I Went to the World’s Largest Starbucks, and Here’s What I Thought
This month, Starbucks debuted its largest store ever on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. With a record-breaking opening day for a Starbucks Reserve Roastery, 10,000 caffeine lovers waited in the city’s infamous freezing cold to be the first to experience the spectacle in all its roasted glory. I imagine that Starbucks diehards felt similarly to how I did as a child when I first visited Times Square’s Toys R Us flagship, complete with its giant ferris wheel. This Starbucks, obviously, isn’t just any old Starbucks. It’s an experience in and of itself. Let me walk you through mine.
When I pitched this story to my editors, I had been so transfixed by the roastery’s lore already circulating among Chicagoans that I completely forgot about my generalized anxiety disorder. I was acutely reminded of it as I stood in line outside the famed flagship on a chilly Chicago weekday evening—the time I thought it might be the least crowded. After spending 25 minutes outside (honestly, not a bad wait time for a few days after grand opening), I was as jittery as if I had already consumed three cups. Once I entered the roastery, I was delightfully surprised by how soothing it was inside. A cozy fireplace glows and a winding escalator ascends around a 56-foot tall cask, which delivers coffee beans to all four floors like the tubes at bank drive-throughs—a metaphor that slaps you directly in the face.
Before heading upstairs, the first floor is home to a gift shop, where, for whatever bizarre reason, you could purchase a $350 Starbucks-themed leather jacket. There’s also coffee and to-go snacks (but if you’re looking for take away coffee on your shopping trip, head to one of the many other Starbucks on Michigan Avenue for that—this is not the purpose of the Reserve Roastery).
The second floor features the Princi Bakery and Cafe, which offers baked goods, snacks, gelato, pizza, sandwiches—far better offerings than what you typically find in the refrigerated cases at your local Starbucks. Can confirm: the food looked delicious, and smelled marvelous.
Unlike more conventional Starbucks stores, the Reserve Roasteries feature muted colors, with lighter green accented ceilings and golden and earthy floors, walls, and furniture. With the cask and coffee-making gadgets serving as gorgeous art pieces in the otherwise low-key space, it almost feels like a highly sophisticated version of the Mos Eisley Cantina of “Star Wars” fame, minus the upbeat Cantina Band. To be clear, this is an enormous compliment coming from me, a certified nerd.
Things kick up a notch on the third floor, where the creative coffee happens. The Experiential Coffee Bar is pretty rad, where rare coffees are prepared by skilled baristas whose intricate routines serve as a presentation for the guest. If you’re a coffee connoisseur, this is your floor.
I headed to the fourth floor, which houses the Arriviamo Cocktail Bar. There was a wait list to access the impressive list of Chicago-themed and other classic cocktails. While waiting for the opportunity to taste the roastery’s cocktail featuring Chicago’s favorite, Jeppson’s Malört, I peeked outside at the seasonally-opened rooftop terrace, which is sure to be jam packed come spring due to the stunning view and modest size.
Glancing out at Michigan Avenue, one of Chicago’s most famous streets where no true Chicagoan seems to ever go, I knew in my heart of hearts that no one who actually enjoys Malört would ever wait 45 minutes to taste it. I stepped right up and had a wonderful and illuminating conversation with the very knowledgeable barista who prepared my “Smoked Cold Fashioned,” a cold brew made from beans aged in Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey barrels inspired by the classic Old Fashioned and applewood smoked. Watching the drink receive an infusion of smoke was very cool! My drink (served with the bottle of smoke for me to waft before sipping) tasted interesting! And like most drinks in Chicago, probably not worth $15. But this is an experience, one for which I volunteered myself.
After taking my final sip, I headed directly for the exit. Starbucks lovers will surely be making the trek to this flagship for years to come, and I know they’ll be delighted by what they discover. Michigan Avenue at the onset of the holidays is both an enchanting and overwhelming place, and my time was done. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery, too, fits this description, and for what it is, it’s perfect.