The new Starbucks Reserve Roastery in the center of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile looks like a steampunk-themed art house. The 35,000-square-foot space is welcoming, a restful palace of calm greens, pale oak, bronze, and slate, with a coffee-bar so deeply-retro-futurist that it belongs on the Twilight Zone or Doctor Who. And it’s the largest Starbucks store in the world.

The Roastery is a “magical experience” according to its designer, Jill Enomoto the director of design at Starbucks.

She was tasked with converting the immense space, which was formerly a Crate & Barrel store, into a destination for coffee lovers and Starbucks fans. She also wanted it to be an education in everything the coffee company does.

On the first floor is the Starbucks Reserve Roastery’s namesake. Centered around a massive sculptural silo of coffee beans that reaches all the way up through the core of the building, it gives you views of beans being roasted and then dispensed around the building through pneumatic tubes. On the second floor is a bakery for Princi baked goods, Starbucks’ proprietary brand. Unlike many Starbucks, this one sells pizza to attract the dinner crowd.

There’s a reserve coffee bar on the first floor with the roastery, just off the street, but on the third floor is where coffee gets fun. Up there is the “experimental” bar. They play with what coffee means, using everything from nitrogen to vacuum to make all manner of strange treats, in an atmosphere meant to lure you into staying and trying it all.

Finally, the fourth and highest floor is 21 and up. There is found an alcohol bar, serving another experiment; Starbucks’s first whiskey barrel-aged cold brew coffee, along with stiffer drinks.

“The strategy really is, how can we bring to life immersive customer experiences around all things coffee in a way no one else can do?” says Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Seattle-based Starbucks. And he’s right that no one else could probably replicate this. The Roastery is beautiful and will surely be well-attended by customers, but business magazine Fast Company predicts that it won’t pay off its own construction in anything less than 25 years.

“These are long-term investments,” Johnson said. “Certainly, we have economic targets we open these stores [with]. But the real objective is to push the envelope on state-of-the-art experiences for customers on all things coffee.”

Photo: Lines wrap the block at Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Chicago on its grand opening day. Credit: Big Joe /