“Chicago sounds rough to the maker of verse. One comfort we have—Cincinnati sounds worse.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes
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.
1. Wilde, Lakeview
Named after Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), this Irish bar and restaurant in Boystown is the closest you’ll ever get to drinking in the Downton Abbey library. It’s a wood-and-leather paradise adorned with books and stained glass.
2. Auditorium Library, Roosevelt University, Loop
Roosevelt’s gorgeous main library overlooks Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan from the 10th floor of the Auditorium Building, a National Historic Landmark designed by Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan, and a young Frank Lloyd Wright in 1889.
3. The Book Cellar, Lincoln Square
In addition to one of the best-curated selections of books in the city (and one of the most active reading and event schedules), The Book Cellar has a wine bar.
A Venetian Gothic masterpiece designed by Henry Ives Cobb that dates all the way back to 1893, the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition.
5. Uncharted Books, Logan Square
A self-described “writer’s haven,” this Logan Square bookstore encourages “browsing, loitering, chit-chatting, socializing, drinking, eating, writing, working, hanging out, and staying in.” Plus, they have a resident dog.
6. Harper Library, University of Chicago, Hyde Park
It’s basically Hogwarts.
7. 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.
8. Deering Library, Northwestern University, Evanston
Not quite as massive as the University of Chicago’s but with just as much Gothic character thanks to 68 stained glass windows, Deering dates back to the 1930s.
9. Poetry Foundation, River North
The Poetry Foundation’s beautiful new headquarters at Dearborn and Superior includes a massive, modern reading room, open to the public from 11am to 4pm every weekday. There are plenty of books to peruse and plenty of natural light.
10. Winter Garden, Harold Washington Library, Loop
Speaking of natural light, the Chicago Public Library’s main downtown location has an unconventional reading room all the way up on the 9th floor, a brighter, more spacious alternative to the rest of the library below.