The first coffee shops we ever loved were multi-hyphenate affairs. This was let’s-be-charitable-and-say 20 years ago; yes, they served coffee, gallons of the stuff in fact, typically quite “strong”, although we didn’t really know what that meant, or what made it wrong, or the first thing about roast levels and TDS and so forth, but more importantly they served art, they served music, they served culture, and they served people of every stripe, with an emphasis on artsy weirdos. There was no room for minimalism amongst the twenty-odd hung paintings, piles and piles of dusty books, live music corner that occasionally hosted an open-mic night or “shows” from local singer-songwriters and so forth. These were especially great places to be as a young person, alive with possibility and cosmopolitan ennui, “cool people” being “cool”, a cheeky underage smoke to bum (not that we advocate for this), and a distinct whiff of bohemianism in the air (or else just plain old B.O.).
We mourn these coffee shops of yesteryear and praise those who want to bring them back: pre third-wave, pre-Instagram, pre-Sprudge. Such is the goal of American Grammar, a coffee bar in Philadelphia whose mission includes all of the above and then some, with a focus on community events and programming, poetry readings, live music, art on the walls, and so much more. This is the coffee shop as it once was. Welcome back.
As told to Sprudge by Terri Wiley and Terrance Wiley.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
American Grammar (stylized american grammer) is a multifaceted space that cultivates creativity, conversation, and community through coffee and tea beverage programs along with books and magazines, limited apparel, floral design, ceramics, paintings by local artists, and community events and programming, including public lectures, poetry readings, and youth mentoring.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
American Grammar is a multiyear effort. It all began as disappointment about some of the trends that emerged with the third-wave coffee culture. In particular, we lamented the end of the singer-songwriters playing guitars in shop corners! So our project began as conversations about ways to cultivate creativity and community through coffee in ways that recovered some of the community-oriented programming and practices that defined coffee shops in the 1990s and early 2000s. We considered just opening a bookstore, but as we visited shops across the country, we noticed that during a majority of their open hours, it was rare to see spontaneous exchanges between and among customers and sometimes even between customers and staff. So we decided to open a coffee shop that draws inspiration from contemporary architecture and design to facilitate the presentation of creative objects and books and interactions among friends and strangers.
What’s your approach to coffee?
How is your project considering sustainability?
In addition to the standard considerations, such as recycling and composting practices, we are truly intrigued by the circular economy ideals and exploring how to achieve the ideal on the small scale, retail operation. As we are just not a coffee shop proper, some of our book inventory is specifically oriented around climate change and social change literature.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
We opened June 23, 2023
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
With the buildout, we went into a newly constructed mixed-use building. It was important for us to use repurposed materials and work with local designers. So most aspects of the buildout space, including the flooring, lighting fixtures, tables, chairs, and ceramics, come from the region.