Asado Coffee began roasting beans and serving up potent espresso last fall at its third location, 22 E. Jackson, thought to be the site of one of the Loop’s oldest and tiniest buildings. Tucked away at the end of a nine-foot-wide private alley known as Pickwick Place, the 19-by-19-foot structure was built, according to city historian Tim Samuelson, a few years after the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed a stable on the site owned by Henry Horner, the grandfather of the Illinois governor of the same name. The building was originally two floors, but a third was added in 1892 as a residence for William and Fannie Abson, who ran Abson’s Chop House at the location until 1900. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, several restaurants operated out of 22 E. Jackson, including Red Path Inn, Robinson’s, and the Pickwick. More recently, a variety of small businesses had offices in the space.
Asado currently occupies the first two floors; the third serves as the mail room for Infinite Chicago, a student housing company that manages 22 E. Jackson and the two high-rise buildings that flank the address—the Gibbons Building at 20 E. Jackson and the Steger Building at 28 E. Jackson. The coffee shop, according to Asado partner Jeff Liberman, leases just 275 square feet, room enough for takeaway counter service and roasting operations but not indoor seating; the cafe set up a few tables in the alley, which has a European feel thanks to strings of lights hanging overhead.
“It’s an amazing, historic place,” Liberman says of 22 E. Jackson. “People for many years didn’t know what was down the lane because for years it was obscured by a steel gate. So it was this weird little place in Chicago that history had kind of forgotten about.”