As any college student or person who works from home knows, December marks the start of a long season of cabin fever and temporary isolation. (Ok, Christmas, too.)
Which is why every winter I try to make an effort to get out of the house and work remotely once a week. I used to work mostly at the Panera on Congress and State, which isn't far from where I live. But it becomes uncomfortably full at lunchtime.
Also, if I put on actual shoes and a coat - and it's not just over pajamas so that I can make it a half-block to get coffee in the cold - it's kind of an event, so I figure I should sometimes venture outside of my neighborhood.
In an attempt to find some new, chill wi-fi spots around the city, I met my friend Matt on a rainy Friday at one of his favorite coffee shops in Lincoln Park, the Bourgeois Pig. It's part house, part restaurant, part DePaul hangout (I think—people had backpacks). My friend and I easily found a large table upstairs and went to order our lunch. Usually, the vegetarian options at restaurants are few—and coffee-shop food never seems to be that great.
But the Pig packs some punch. After much debate about five sandwiches with literary pun names, I settled on a delicious goat cheese and pepper-filled sandwich for lunch (I'll see you next time, Secret Garden!!) Later, when I needed a work snack break, on my friend's recommendation, I had a homemade molasses cookie that was unbelievably moist and tasty.
The atmosphere was so pleasant—and the eating so good—that I stayed at the Bourgeois Pig well into the evening, despite the fact that it was Friday and I probably should have been looking for more exciting things to do that did not involve a laptop and Microsoft Word.
My trip to Alliance Bakery and Cafe, on the other hand, was a little confusing. I had heard there was a room with wi-fi—and there is, but it's not actually connected to the bakery. I walked right by it, actually, on my way to the bakery; there's no real sign.
After waiting in line at the bakery, I asked the girl behind the counter where the room was. She said it was next door, and I assumed it would include an ordering window or waitress or something, since she didn't suggest getting anything to go. It didn't. So, feeling somewhat moronic, I walked in, stared, walked back out and back to the bakery, where I waited in a long line—again (apparently, we're all still in full holiday binge mode, or diabetes is not a pressing problem in this city)—to buy a cup of coffee and a cherry-almond scone. (The one I wanted, blueberry, was sold out. Santa truly has left the building.)
I asked if I needed a code to access the Internet; the bakery lady said no. I didn't believe her. But as it turns out, Alliance's wi-fi room does indeed work on the trust system. It seems like a bad idea to me, since it's not actually connected to the bakery and anyone could wander in and stay for hours—but I guess they're banking on the fact even wi-fi thieves eventually get hungry. (And like cake.)
I was easily able to nab a toasty window seat with an outlet nearby. The good: The coffee is tasty; you can get carrot, red velvet or other semi-exotic cupcakes for under $3; the room is big and has lots of seating; and the wireless access is free and easy to access. The bad: They had no jam for my scone (minor detail); the classical music was a touch too loud (equally minor detail); finding the room can be confusing (fairly large detail); and I swear that the room smelled faintly of cat urine when I first walked in (disturbing detail, as I did not observe any felines reading, working or eating banana muffins during my time there).
After about two hours, the kitty scent had either dissipated or I had imagined it, because I didn't notice it. I was, however, uncomfortably warm from the winter sun pouring through the window, almost out of coffee and ready to leave. Just one problem: I couldn't find anywhere to leave my scone plate and napkin. I couldn't believe that if the room didn’t have a waitress, it would have a busboy. However, confused and running out of time on my parking meter, I left my dirty dish on the table. And felt guilty about it for the next two hours.
Want to check out the free wi-fi? Alliance Bakery is at 1736 W. Division, (773) 278-0366, alliancebakery.com; the Bourgeois Pig is at 738 W. Fullerton, (773) 883-5282, bpigcafe.com.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in.