem to range from 30 to 60 minutes during the day. Indulging in a little schadenfreude, a Facebook poster spotted a three-row-deep line that spanned half a block the next day, but mentioned there was no wait the prior evening.
The lines are significant enough that some locals are rescheduling their coffee run around them.
Made it to the Starbucks Reserve in Chicago but the way line was wrrraaaaaappppppeeedddd around the corner means I’ll be back early in the morning. @ Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago https://t.co/TZCno2Yytp— larryjmorris3 (@larryjmorris3) December 8, 2019
Some felt the experience was worth their half-hour or 45-minute wait, but others found the experience frustrating, especially since they were greeted with more lines for each floor upon entering. One unhappy Yelper gave a timestamped accounting of her visit, which was further stalled by problems with the reservation system and staff miscommunications.
This is another point on which most seem to align: it’s an impressive-looking operation. Instagram is flooded with photos of the 56-foot-tall bronze-colored cask with eight copper tubes that shuttle beans from one floor to another, and customers seem to flock toward enormous windows overlooking the Mag Mile. Commenters tossed around words like “magnificent” and “beautiful.” One Yelper even took careful note of a third-floor restroom: “Inside, it is relatively dim, but from what I can see, clean and useable.”
Many reacted well to the visual stimulation: “The first floor is a feast for the eyes. There is so much going on with the retail area, wall art, mingling people, the clacker board and roasting coffee...it’s almost a sensory overload.”
Others, however, found it too chaotic for comfort.
Visited the Starbucks Reserve Chicago Roastery. I don’t know, there is something very overwhelming about both this and the one in NYC — it’s more than just the crowds. I’m not sure what to do or look at, or how to order or anything really. Maybe just me? pic.twitter.com/PXyFMGMQsk— Michael Steeber (@MichaelSteeber) December 13, 2019
The food and coffee
Though one reviewer was devastated to discover that the new Starbucks Reserve doesn’t serve Frappuccinos, many customers seemed relatively happy with the specialty offerings. Fans praised the “silky” pistachio lattes, robust cheese and charcuterie plates, and “pretty damn good” pizzas.
Still, some found the quality control lacking, including a reviewer whose brioche was “cold and not super fresh,” even at 9 a.m. The main point of contention appears to be pricing, a sentiment that resonates across both positive and negative reviews. “The shakshuka was so-so and overpriced for what it is — namely, eggs in a not-so-spicy tomato sauce with a slice of rustic bread,” wrote one visitor, while another put it more simply: “$$$ but definitely an experience.”
The bar and cocktails
Starbucks wisely chose to work some of Chicago’s famous bar culture into the enormous venture, and by early accounts to great effect. One reviewer said the fourth floor Arriviamo Cocktail Bar was his “favorite experience” inside the Reserve Roastery, calling out drinks including the Roastery boilermaker, which is made with Jeppson’s Malört, and the Lakeshore, garnished with a mango popsicle. Others favored espresso martinis, “perfect old fashioned[s] with a dash of cold brew,” and a take on a classic green chartreuse called “the Final Say.”
Downtown denizens aren’t exactly lacking for Starbucks opportunities — the coffee giant operates seven other locations on the Mag Mile alone — but Chicago’s Reserve Roastery isn’t about grabbing a cup of joe on the run. Leaning into restaurant industry buzzwords like experiential and immersive, the new venue’s design, bar, and cocktails seem to have hit home with most customers. Yet, a number of reviewers found that after the prices, wait times, and crowds, one trip was enough. As one Twitter user wrote on New Years Day:
It’s a goddamn shopping mall. (at @Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Chicago, IL) https://t.co/xpRmX9khmA— JackMeat Singh (@Michael_Aaron) January 1, 2020