Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Art and Soul of Philly

Milkcrate Cafe in Fishtown.
A few years back National Geographic tagged Philadelphia as "the next great city." In many ways, it already is. Here in Fishtown there's electricity in the air, new businesses are starting up, the gears of creativity are turning, and people here - once known for being the workshop for the world - are thinking local, while acting global. This year why not skip gift-shopping at the mall and take a stroll down Girard Avenue?  Be a locasumer.

One great place to start is a new little coffee shop/record store named Milkcrate Cafe, at the corner of Columbia and Girard. Being a collector of vintage vinyl and a coffee guzzler, the concept alone was enough to peak my interest. But what really impressed me was the cool design feature of having an entire wall of colorful, collectible record covers serve as the main focal point for the cafe's decor. The rest of the interior is fairly minimal and mod, which helps balance the colorful, dazzling mosaic of albums.

Owner Adam Porter hails from a legacy work in multi-media oriented coffee houses such as Chicago's notorious Earwax, as well as notable cafes in down in the bustle New Orleans. He also put in some DJ time at Philadelphia's renowned Five Spot club, which closed due to fire years ago, a legacy woefully remembered by the club crowd.

The records at Milkcrate are all for purchase, including a vast business of online sales of funk, jazz, soul, rock and rarities from their dynamic website. And the coffee is from Philadelphia's great La Colombe coffee - my favorite of the city's gourmet coffee roasters.

Though only at lift-off stage now, plans for the shop include an extensive food menu and expansion of the record store into the downstairs level, as well as turntables spun for entertainment.

From the looks of the record collection I may not be needing to order from Dusty Groove to get my fill of rare soul.


Speaking of groove, just few blocks down the street is the VGroove studio of artist and lampmaker Victor Perez and his "upcycled" handmade skateboard lamps.

Victor makes some very moderne-looking lamp sculptures utilizing old skateboards. He cuts them apart, sands them down, reassembles, and retrofits, until they become something quite extraordinary - not really looking like skateboards anymore, though one can still sense their original essence. His one-of-a-kind lamps have been the buzz around Fishtown lately, with his work appearing in variety of area shows.

His lamps will be on exhibit this weekend in a show with friends at his studio on 306 East Girard in Fishtown.

 Fishtown Airways

A block or so further down is the Fishtown Airways artist collective and market, which proffers a plethora of works from local artists and artisans. Here you can find truly unique art items, crafts, and accessories that definitely wont be on the racks or in bins of mass produced crud at the mall. Fishtown Airways opened up earlier this summer and has generated an offshoot gallery called Piranha Betty's Art Market on 2472 Frankford Avenue.

Johnny Brendas

Johnny Brendas
Kitty-corner from Fishtown Airways, you can rest from your days worth of locasumer activity and grab a bite to eat at Johnny Brenda's, one of the area's hubs for good food, brew, and entertainment. Have a pint of Kenzinger from the Philadelphia Brewing Company, made blocks away in nearby Kensington, and with hops provided by (in some batches) the neighborhood's urban green spot, Greensgrow Farms. And while you're there at JB's, stick around and see one of Philly's great local bands perform in the upstairs concert hall, which has become a primary venue for the music scene...

Wow, this sure sounds like fun, and all with a carbon footprint the size of my little toe. See you there! --D.A. DeMers


Additional images:

Milkcrate Cafe after dark.

The "great wall" of records.

Rare Leroy Hutson record from the '70's.

Vast record collection, with more downstairs.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Don't forget to check out our neighborhood holiday walk, featuring some of the businesses featured above.