Coffee Shop Roundup, Fishtown/Northern Liberties

I’m a sucker for a good coffee shop. I like nothing better on a Saturday afternoon than claiming a table, nursing an iced double espresso and a pastry, and reading a book or doing some writing. In Philly, we’re blessed with a great coffee shop scene. We’re one of the few cities yet to be overrun by Starbucks; instead, we have a generous scattering of locally owned java joints. Vital stats on some of my favorites:

The Rocket Cat

Frankford and Norris, Fishtown

The Rocket Cat is around the corner from us. Joe and I stopped in the day we came to check out the house, and it was a factor in our decision to move here. Having a good coffee shop down the street is a major selling point for me! The Rocket Cat is airy and large, with lots of old, worn-out furniture and funky art. It shares the building with artists’ studios (a sign of further gentrification in Fishtown, no doubt) so there are rotating art exhibits on the walls. There’s a toybox for kids and board games for adults. The back garden can be nice when it’s cleaned out, though it’s often filled with junk. They serve Old City coffee and handle it expertly; the drink menu is well thought out and well executed. I particularly like the Thai iced coffee they serve in the summer. The pastries are good, if nothing to write home about, and there’s a growing selection of breakfast foods and sandwiches that are always fresh and locally sourced. The baristas are young female hipsters, always friendly, if somewhat slow to actually serve you. There’s music but it’s never loud or intrusive. Wi-Fi is available.

The Coffee House

Girard Ave. between Front and 2nd St., Fishtown

The Coffee House is a brand-new addition to the Girard Avenue corridor. I stumbled across it unexpectedly one day during its soft opening, while buying couscous next door at Jerusalem Market. They’re actually holding a Grand Opening event today. It’s a small, newly renovated spot with just a few tables. The real attraction is the back garden, which has a pebble garden, lots of plants and a lovely tent with cushioned bench seating, beaded curtains and a funky little chandelier. The coffee is also locally roasted, from La Colombe. The owners are new to the coffee business– when I stopped in, the friendly owner told me that he’s new to food service altogether, and his partner is experienced in food service but not coffee. They seem to still be working the kinks out– the drinks are inexpertly prepared, but tasty. High-quality desserts are imported from Italy, which is great, but they’re treated unevenly. We were served an imported cannoli that was beautifully presented with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, and a ripe strawberry, but on tasting it we realized that the cannoli shell tasted a bit like refrigerator, and the sauce was Hershey’s. If they are willing to go all the way and treat their high-quality ingredients with high-quality preparations, the Coffee House will evolve into a wonderful spot. Also, I’m told there’s free Wi-Fi, though I haven’t tried it out myself.

Higher Grounds

North 3rd St. and Spring Garden, Northern Liberties

Higher Grounds is tucked away in a quiet, expensive corner of hipster paradise Northern Liberties. It’s long and narrow but airy, with eclectic furnishings and a laid-back, quiet atmosphere. It’s easy to read and relax here, and Joe seems to fall asleep with his headphones on every time we chill here. Coffee and desserts are good– there’s a big muffin selection– but the real attraction here is a wide selection of teas and tea-based drinks, including rotating drinks with medicinal properties (tea blends for allergies, energy, whatever). I haven’t tried the food menu, but there’s a rotating selection of soups and sandwiches.

Soy Café

630 North 2nd St. (near Fairmount), Northern Liberties

This crowded but pleasant coffee shop on the main Northern Liberties drag specializes in vegetarian-friendly foods. There are vegan options for just about everything, and lots of tasty little morsels sold inexpensively (if you don’t feel like spending five bucks just for a little nosh with your coffee). There’s an Asian bent to the menu– you can munch on a bowl of edamame for three dollars, or order a full meal. Seaweed cucumber salad, spicy tuna wraps or a variety of creative sandwiches are available, and just about everything is relatively healthy. This is a great option for gluten-free food. It tends to get packed on the weekends, but you can usually snag a table in the pleasant backyard or sit at the bar and watch Northern Liberties go by. Smoothies are fantastic; coffee drinks tend to the creative (i.e. espresso milkshakes) and are very high in quality. Free Wi-Fi.


944 N. Second St., Northern Liberties

This is a relatively new coffee shop with a Greek flavor. We stopped in for the first time today and were the only customers. It’s large and spacious, with ultra-modern glass tables and leather couches and a long bar. The music is loud, poppy and Greek. The coffee menu doesn’t deviate much from the norm; there’s Egyptian mint tea and a wide range of smoothies. We were too full to try any food, but the house specialty is its selection of crèpes, both sweet and savory.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a start; if I’m missing anyplace particularly good, I hope you’ll let me know!

[where: 19125]

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6 Responses to “Coffee Shop Roundup, Fishtown/Northern Liberties”

  1. jcleffie Says:

    I am always in search of a really good Americano. Most places make it way too weak. If I want a plain coffee, I’ll order a plain coffee. When I order an Americano it should have a richness that a regular cup of coffee doesn’t have. The Rocket Cat consistently has one of the best Americanos in Philly. The only other place that matches thier Americano is Cafe Loftus on 15th St. between Walnut and Sansom. They serve La Columbe coffee and train thier folks how to make a great cup of coffee.

  2. Shirley Says:

    Coffee puts the system under the strain of metabolizing a deadly acid-forming drug, depositing its insoluble cellulose, which cements the wall of the liver, causing this vital organ to swell to twice its proper size. In addition, coffee is heavily sprayed. (Ninety-two pesticides are applied to its leaves.) Diuretic properties of caffeine cause potassium and other minerals to be flushed from the body.

    Get the real scoop on coffee at
    And if you drink decaf you wont want to miss this special FREE report on the Dangers of Decaf available at

  3. Joe Cleffie Says:

    Coffee can cause problems if consumed in excess. During the course of reading this blog one might come across posts on scotch, beer, bourbon, wine and so on. All of these things consumed in excess will cause the body huge problems. However, all of these drinks, coffee included, can be great consumed in moderation. One has to make one’s choice of the relative risks and culinary benefits involved.

    I do take issue with the alarmism of the post above, however. It gives the impression that if you drink coffee your liver WILL swell to twice its normal size. I hope the poster wasn’t actually trying to say that. Because while this is a possible effect of drinking too much coffee or for certain unfortunate individuals, this is not the case for most people. Also, if you are concerned with pesticide use, as the authors of this blog certainly are, seek out organically grown beans and places that roast on sight as both La Colombe and Old City Coffee do. I also think our energies would be well spent supporting the workers who have to pick the beans on large commercial plantations. They make horrible wages and the pesticides are sprayed on them as well. The struggles of these folks have always included massive reduction or elimination of pesticide use on coffee crops. A daunting struggle? Yes, certainly. So, grab a cup of coffee for a little pick-me-up and head to a local group doing labor work and the will have something to plug you into.

  4. Fishtown featured in the New York Times « The Real Potato. Says:

    […] features beer and food that’s not only local, but from right in the neighborhood, as does the Rocket Cat Cafe, to name a couple of examples. Half-million-dollar condos and greedy casinos, on the other hand, […]

  5. Dinner on Girard: Ekta and Sketch Burger Joint Opening Today « The Real Potato. Says:

    […] on Girard is Sketch Burger Joint, a brightly painted pink-and-yellow space run by the owners of Canvas Coffee Co.  The menu advertises itself as vegan-friendly, and wagyu burgers, high-end condiments and vegan […]

  6. Mary Says:

    The perfect guide to local coffee. From someone who doesn’t live in the neighborhood but truly wish I did, many thanks.

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