Kaffa Crossing

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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On what can be described without hyperbole as one of the bleakest days of my life, I discovered Kaffa Crossing. I had just been released from 12 hours of hellish confinement aboard the Acela from Atlanta to discover that my luggage and bike had not been placed on the train and that I would have to return to 30th Street Station 24 hours later to pick them up. So, I was left to march into my newest place of residence, an as-yet-unseen room in a stained, ice-encrusted city in which I knew not a soul, supplied with only a backpack loaded with books and trail mix and a grocery bag loaded with my ‘files’.

Kaffa Crossing

The walk to my new home was only eighteen blocks, but they were in the direction heading from bad to worse. After passing the Indo-Pak grocery, the collapsed church, the adult video store, and the bulletproof Chinese takeout storefront, I noticed a warmly toned wooden box inserted into the hardest and unfriendliest-looking block east of Upper Darby. Tucked into the corner of the window of the joint is a sign marked ‘Free Wireless’, suggesting that what looked like a small jazz club or movie theater was in fact a coffee house.

The social environment in Kaffa is a match of Russian roulette. When the DSL is disconnected from your home, you should be able to spend a month at a table in the corner, without intrusion from the clientele or complaints from the proprietors, buying your time for the price of a refill of Yirgacheffe and a spicy injera wrap or perhaps a vegan biscotti, until you hear ‘did you get a lot of work done today?’ as you settle your bill or you get a wave from the hardest-working business owner in the neighborhood as you ride by on your Schwinn (before it is stolen).

When you try to visit for a peaceful bowl of ful on Valentine’s Day, your quiet conversation will be transformed to shouts over a poetry slammer angrily referring to his wife’s sex as her ‘underground railroad’ whilst a horde swarms across the tables for samples on free smoothie night as you are surrounded by newly hung art whose strength is ambition and enthusiasm rather than development of technique or study.

You may even acquire a mild stalker, who questions you about every book you read and where you work. He’ll wonder why you haven’t been to his favorite restaurants or why he hasn’t seen you walking in front of his building. Even though you drape jackets and bags over the other chair in an effort to make your table seem crowded, he’ll drag a chair across the room and sit to confide in you that physical interaction is more important to develop than intellectual discourse, being sure to clarify that he is referring to ‘sexual contact’.

You can arrive on weekend afternoons and hear the Radical Socialists Book Club dissecting ‘Puddinhead Wilson’, but the idea of arriving for ‘A Performance Inspired by Yoko Ono’ on John Cage’s birthday should not be considered.

Had I been aware on Day One of my Philadelphia Experiment that Kaffa was one of the richest operational pieces of the fabric of West Philadelphia and that, of all places to blindly inhabit, I was inconceivably fortunate to move into a carpeted basement only two blocks down the street, I would not have spent the first month researching it online and observing it from afar, neglecting to visit until the morning after my roommate’s birthday party, when there were too many people passed out and strewn about the living room and dining room floor for me to activate my coffee grinder and put the kettle on the stove, forcing me from my habit of isolation from my new city. When it comes to approaching the Philadelphia cafe, Kaffa Crossing is both the alpha and the omega.

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Kaffa Crossing

4423 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

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