Hyde Park residents have long talked about what the community doesn’t have. Debates over the merits of potential chain restaurants or clothing stores could almost be called a neighborhood pastime. Now, with a spate of businesses planned for the northeast corridor of 53rd Street, many of these places are opening for the first time. But one thing you’ll never hear anyone arguing about is the need for another coffee shop.
And yet, stroll over to the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard, and you’ll find exactly that. The Sip, Hyde Park’s latest cafÃ©, is one of several new storefronts surrounding the Del Prado, a recently rehabbed apartment building. It’s also unlike any other coffee shop in the neighborhood. When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was a football game on a television mounted to the wall.
There’s a second screen behind the counter, set to the same channel. And though both are on mute, The Sip’s vibe still manages to fall inexplicably between sprightly sports bar and mellow coffee shop. Its black and burnt orange color scheme, bright lights, and inescapable pop music might distract those who come in need of concentration. But customers and baristas alike were in noticeably good spirits, and warm conversation permeated the room while I was there.
The menu had an oddity of its own–a separate section devoted to mochas. I wasn’t sure I had a “sweet tooth” as the barista suggested I might, so I opted for a regular latte (another oddity: they don’t offer whole milk). Capped by a solid piece of latte art, it maintained a delicate balance between smooth, bold espresso and creamy milk. When I asked the barista about the source of their beans, she told me they roasted their own. But the drip coffee I tried later was less satisfying. Dark without distinctness of flavor, it was accompanied by a flat and bitter aftertaste. It made me wonder if in my original question, “roasted” had been mistaken for “brewed.”
The food menu is still in limbo, as a line of lunch sandwiches is still in the works. But for now, the shelves are stocked heartily with fresh pastries, bagels, and oatmeal. A breakfast sandwich–ham or turkey with egg and cheese–is also available, and it makes for a satisfying quick meal. I went with ham on an everything bagel, sans cheese. The bagel had a nice light and fluffy interior, but was crisp where it counts. The egg and ham were warm and savory, each just moist enough.
Whatever niche The Sip eventually hopes to fill, it certainly doesn’t appear to be targeting the university-affiliated community. The books and Apple laptops that dominate most Hyde Park cafes were hardly to be found. Instead, almost every customer was above student age, and only a few lingered over work. Most people simply took their drinks to go. The bus stop out front, which services the 6, x28, and the 171, was a popular morning destination. In the afternoon, one man came in with groceries, requesting his coffee to go, noting that he was about to head home upstairs.
If you do come with time to kill, consider a spot by one of the windows. In the morning, the sun shines resplendently over 53rd Street, and Harold Washington Park offers one of the best fall scenes in Hyde Park. Just don’t miss your bus.