Rival Bros Coffee Bar

Two bare-chested men, dressed as old-fashioned pugilists, but each holding a large coffee cup in their hands.On my first visit to Philadelphia in 2014, I missed Rival Bros who, back then, were a roastery with a growing reputation and a coffee truck that wasn’t open at weekends. Naturally, I was there for the weekend. Two months later, having waited until I was safely out of town, Rival Bros opened its first (and so far only) shop on the corner of 24th and Lombard Streets.

It’s a brick-built building in a residential part of south Philadelphia, on the end of a row of two-/three-storey terrace houses. In many ways the setting, on a sunny March afternoon, couldn’t be lovelier. The exterior brickwork is painted grey and white, while the interior has white-washed walls with dark grey woodwork and ceiling. Windows, glass doors and plenty of lights make it a wonderful, bright spot.

The focus is firmly on the coffee, allowing Rival Bros to showcase its output. There’s a blend (Whistle & Cuss), single-origin (Ethiopian) and decaf on espresso, the Revolver blend (which I’ve previously had as espresso) on bulk-brew and a choice of four single-origins through the Chemex. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of bread-based goodies, including toast and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Rival Bros first brick-and-mortar store on 24th & Lombard Streets in Philadelphia.
  • The sign promises as much as the glorious blue sky.
  • It's a day for sitting outside in the sun on Lombard Street.
  • Not sure about the trapdoors though... For the customer who overstays his welcome?
  • The view from my seat outside Rival Bros. Fortunately, the trapdoors remained firmly closed!
  • Stepping inside, the view looking down Rival Bros from just inside the door...
  • ... and looking back towards the door.
  • The view from the other end of the counter, down by the other door.
  • A rare unoccupied seat!
  • A view along the counter.
  • Lights above the counter...
  • ... and the counter in detail.
  • The takeaway station at the end of the counter.
  • Some of the details are lovely, such as this eagle on the back wall...
  • ... and this sign near the first door.
  • Sound advice!
  • Cake! It's towards the end of the day, so there's not a lot left.
  • All the cake and bread comes from this local bakery.
  • But where does the coffee come from? Okay, I think I've got it.
  • There is also tea, if you want it.
  • There are lots of beans for sale too...
  • ... all available from this set of retail shelves near the first door.
  • Bags and bags of coffee...
  • There's the standard Revolver blend, which I've had before...
  • ... and the Whistle & Cuss blend which was in the hopper when I was there.
  • There's also the featherweight blend...
  • ... and bags and bags of single-origins.
  • Plus decaf, of course.
  • The four single-origins are available through the Chemex, plus one on espresso. And food.
  • I decided to have some filter, the Sumatran in fact.
  • The Chemex is prepared, the beans ground, and then placed in the filter paper.
  • Next comes the first pour...
  • ... then it is left to bloom.
  • After that, the water is reguarly topped-up...
  • ... and left to brew beetween top-ups.
  • One last top-up.
  • Now we just wait until the exact weight of water has filtered through.
  • Finally, dispense into a mug.
  • Make sure you get every last drop...
  • My filter coffee.
  • I went back later for something from the espresso machine.
  • But what? Decaf (on the left), Whistle & Cuss or single-origin Yirgacheffe (twin hoppers)?
  • In the end, I went for the decaf, which I had as a derringer (cortado to you and me)...
  • ... which I paired with some lovely, thick, crunchy toast.
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There’s not a lot to Rival Bros. Effectively it’s a long walk-through line for takeout customers with some tables for those who wish to sit in. Or, like me, sit out, since all the tables were taken. Fortunately it was a lovely, sunny day so I was quite happy to occupy one of two tables on the Lombard Street sidewalk. And not fall through the trapdoors!

Rival Bros has two doors, both on Lombard Street, one on the corner and the other at the far end. Ideally you enter by the corner door, move down the length of the store, and exit by the other door (although I saw a few people going against the flow without too much bother). There’s a little window-bar (no seats) along 24th Street, immediately to the left of the corner door. To the right, a padded bench runs the length of the Lombard Street side, with six two-person tables, each with its own chair, which provides the bulk of the seating.

On the opposite wall is a niche with a two-seat sofa and coffee table, plus two pairs of power outlets. Next are the retail shelves (coffee-making equipment and beans), then the counter, starting with cake, then till. The Chemex station follows, so you can watch your barista make your coffee if you wish. Then comes a two-group La Marzocco espresso machine and the espresso grinders. Finally, there’s a pick-up/waiting area by the second door, through which you then exit. It’s a clever, well-thought-out system that seems to work, although since I sat outside, I can’t tell you if it would be annoying to sit inside with a constant stream of people going past.

Rival Bros rotates the coffee every few months, although it’s more of a case of “all change” rather than each coffee changing out in turn, which I’m more used to. After a long discussion with my barista, who was happy to talk through the options and make recommendations, I had the Sumatran through the Chemex. We chatted while she prepared my coffee and, having discovered that I was leaving for Washington DC that afternoon, she give me some DC recommendations.

The coffee itself was pretty bold for a pour-over, especially through the Chemex, which I find usually highlights more delicate coffees. It had a lot of body and held its own as it cooled, when further flavours came through. When cold (since I sat outside, it cooled quickly) it had a cold-brew like quality, but without the extreme kick I normally associate with cold-brew.

Although sunny, it wasn’t that warm, so after 30 minutes, I retired inside to defrost, whereupon a spot opened up on the sofa, which I grabbed without further ado. To accelerate the process I ordered a decaf derringer (a cortado to you and me). This came in a tall glass and was lovely and sweet, the coffee going very well with the milk, but at the same time, the flavour flooded through, giving hints of honey and nuts. It was probably the best espresso with milk I had in Philadelphia.

I rounded things off with an excellent slice of thick, crunchy toast with strawberry fig jam. Sadly I then had to leave for the station, but it was the perfect end to my stay in Philadelphia.

December 2015: Rival Bros was a runner-up for the 2015 Best Overseas Coffee Spot Award.

2400 LOMBARD STREET • PHILADELPHIA • PA 19146 • USA
www.rivalbros.com
Monday 07:00 – 19:00 Roaster In house (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables, Tables outside
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:00 Food Toast, Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 19:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 07:00 – 19:00 Wifi Free (with login)
Sunday 07:00 – 19:00 Power Limited
Chain No Visits 12th March 2015

Liked this? Then take a look at the Coffee Spot Guide to Philadelphia for more great coffee Spots.


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