By Tyler Kearn ‘15
Now you really never need to leave Millenium Park Plaza (MPP). That’s the running joke, now that the retail shops along Michigan Avenue are open on the ground level of MPP, a building where a substantial number of Booth students live. MPP had been undergoing renovation for over a year that included moving the lobby and inconveniencing residents, so people are eager to finally take advantage of the benefits.
There are four retail establishments in the building: The Protein Bar, Garrett Popcorn, Lids, and David’s Tea. Let’s review them.
The Protein Bar
The Protein Bar is a chain of fast-casual restaurants that purports to be healthy and filling. The restaurant’s main entrance is on Michigan Ave, but there is a side entrance off of the lower lobby in MPP, so residents truly do not have to leave the building in order to get food. The Protein Bar has four major categories of items: bowls, salads, chilis/soups, and “Bar-itos.” Almost all of them are quinoa based, which is protein-filled (hence the name) and good for you.That means that how much you like the food at Protein Bar is going to come down to how much you like quinoa.
The portions are small, but due to all of the quinoa and beans (in some dishes) the food is quite filling, and at times is almost heavy. Prices are in line with other fast casual restaurants in the Loop, and you’ll spend between $10-15 for your meal. In all, Protein Bar is a decent option if you need some food that will get you full, and on a sub-zero day when you do not want to be outside that can be just what’s called for.
Garrett Popcorn is like candy. Like Protein Bar, Garrett is a Chicago chain, but instead of food they sell specialty popcorn flavors that are variants of caramel corn and cheesecorn. They have become somewhat emblematic of Chicago and their shops are popular with tourists.
Garrett has a lot of varieties of caramel corn with nuts, including macadamias, almonds, and cashews. They’re all very sweet and eating them never feels like a snack but always like dessert. The cheesecorn is cheesy and buttery, like you would expect, and when eating it you always feel like you are having something that your doctor would disapprove of (whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you). Some people mix and combine both types of popcorn, which they claim to love, but I find the flavor combination jarring.
I like the interior of the shop, it’s nicely laid out and the staff have been very friendly so far. Unfortunately, the only entrance is on Michigan Ave., so you do have to actually leave MPP, go outside, and walk for a few steps in order to get there.
Lids sells hats and novelty apparel, most of which is branded by major Chicago sports teams (such as the Cubs and Blackhawks). Sometimes you just need a Chicago hat, I suppose, though I think this shop is primarily aimed at tourists. I haven’t bought anything from Lids, though I have compared their prices to similar hats on Amazon and, no surprise, they’re cheaper on Amazon. I think that if it is a freezing cold day, you do not want to leave MPP, and you really need a White Sox hat, you’ll probably buy it online anyway.
David’s Tea has an absolutely staggering selection of loose-leaf tea, any variety of which they will brew up for you in store. There are herbal teas, nutty teas, flowery teas, chocolatey teas, way too many teas to try and review. I will say that I’ve had a walnut-flavored tea, a coconut-flavored tea, and an apples with cinnamon tea, and I enjoyed all of them.
Prices start in the $3-4 range, so it is in the same ballpark as the Starbucks or the Intelligentsia around the corner. Hot tea is great on a cold day, but you do have to exit the building as the only entrance is on Michigan Ave. The staff have been great every time I’ve been in there.
The one qualm I have is the temperature at which they serve the tea – it’s really hot. It has taken 25 minutes at times for my tea to cool down to the point where I can sip it without burning myself. Still, when heading down Michigan, keep an eye out for free samples in front of the store, they are often handing out cups of their latest flavors to passerby.
There may be one more future retail store in MPP – the flagship location on the corner of Michigan and Lake. However, to my knowledge, they have yet to ink a tenant for that space. In the meantime, enjoy your tea, hat, cheesecorn and Bar-ito, and live the MPP lifestyle.