One of the first articles we published at the Chicago Review of Books was a list of Chicago’s best places to read and write. A lot has changed since then, including new bookstores and literary institutions, so I figured it was time for an update. Here are the top 10 places to read and write in Chicago in 2017.
1. Volumes Bookcafe
This Wicker Park bookstore/cafe/pub wasn’t open when I wrote the original version of this list, but it’s become one of Chicago’s literary epicenters thanks to an aggressive events calendar, fun staff, and welcoming environment for reading, writing, and drinking.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.)
8. 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.
9. Read/Write Library
“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).
10. Mansueto Library, University of Chicago
Probably the closest you’ll ever get to reading inside a Martian habitat, this university library was cool enough to appear in the futuristic Divergent film series. Note: the library is only open to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and researchers.
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