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Can the world’s largest Starbucks perk up the Mag Mile?

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The Willy Wonka of coffee has arrived in Chicago

A detail of metal gold cylinders surrounded by a curved escalator.
The 56-foot steel cask at the center of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery.
Courtesy of Starbucks

For those wanting a simple cup of hot coffee, consider somewhere other than Chicago’s new Starbucks Reserve Roastery. The new 35,000-square-foot Starbucks at 646 N. Michigan Avenue—the world’s largest—is like a theme park engineered for unique (and Instagram-friendly) experiences.

For Friday’s 9 a.m. grand opening, Starbucks superfans traveled from as far as San Diego to stand in lines that wrapped around the block in hopes of getting a peek into the five-story superstore. Inside, the visitors could taste $14 smoked “Cold Fashioned” cocktails, liquid nitrogen gelato, and curated coffee-truffle pairings.

The first floor is dominated by the sight of a golden roaster that prepares 25 pounds of beans at a time. When properly roasted, the beans are funneled into the store’s impressive centerpiece: a 56-foot-tall steel cask; a silo of beans that stretches all the way to the fourth floor. One can take what’s advertised as the Midwest’s first-ever curved escalator to watch the beans travel from the cask up to the Experimental Coffee Bar on the third level through a series of glass, air-powered tubes.

A short video showing the escalator moving around a gold cylinder.
The Starbucks cask in action.
Ryan Smith
A view of a white bearded man with a hat making coffee behind a glass shield for a large crowd of customers.
A barista makes an “experimental” coffee concoction on opening day.
Ryan Smith

It’s at least a partial fulfillment of what former CEO Howard Schultz envisioned when he said he wanted the Chicago roastery to be “the Willy Wonka of coffee.”

Starbucks says the expansive white steel and glass building, the former Crate and Barrel flagship store, was inspired by “the city itself.”

“We embraced the building’s natural light, married it with shades of classic Starbucks greens and intentionally wove in design features to encourage customer exploration and highlight the love and respect we have for coffee,” said Jill Enomoto, vice president of Roastery Design & Concept for Starbucks.

Starbucks’ internal design team led project design, with local firm Perkins & Will providing design development and delivery services.

It remains to be seen if Starbucks’s sixth global Roastery can help make the Mag Mile more magnificent again for big brands. Due to the rise of Amazon and other e-commerce, the massive flagship model is on the wane, according to the Tribune, with 29 percent of street-front retail space on Michigan Avenue vacant and retail rents declining.

A view looking up into a gold cylinder with small circles and pipes.
An inside look of the bronze-colored cask.
A view of the curved escalator, gold cylinder and teal panel roof.
The curved escalator—advertised as the Midwest’s first—takes visitors from the first to the second floor.
A view of stairs and a mural of people picking coffee beans.
A detail of the staircases and architectural elements.
Photos courtesy of Starbucks
The Experimental Coffee Bar on the third floor.
Photo courtesy of Starbucks

An atrium with coffee machines, a bar, and retail.
An aerial view of the store from the top floor.
Muffins displayed in a glass case with gears and coffee equipment.
Bakery items from Princi.
Photos courtesy of Starbucks