This summer we went hog-wild on Philadelphia buildouts: the booming coffee scene is quickly ousting brotherly love as the city's main object of affection. It seemed like a check-up was in order, so we've gone back to see the progress of three of these big buildouts: Menagerie Coffee in Old City, ReAnimator in Fishtown, and Joe University City. Since we've been around the block a few times with Joe, let's start with them to see what they've done for their most recent shop.
This eleventh (!) Joe cafe is a circumspect and modern rendition of the New-York-born brand. It's a campus outpost—handy to Penn and Drexel—trying to straddle the blurred lines between neighborhoody-feeling-cafe, and campus-staple-that's-good-for-students-but-classy-enough-for-profs. That's a tall order for any sophisticated cafe, and while it's not one they pull off at, say, their Columbia University location (good luck getting a table, much less a neighborhood vibe!) this Joe may have a bit more success on the quieter west side of Philly.
The fit-out is all it was promised to be in September, with a little of that ingenious brilliance-in-small-spaces (is that your entire back kitchen behind that little wall?) that Joe's come to claim as its trademark. The bar itself is expansive and tidy–is that reclaimed barn wood I see–while staying stylish. A V60 bar isn't prominent, but it's there, and espresso drinks from the La Marzocco Strada are dutifully served to go (probably most of their business) or to stay at the handsome window bar or upstairs in a vaguely dim, fully ADA compliant larger seating area. This Joe, like all who've come since summer, serves exclusively Joe-roasted coffees from their Red Hook operations at Pulley Collective, along with a few local sandwiches and such. Though really, look next door: there's a Shake Shack! What are you doing eating a croissant?!
The long-anticipated fully-realized bricks-and-mortar their-name-isn't-even-hyphenated-they-use-an-intra-cap ReAnimator cafe opened their retail cafe late summer in the Fishtown part of Philly, to the great benefit of the neighborhood around them. Though roasting remains offsite, the homey space—not too different than described earlier in these pages prelaunch—is an earnest, perfect spot to linger with quality locally roasted coffee and a friend.
Whether it's a friendly face you're seeking—we ran into barista competitor and all-around-nice-Philly-barista Brian Gelletly behind the bar—or just a good place to relax, you will have this at Reanimator. Excellent coffee is served off of a V60 bar, Synesso, or Aeropress and whatever else you might talk the baristas into (we tried the smooth Guatemala Finca Valparaiso on V60, which coincidentally that day came with a fine chocolate pairing). The space is hugely comfortable, though a bit of a coffee-shop's-greatest-hits of decor all at once: Danish modern, antique pharmacy cabinetry, poured concrete and reclaimed bowling alley all compete a little bit for one uniform aesthetic, but wait, Yo La Tengo is streaming out of the speakers, too. Let's face it: they've got us pegged.
Looking for an elegant and cheerful specialty coffee experience convenient to the Liberty Bell? Menagerie Coffee is bringing the goods on South Third, from this gleamingly white space that retains the clean art gallery feel from the space's previous occupants. Far from being austere, though, the feel is welcoming: friendly baristas who use midwestern coffee from Dogwood Coffee Co. can warm up any space.
A V60 bar and La Marzocco FB80 top the bar, along with highly fancy looking treats, artisanal pears, and so on. Two spacious tables and a lounge-y window nook occupy the front of the cafe, while the back is more work-oriented. Now in New York City where I live, cafes that are this pretty do not allow wifi or have electrical outlets or bathrooms or sandwiches. But look! We're in sunny Philadelphia, and we won't look a decorative gourd in the mouth.
The house espresso blend is Dogwood's “Neon” (look for offerings from the likes of Ceremony Coffee as featured alternates for filter) and iconoclastically, the cafe actually calls an espresso shot by this name on the menu. So, hey. Go see some historic America, pull up a reclaimed wooden stool and nurse a Neon for a little while in this nearly perfect (only ‘cos nobody's perfect) space.
Having helped refine the dubious “art” of coffee blogging on her influential website Twitchy.org, Liz Clayton contributes coffee and tea coverage to Serious Eats, and is shooting a book of coffee photography to be published by Presspop. She lives in Bed-Stuy and has two (and a half) cats. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge here.