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.
Name: Ex Libris
Location: Regenstein Library, first floor
Manager: Danny Rua, Class of 2014
Atmosphere: laid-back and open
Soundtrack: no tunes—just quiet conversation
Staff favorite: chocolate croissant, toasted
Go for: natural light and a dose of brain food
Within the Brutalist exterior of the Regenstein Library sits one of the busiest social spots on campus: the new-and-improved Ex Libris Café. In the fall of 2011, Ex Libris moved from the A-Level, where it served only drip coffee, to prime real estate on the remodeled first floor. Its current space boasts a full coffee bar, ample seating room, and broad windows overlooking Bartlett Quad.
Within two years, Ex Libris has become a universal campus reference point. At certain times of day, the line of caffeine-craving students wraps around the corner, and you are lucky if you can snag a seat. Like the other student-run coffee shops, Ex Libris offers ready-made food, pastries, and other snacks, in addition to their coffees and teas. They also boast a few luxuries, such as an excellent toaster—ask for your panini warmed up!
Because of its location within the library, Ex Libris stays open late. By 10 p.m, their clientele is almost exclusively students, but they also have professors and library staff “regulars” who come in every morning. Ex Libris serves around 500 people per day, so the student baristas notice and appreciate those customers who come in often and get to know the staff.
The shop always has at least two people working, fostering close ties among the staff, who regularly get together outside of work for parties and potlucks. Staff members also bring their unique personalities to the coffee counter. Baristas are known to innovate their own specialities, concocting signature, off-the-menu drinks, like London Fogs (Earl Grey with steamed milk and vanilla) and Dirty Chais (tea punched up with espresso), and topping off lattes with foamy artwork. These little touches go a long way during a marathon night in the Reg: at Ex Libris, UChicago students and staff can find their fix of caffeine and community without leaving the library.