Menagerie Coffee

A cappuccino in a classic white cup, sitting on a tree-stump table in the window, half in shadow from the sunlight.If I lived in/around Philadelphia, I could see the delightful Menagerie Coffee, just off Market Street down near Penn’s Landing in the Old City, becoming a regular haunt. Set up six months ago by April and Elysa, they’ve brought excellent coffee heritage (April worked at the long-established Elixr, another Philadelphia stand-out) and married it with a lovely space in an area that’s crying out for quality coffee.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a couple of blocks from the hotel I stayed in, which was a bonus! My host, Greg of Coffee Guru App fame, and I went there on Friday afternoon, not long after I’d arrived in Philadelphia. I popped back on my own on Sunday morning, preferring to start the day with a Menagerie cappuccino over the (adequate but unexciting) coffee served up by the hotel.

Menagerie uses Dogwood Coffee from Minneapolis for the house-blend (Neon espresso) and decaf (Sumatran mountain-water process), while four single-origins are available as pour-overs. These change on a regular basis and come from a variety of roasters (while I was there, two were from Dogwood, with one each from Ceremony of Annapolis and Boston’s George Howell).

February 2016: true to my word, on both my subsequent trips to Philadelphia, I have stayed near Menagerie and have started each day there with a cappuccino.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

The first thing that struck me about Menagerie is its physical beauty. The building used to be an art gallery (echoes of the legendary Colonna & Small’s in Bath), but I get the impression that it wasn’t up to much when April and Elysa moved in. Now it’s an amazing space, from the window seats at the front, right up to the island counter at the back.

Menagerie is long and thin, although a generous window at the front and skylight at the back provide plenty of natural light, supplemented by numerous spotlights. Pride of place goes to the window seats, a pair of very comfortable-looking chairs facing three surprisingly comfortable bucket-seats. Between them are a couple of tree-stumps re-used as tables. I sat here on Sunday morning, and, if you can get in there, I’d say it’s the ideal place to start (or end) the day.

At the back of the main room, on the left, is the counter. There are two tables between it and the window. Attached to the left-hand wall, they run parallel to the window/counter. April and Elysa have resisted the temptation to pack too much in and, as a result, Menagerie has a delightfully uncrowded feel to it. In particular, there’s a clear line between the door (on the right) and the counter, which means that you don’t feel you’re pushing past people to order your coffee. What’s more, those sitting down don’t feel crowded by those coming in. Each of the three seating areas is well enough spaced that it feels like its own area and the window seats are screened off from the door. These may seem like little things, but they go a long way to making (or breaking) a place.

It gets even better beyond the counter, where the seating (on the right) shares space with the screened-off kitchen (on the left). There’s a padded bench with a series of tables on the right where Greg and I sat, and beyond that, past the kitchen, the space widens out again with a delightful island counter, complete with stools on the left and a little bar (again with stools) on the right. Once again, the temptation to pack too much in has been avoided.

Much of the furniture is made of wood reclaimed from a bowling alley, while the floor is also wooden. The walls and ceiling are whitewashed, although there is a lovely, exposed-brick area in the main part of the shop. The bright-green espresso cups go well with the light-fittings.

On my first visit, at Greg’s prompting, we went for pour-overs. Greg was keen to try the Dogwood offerings, so I had the Toargo Peaberry (Sulawesi) and Greg went for the Illimani (Bolivia). We both preferred Greg’s choice; it had more body (Greg’s description was “earth notes”, mine was “mellow”). Mine on the other hand improved as it cooled, becoming sweeter. Both were fine cups and well-poured by our lovely barista, Willa.

On my return, I had a very fine cappuccino, which is served in a proper-sized (6 oz) cup. The coffee came through the milk extremely well, blending with its sweetness. This was Dogwood’s Neon espresso, which, I suspect, would be a little too fruity for me on its own, but which I adored in milk.

Monday 07:00 – 19:00 Roaster Dogwood (espresso) + Guests (filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:00 Food Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 19:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 08:00 – 19:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 19:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits 7th, 9th March 2014, 11th March 2015
11th-13th February 2016

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

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