Student Stories

The College by the Cup: Cobb Café

For decades, UChicago’s student-run coffee shops have given community members space to congregate (and caffeinate) on their own terms. The cafés started small – Ex Libris began as a pair of vending machines when the Regenstein Library first opened in the early 1970s – but over the years, their role on campus has become paramount. In this series, we’ll explore the unique atmospheres of the College’s four student-run coffee shops: Ex Libris, Cobb Café, Hallowed Grounds, and Harper Café. Previously: Ex Libris.

Name: Cobb Café

Location: Cobb Hall, basement

Manager: Tova Kadish, Class of 2014

Go for: the cheapest coffee on campus

Atmosphere: “gas station chic”

Staff favorites: the secret menu, featuring the Cobb Mocha, drip coffee with powdered hot chocolate

Soundtrack: depends on who’s on shift, but often indie rock

Spend even a few minutes inside, and you’ll quickly notice that Cobb is not your ordinary café, right down to its drink menu. According to barista RJ Gitter, a lot of customers ask for drinks that Cobb does not carry, like chai tea lattes. “People assume we’re a normal coffee shop,” he said.

In terms of appearance, Cobb is a bit grungy and messy around the edges. Manager Tova Kadish describes it as “gas station chic.” Whatever it is, it’s unabashedly unique.

“We like to make the space our own. We play the music we want, the movies we want, the stuff we want,” she said.

According to Kadish, the shop had humble beginnings: it was founded in the 1980s by a few rogue students wanting to turn the basement into more than just an abandoned storage space. “You can tell it wasn’t started by the University,” she said.

In the beginning, it sold just a few simple items, like coffee and Medici pizza. The food selection has since grown to include a wide selection of Hyde Park staples, including entrees from Cedars and Rajun Cajun, as well as newer offerings, like sandwiches from Bergstein’s Deli on 55th Street. Given its large food storage area in the corner of the shop, it provides one of the biggest and most diverse food selections of any coffee shop on campus.

While Cobb is known for its hipster vibe, Kadish emphasizes that its prime location on campus attracts a variety of patrons, both undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, due to its relative proximity to the UCMC, the shops serves a lot of medical staff. Not surprisingly, business is most active between classes and during lunch.

“Everyone comes at the same time, so it gets busy and crowded. You see all different types of people here,” she said.

In the fall, the shop hosted a concert in conjunction with WHPK, the campus radio station, and it plans to host more concerts and events. Kadish said that a number of the shop’s staff work for WHPK as DJs, so there is a lot of crossover between the two groups.

“It’s a great community,” Kadish said.