I'm always on the lookout for a quiet, not-crowded coffee shop-type place where I can hang out and work without being hassled.
I don't have many requirements: It's gotta have free wi-fi, snacks and a copious amount of coffee and wall outlets (although I would recommend keeping those a fair distance apart).Still, a good workplace is hard to find. For example, the first time I scoped out Cafe Mediterra on Dearborn, it didn’t go too well. The place is fairly quiet and has an extensive menu, featuring breakfast, homemade hummus and more; which is good, because variety is key when you're working through two meals. But the wi-fi only works with a code you have to get when you order—and after 60 minutes, you're kicked off.
I understand businesses don't want people lingering all day. But I eat quite frequently; there is money to be made off me when I work remotely. Which is why I didn't feel so welcome when, just as my internet access ran out, a woman came to my table and, without a word, reached around me to start bussing the table for the lunch crowd. I stayed for another 15 minutes; and by the time I left, the place was still significantly empty. As my stomach would be an hour later; you snooze, you lose, Cafe Mediterra.
However, when I went back a second time and ordered lunch and coffee, they could not have been more accommodating. When the woman behind the counter handed me my Internet code card, she told me it would expire in an hour—but just to ask her for another one if I needed it. (Now that's what I'm talkin' about!)
Sadly, my attempt to work at Beef 'n Brandy, a kitschy diner in the Loop, didn't go as well. I've noticed the large "free wi-fi" sign in the window many times when walking by. One morning, when I awoke with a craving for both work and pancakes, I decided to check it out.
The food is pretty good—which has always surprised me, as I enjoy neither beef nor brandy. However, when I asked the hostess for any code I might need to log on, she advised me to ask my waitress.
When the waitress stopped by, I ordered my breakfast and asked for the code. She looked at me blankly. "I don't...know..." she said. An uncomfortable silence followed. She stood there. I stared. And finally asked if there was someone she could get the code from. She came back several minutes later with a code—that didn't work. After about three tries, I gave up, ate and left. (A note to business owners: free wi-fi isn't the most effective marketing tool if no one at the restaurant knows how to get onto it.)
Determined to get some work done downtown, I left Beef 'n Brandy and stopped by the Barnes and Noble in the DePaul student center. I saw a ton of people on laptops, so I figured there must a way to get online. And there is: Hijacking some local resident's wi-fi. It took me about 15 minutes and several unsuccessful attempts at logging into the wi-fi at the public library across the street, but I finally got on to some random network and was able to work for about an hour. Due to the high frustration factor of trying to connect to strangely-named personal networks that contained words like "virus," the chances of me trying that again are probably low.
If you're looking for a true coffee shop, Fixx Coffee Bar on the North Side is somewhat of a rarity. It has plenty of outlets (a necessity when working remotely), comfortable seats and the necessary snacks (I had a particularly delicious banana). My only criticism is that it was eerily silent inside—this place makes the library sound like the bleachers at Wrigley. I met a friend at Fixx, and we both felt guilty about even saying hello.
And also, when I called the next day because I realized I accidentally left my cell phone charger there, the manager didn't have it. Which really wasn't his fault. But he could've tried to Fixx my problem, put down the phone and at least pretended to check for it. But I really couldn't complain too much. Yes, I had lost a phone charger. But I had gained a new workplace; not as easy to find as you might think.
Want to check out one of these spots? Fixx is at 3053 N. Sheffield Ave., (773) 248-0841; the DePaul Center is at 1 E. Jackson Blvd., (312) 362-8795; Cafe Mediterra is at 728 S. Dearborn St., (312) 427-2610 and Beef 'n Brandy is at 127 S. State St., (312) 372-3451.