Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s detective novels was probably too comfortable in a fedora and a crisp white shirt, too good at the thoroughly sedentary sport of chess, too smitten with chasing down baddies in sun-kissed Southern California to ever have taken a trip down tumbling hills of snow and ice. But there they were, a family of four–mom, dad, son, and daughter–bursting into Beverly’s Hardboiled Coffee on a Sunday afternoon, discussing their recent winter ski trip over cups of coffee next to an impressive typewriter from the thirties, the opening paragraphs of Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” wedged inside.
The family was from the area, and their happiness this Sunday was thanks in no small part to Hardboiled Coffee, a neighborhood joint newly opened in February that provided the setting for this scene. Gregg Wilson, the grey-haired owner with a background in selling fine wine, has filled his shop with vinyl records of old crooners and tinkling ivory, posters of obscure film noir from the fifties, and paperback novels about the hardboiled detectives who gave the shop its name. It’s a throwback to a bygone time, sure, but it’s also one that seems like it is contextualized by the neighborhood it’s in.
Wilson himself tries to burnish his Beverly credentials by sourcing plenty in his shop from the area. He boasts that the neon sign out front was made by a Beverly store, told newspapers of how he hired businesses from Beverly’s 60643 ZIP code, and insisted that “everyone who is part of this place is from around here.”
And it seems like these efforts have paid off, less than a month since Hardboiled opened its doors. The family next to the Marlowe typewriter talked of heading to the nearby Aldi after the daughter, no older than ten, had finished her fruit smoothie. They gave the smiling cashier a cheery goodbye as they packed up and left, a promise to see her next weekend, maybe. An elderly pair of friends lounged on a comfortable green satin couch as they carelessly flipped through Beverly’s 19th Ward Quarterly, bemoaning the retirement of a doctor somewhere in the neighborhood. Apart from myself and the two friendsâ€ˆI brought along that day, there seemed little hint that there were interlopers from outside the neighborhood that morning.
Beyond Wilson’s conscious efforts, though, an establishment like Hardboiled Coffee given to celebrating a slower-paced past seems uniquely suited to a neighborhood like this. The streets outside in wider Beverly also seem resistant to the rush of modern Chicago.
It’s a stretch of the city that is shorn of the kinetic energy that seems to power most other parts of town. Far from the busy Union Stock Yards or the throngs of young people on hip Milwaukee Ave, Beverly’s quiet is everywhere: its low-density cul-de-sacs full of standalone townhouses, the signage at Top Notch Beefburgers a vestige from the 60s. Its streets go virtually unmolested by the CTA’s squawking announcements, and it’s a place where one can go a long time without seeing Judge Mathis’ smiling face tacked to the front of the bus’s bike racks. It’s even a relative bastion of Republicanism, a neighborhood that gave the Romney/Ryan team its second-highest amount of votes (10,133 votes in the 19th Ward, in case you were wondering) within city limits.
In a city where progress is the watchword and terms like “global city” are bandied about with regularity, it’s essential to have a neighborhood dedicated to the preservation of a less frenetic way of life. Hardboiled Coffee, with its shelves of pulp magazines and walls of long forgotten film noir, is only the latest addition to a neighborhood that’s unafraid to wear its history on its sleeves.
No matter how perfectly crafted their trip back in time, though, Hardboiled would never succeed if their coffee and food weren’t up to snuff. In this respect, they certainly don’t disappoint.
Their coffee is roasted in full view on the premises, and that remarkable freshness was unmistakable in a tasty cup of cold-brewed iced coffee. The Hard-boiled Freeze is a concoction of mocha, caramel, and espresso that verges on too-sweet but remains refreshing.
The pastry case holds up too, full of pastry puffs and muffins baked each morning. Most other coffee shops can get away with serving stale pastries, the food an afterthought in the core business of serving coffee and providing a place where the young can see and be seen through the course of an afternoon spent next to a conveniently placed power outlet. The food certainly wasn’t secondary here, and the cashier I spoke to took obvious pride in the fact that Wilson and his team made everything on offer themselves. The Elvis, an open-faced Nutella, peanut butter, and banana creation was enjoyably flaky. The “Jazzed Up” banana nut muffin smacked of real banana and wonderfully soft bread.
One thing I wish were different was the relative lack of seating space–Hardboiled’s small number of tables was dwarfed by a large amount of empty space behind the counter. I wasn’t able to ask Wilson why this was so, but it would be a shame if more people were forced to pass up on a couple of hours over coffee, pastries, and a good Dashiell Hammett yarn because they peered through the window and saw the few tables already full.
Hardboiled Coffee, 9135 S. Western Ave. Monday-Friday, 6am-4pm; Saturday-Sunday, 7am-4pm. (773)238-8360. hardboiledcoffeecompany.com