Before we get into it, let me state emphatically that Cafe Tableaux believes that you should support independent coffee shops, family businesses, mom and pop stores, locally owned cafes, etc, and should not support corporate chains such as those that come to mind without us having to name them.
The location of Earth Cup is pretty cool; it is a tiny box sort of tucked between a castle and what we like to call the “Los Angeles Block”. A few tables and a deck hollowed out of a tree-lined residential street, it is situated as more of a neighborhood spot than say, Satellite or the not-yet-tableaux’d Green Line | Powelton Village. It is akin to the other non-tableaux’d Green Line Locust. (NOTE: At this summer’s Cafe Round Table’aux discussion, there is a workshop scheduled towards charting a new method of describing coffee shops that do not rely on the Green Line/Satellite models.)
Despite the evocative name, there is something utterly mundane about Earth Cup. It is built along the lines of the off-the-shelf aesthetic like that shithole in Green River [Get Real – Ed.]. It feels like you are in mom’s kitchen – not my mom!, but someone’s mom – whilst she is making her first latte since seeing one on Food Network and running down to the retail restaurant supply shop to buy the cheapest stainless steel and plastic appliances on the shelves. “OK, I fill the cup with the espresso.” Checks notes. “Now I should add milk.” Pours milk into cup. “Wait, I need to heat it first!” Steams milk and espresso together in paper cup. I admit, I am out of touch with food television shows; I regret if that vignette was a failure. Christ, that place in Green River was a mess.
Well, then, I once was arguing with a trick about a terrible Hong Kong cop movie, the one on which ‘The Departed’ (A+) was based [Infernal Affairs / 無間道 – Ed.]. This crap of a film was reduced to the precise action and dialogue that was ‘relevant’ to the chain of events of the narrative – no scene building, no establishing shots, no musical interludes – fuck it, I don’t know that much about movies, but the point is that the film was utterly dry, with no atmosphere or tone; it was like watching the news with the sound off. ‘Coincidentally’, less than a week later, JHT sent me a series of text messages, presumably sent from the driver’s seat of his Volvo whilst still in the theater parking lot, raving about the chick flick, ‘Driver’, starring Ryan Gosslings: “Dude Driver is so awesome. It is like boy meets girl, boy saves girl. Just the order of the universe distilled to its essence. And the main guy wears the like sweetest satin jacket like evar [sic].”
Anyway, I think the film analogy has gone off the rails, too. Maybe you can you could check those ‘films’ out of your local library to get an idea of what Earth Cup is like. Or maybe I should just text JHT that he would love Earth Cup since his thing now is to see everything stripped down to the bare mechanics. Ha! Ha! I doubt it. I have seen JHT’s favourite cafes, and I know what he is into these days; they must be full of unmatched plush wingback chairs, lamps shaped like Ionic columns (merely the 3rd best style), 50′s bentwood tables, teak wall paneling, a chalkboard menu, and a circle of friends gathered ’round the hearth. “Have a seat, brother! Warm those weary dogs by the fire.”
I was grabbing some chaat at Mood Cafe*, when I overheard some Chads complaining about going to Earth Cup because they ‘never have anything vegan’. Then don’t go there! You don’t have to go. I’m taken back to my salad days, growing up in the Godless Red House, and all the days since: “I hate having another can of cold beans for dinner“, “I hate spending X-mas alone“, “I hate eating an entire tray of Nutter Butters in one sitting.” They are choices I’ve made. I know that Earth Cup is the only place on the block, and we all want to support the local shop; if we feel obliged to reward them with our service in spite of the constant disappointment, how will they learn?
On the other hand, I already know that I am only going to visit Earth Cup once a year (see below), and only an asshole would demand that they stock all my favorite treats when it is unlikely that I will ever buy them. If Cafe Tableaux placed an order every time some drifter tramped in and told us, “You guys should totally sell walnut haystacks/Zagnut bars/Cheerwine because I like them,” we would have gone under within our first six years! Rather than support a coffee shop that isn’t good enough, just go to the coffee place two (2) blocks down 46th, on Locust, and get a vegan chik’n sandwich or some shit. The point is, independent places aren’t naturally awesome and should rely on merit as much as, if not more than, corporate chains that have the momentum of name recognition of ‘How can 1 billion customers be wrong?’ I’m looking at you, Unitea.
Holy Eff, is that enough rationalization to allow me to say something less than flattering about an independent coffee place without being accused of being a Starbucks devotee or wanting my neighbors to fail? Now we’ll write about Earth Cup, acknowledging the one thing that makes it the coolest cafe in Philadelphia, at least once a year:
X-mas 09: I took a break from chipping the ice from under my rental car’s tires with a trash-picked IKEA pasta server to attempt to drive out of the slush again. As I floored it, I noticed a couple of greying bohunks seated at an outdoor table in their Patagonia fleece, watching my wheels spin on the black ice for 10 minutes. The tires touched asphalt; and the car lurched into the traffic lane; I gave them a “Thumbs Up” as I skidded by them, but they were too ashamed for not helping me to reply.
X-mas ’10: Knowing Earth Cup to be open on X-mas, I planned ahead. I had this Romantic notion of snuggling at a table for a relaxing morning. I would throw off the yoke of yuletide traditions that had burdened the individual for generations: spending 3 hours on the road between 4 houses, explaining the veg*n diet to grandparents, listening to rants by racist siblings, conversing with an 8 year old. A real tableur makes his own luck! And lucky me would calmly enjoy the peace and quiet of a coffee out followed by a tofu hot pot dinner in chinatown and film showing at the neighborhood multiplex. I’m trying to wind this tableau down, so I will have pity on the reader and just say that this day played out in a wholly disappointing manner.
X-mas ’11: I was only back because I had been there the previous years. Knowing better than to chase the wild dreams of 2010, I merely followed the wretched script without consideration, no better than the monkey in the cage, flinging shit at passersby every hour on the hour. Merry Christmas! I ate some homemade biscotti in the cold and reflected how a year has passed with me in the exact same position as before: same town, same ‘job’, same road bike, and now sitting in the same seat with the same treats, followed by the same dark dinner in chinatown.
X-mas ’12: I am gulping espresso on my private terrace overlooking Saint-Germain-des-Prés, glancing over a proposal by Plan B Entertainment to option my latest collection of short stories, an empty carton of Nuttér Buttérs at my feet.
Please visit Earth Cup.
*a) Not a cafe.
*b) I’ve never eaten at Mood Cafe, but I wish someone would, so I wouldn’t have to cross the street every time I stroll down Baltimore to avoid the embarrassment of walking past the perpetually empty space. Mood family, if you are reading this, try hanging some tapestries or get a poster or something for the wall; maybe strategically stage some ficuses to block off particular areas from each other. Your open kitchen takes up more than half of your cafe’s floor plan; no one wants to eat on a stool in a bare room with a guy standing next to a mop sink, staring at them. This design advice as been provided pro bono, courtesy of the work.group.
Earth Cup405 South 45th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
soymilk: extra charge