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Scoping out the most serene study spots in Philly

11 mins read
The Green Line Café. (Courtesy of www.visitphilly.com)

Fall break is intended as a time of rest, a reward for six weeks of hard work, and a promise that the semester is halfway over. (Which is not quite true; there are a couple extra weeks in the second “half.”) But the arrival of fall break also represents the arrival of midterms, essays, applications, recommendation solicitations and, for those seniors doing their comprehensive assignments first semester, the beginning of Work-in-Earnest. Whether you’re writing a thesis or facing a long mid-semester problem set, sometimes it’s hard to escape the distractions and habits that familiar faces and places bring, to change gears and buckle down when everything around you feels the same. If you find yourself in a study rut that insists to persist, bite the bullet, buy a train ticket and give yourself a little spatial separation from Swarthmore: go study in a café in Philly. Here are some favorites, organized by train station.

49th Street/University City Stations

The Green Line Café. (Courtesy of www.visitphilly.com)

Green Line Café. The Green Line Café is probably the best-known cafe in University City for a reason: it provides variety, quality and atmosphere in each of its three locations. The name comes from the “green line” trolleys that run through West Philly, and two of the three branches are located along green line routes. All of the Green Line’s coffee and tea is organic- and fair trade-certified, and many of the foodstuffs that aren’t housemade are from top-quality local producers. The baked goods are all exceptionally tempting; the vegan and gluten-free cupcakes would test the resolve of even the most ardent Crisco-and-wheat purists. As “West Philly’s neighborhood stop for coffee, culture and conversation,” the Green Line isn’t the quietest place to study, but it has a nice energy and community feel. The Baltimore Avenue location is catty-corner from Clark Park, and the larger 45th & Locust branch has free live music on Saturdays, as well as on some weeknights. Of the three, only the Baltimore Avenue location does not have free wireless internet access. The local art on the walls, which changes routinely, is available for purchase. Three locations: 43rd & Baltimore Avenue, 45th & Locust Street, and 3649 Lancaster Avenue.

Earth Cup Café. The Earth Cup Café feels like the smaller, more spartan cousin of the Green Line. Like its neighbor, it offers fair trade coffee in a cup or by the pound, as well as local and house-baked goods, including some for people with dietary restrictions. Unlike its neighbor, it doesn’t have much seating, a broad menu or wireless internet. It does have some creative tea drinks, however, and, more importantly, an elevated wood patio next to the restaurant where, on a nice day, you can sit under a tree and feel the autumn breeze, at once in a city and far from the hustle. 405 South 45th Street, between Osage and Pine.

Milk & Honey Market. Two blocks west of the Baltimore Avenue Green Line, Milk & Honey Market promotes itself as an old-fashioned neighborhood grocery store, where you can get dry beans and fresh bread, local milk, eggs, meat and vegetables. It also has an impressive charcuterie case, a well-curated selection of local and imported cheeses and all of the offerings of a good café. The quality and variety of the ingredients Milk & Honey stocks for purchase logically extend to their sandwiches: You can build your own sandwich from Metropolitan Bakery bread, Shellbark Hollows cheese, Prosciutto di Parma … all the best, as you like. If you’re not in the mood for coffee with your studies, try a milk & honey steamer or the hot apple cider in season. Outdoor seating is available when the weather is fair; if you go during a less busy time, take advantage of one of the spacious, low wooden tables to spread out your study materials. Free wireless internet. 4425 Baltimore Avenue.

Kaffa Crossing. Up in the 4400-block of Chestnut, Kaffa Crossing is smack in the middle of a cluster of falafel and hookah houses. One side of the street is residential and the other commercial. Waves of traffic make Chestnut feel full, and then empty and then full again. In other words, the immediate neighborhood can’t quite make up its mind. Kaffa Crossing embodies this tendency but does so in a way that feels much more coherent than its environs. Whether it’s primarily an Ethiopian restaurant or a coffee shop is up for debate, but it is certainly the only Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly where you can order a fair trade Ethiopian macchiato. Stay in the large, bright front windows all day and watch Penn students and faculty and members of the local Ethiopian community come, study, relax and eventually go. You’re assured a good cup of coffee here, as well as a meal. All of the vegetarian dishes are also suitable for vegans, but there are no gluten-free options here. Free wireless internet. 4423 Chestnut Street.

Market East Station

La Colombe Torréfaction. This center of the Philadelphia boutique coffee world is in the middle of it all: if you prefer suits as the target of your people watching, this is where to be. The coffee is top notch and the environment is urban and energetic, but the location and the popularity of this café make it better for study stretches of less than three hours; the average cafe patron turnover is a little faster in Center City. No wireless internet. 1414 South Penn Square — even the address has swagger. Other location, 130 S. 19th Street.

The interior at Cake and the Beanstalk. (Courtesy of www.urbanspoon.com)

Cake & The Beanstalk. Just three blocks away from Market East Station, this is a place where you could spend the day before meeting friends for an evening in Center City. While it’s still close to the action — in the boutique-filled area west of Washington Square — it doesn’t feel nearly as chaotic as the city around it, and unlike at La Colombe Torréfaction, it gives the sense that lingering is encouraged. Cake & The Beanstalk features coffee from the local Chestnut Hill Coffee Roasters, but the highlight might be the pastries: this is a bakery-café, and the owner has serious pastry credentials. He has applied his skills to vegan & gluten-free baked goods as well, with delightful results. If you spend the day here, you may have to pace yourself on cupcakes as well as coffee. Free wireless internet. 1112 Locust Street.

Market East Station & Broad Street Line (South Street & further south)

Café L’Aube. In the quieter, 50-seat-restaurants section of South Street, Café L’Aube is an ideal study spot for French majors. It’s fairly quiet around noon; the background buzz is French music, French speakers, and the delicate preparation of good French crêpes. Even if your intent is not to linger and study, Café L’Aube would be an excellent place to stop in for a modestly priced lunch on South Street. Free wireless internet. 1512 South Street.

Brew (formerly Ultimo). This South Philly gem associated with the South Philly Tap Room can boast of being the only boutique coffee and beer shop in the city. To get there you’ll have to pick up the Broad Street Line at Walnut-Locust Station and take it down to Snyder Station (or Tasker-Morris–it’s three blocks instead of two). Brew is two blocks back towards center city, and one block west, at the intersection of 15th and Mifflin. Once you’re there, you’ll be decidedly a world away from Swat — though whether artisan beers and a single-origin fair trade cappucino remind you of Swarthmore or make you feel a world away will depend on your perspective. Brew is bright and clean inside without feeling sterile; as the only coffee shop with this bent in the neighborhood, its modest seating area is usually well populated, but you should be able to find a seat. 1900 S. 15th Street.

For more information about train tickets, maps and directions, as well as more recommendations of places to eat, shop and explore, please visit In-Town, Off-campus on The Phoenix website at swarthmorephoenix.com.

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