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West Town Coffee Scene on Chicago Ave. Perks Up with Ugly Mug Cafe

By Alisa Hauser | July 3, 2013 8:40am
 Ugly Mug Cafe is preparing to open soon at 1458 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town's Eckhart Park neighborhood just east of Ashland Avenue.
Ugly Mug Cafe to Open Soon
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WEST TOWN — Coffee shops are sweeping Wicker Park and, now, West Town's Chicago avenue.

When Ugly Mug Cafe opens later this month next to vegetarian restaurant Green Zebra at the northeast corner of Chicago and Greenview avenues, it will become the fourth coffee shop in a nine block stretch of booming Chicago Avenue.

Ugly Mug cafe, 1458 W. Chicago Ave, will also be 45-year-old Mikky Wright's third business venture in the Wicker Park/West Town area in the past 15 years.

"'I've always felt Chicago deserved a better coffee culture, watching The Wormholes [in Wicker Park] and Cafe Mustaches [in Logan Square] has made me happier more than the Starbucks and Caribous. The coffee culture has slowly matured and I've spent last six months looking for an area that didn't have as much access to coffee," Wright said.

A former owner of Division Street's Alliance Cafe, which he sold in 2007, and a former owner and co-founder of Wicker Park Inn, a bed and breakfast at 1329 N. Wicker Park Ave., Wright recently left the Inn to focus on Ugly Mug Cafe.

Currently in Chicago Avenue java-spotting, there's Big Shoulders Coffee at 1105 W. Chicago Ave.,  Swim Cafe at 1357 W. Chicago Ave. and Atomix Cafe at 1957 W. Chicago Ave. In the near future, Asado Coffee is expected to open a retail shop and roasting facility at 1651 W. Chicago Ave., too.

Wright said that Ugly Mug cafe will use coffee from West Loop's Passion House Coffee Roasters and prices are still being decided for drinks and food.

The Ugly Mug Cafe menu, posted to its Facebook page, includes a variety of breakfast and lunch items from chef Jonathon Zellar such as as baked egg and open face tahini sandwiches with baked apples and cinnamon on sourdough bread along with bagels, scones and croissants. 

Lunch items take on creative names such as "Almost Cuban" for a sandwich served on a torta and containing shaved smoked ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and jalapeno pickle slaw, while "RuebenWasHisName" offers corned beef on rye bread, Swiss cheese, and apple-bacon sauerkraut.

Wright said there will also be one vegetarian or vegan sandwich choice offered daily.

Design firm Dilettante Studios has used items from ReBuilding Exchange to furnish the cafe, where the menu will be written on a 100-year-old chalkboard once used in a Chicago Public Schools classroom.

Most notably, Ugly Mug Cafe might be one of the earliest shops in the block to open, with a 5:30 a.m. start every day except for Sunday.

"I remember from Alliance Bakery there is a core group of people that go to work early and walk their dogs early. We are a big city with people waking up early," Wright said.

As for the name, which can have a two-fold meaning — an ugly face or literally an ugly coffee or tea mug — Wright said he "wanted the name and the attitude [of the cafe] to be tongue-in-cheek."

So far, friends and neighbors anticipating the opening of the cafe have been dropping off their own ugly mugs at the door to the cafe. Wright has been posting photos of the cups on Facebook.

Wright plans to keep his regular patron's ugly mugs on a special shelf as well as give a discount to those who use their ugly mugs when they come in.

"It's your mug, we'll have it on shelf, pull it out for you," he said.

If all goes well with an upcoming city health inspection, Wright said he "hopes to open July 15 or 22."

Ugly Mug Cafe, 1458 W. Chicago Ave. Hours 5:30 a.m to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.  For updates, visit the cafe's Facebook Page.