Like most Chicagoans, you probably do 90% of your reading in one of two places:
- On the CTA, while some creepy guy looks over your shoulder to see what book it is, the better to flirt with you, my dear.
- In your own bed, while your significant other silently resents you for the blinding light of your reading lamp.
If you’re a writer, you probably go to a Starbucks, Peet’s, or independent coffee shop that’s 20x better than those corporate shills. But here are the top 10 alternatives (in no particular order) to read and write in Chicago, none of which are public transportation, bedrooms, or coffee shops.
The Poetry Foundation Library
Yes, both the Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine are headquartered here in Chicago, and their gorgeous, modernist building in River North is home to a 30,000-volume library.
Wilde Bar and Restaurant
A literary-themed bar and restaurant in East Lake View named after Oscar Wilde, complete with a cozy library (even larger now than it appears in the old photo above), fireplace, and plenty of leather chairs. I also love this place for its fries and gluten-free menu.
Winter Garden, Harold Washington Library Center
Climb the escalators or elevators all the way to the top floor of the main branch of the Chicago Public Library for this bright, airy reading space that feels like spring year-round. Photo by Spiro Bolos.
Curbside Books & Records, Food Revival Hall
Another relative newcomer to Chicago, this literary corner of the Loop’s latest food hall offers indie-press books, indie-label music, and plenty of tables and chairs for reading and writing.
Chicago Athletic Association Hotel Lounge
This place is like a sexier version of Downton Abbey. Also, props to the management for hosting literary events on-site, like Jeff VanderMeer’s book tour and Vol. 1 Brooklyn’s “Greatest 3-Minute Stories” series.
Murray-Green Library, Roosevelt University
I spent many grad school evenings looking out at Lake Michigan from the 10th floor of the Auditorium Building in this beautiful library, which also served as Keanu Reeves’s family architecture office in the film, The Lake House. (Pictured above in 1890, when it was the hotel’s dining hall.)
The Book Cellar
Lincoln Square’s independent bookstore is one of the most popular places for authors and fans to gather in Chicago. Plus, the wine.
“Chicago’s largest depository of grass-roots printed materials” (according to the New York Times) recently opened a new home in Humboldt Park. It’s one of Chicago’s coolest literary nooks, just make sure you stop by when they’re open (1-5, Fri-Sun, or by appointment).
The Pub at Mayne Stage, Rogers Park
You’ve probably been to Mayne Stage for a concert or two, but the attached pub is a cozy, woody, artsy spot to drink while you read, and hosts some live entertainment of its own.
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.