Satellite Coffeeshop

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Satellite Coffeeshop is the exemplar for curbing one’s zeal for breaking off a tableau within a New York minute of sitting down in a new cafe — i.e., spending 20 minutes in an easy chair and scribbling down a few vignettes about the room.

Had I done this, my pen would have gushed forth ink in a pattern of letters to make the most rosy-eyed anarcho-cyclist blush. On my first visit — discounting the few visits I made before Satellite moved from a stand in the defunct Firehouse Farmer’s Market to its current location — I exclaimed, aloud, that Satellite was my new favourite coffeeshop in West Philadelphia.

Satellite Coffeeshop

Satellite was, and is, everything that Green Line Cafe is not. The space is textured, colourful, and lively; the same is true for the employees. And the customers. And especially the music.

Whereas Green Line is lately overrun with upper-middle-class, upper-middle-aged, white breeders – a classification in which each component is not a fault, but when totaled create the most passionless, interchangeable automatons one can find in a freshly gentrified suburb. These zombi show up at Green Line late in the morning, tots in tow, apparently because sitting wide-legged a cafe is the ‘thing to do’, not because of any deliberated, personal decision made independently on their parts.

Satellite Coffeeshop

Unlike every other cafe in West Philadelphia, you do not have to smuggle in your own vegan margarine or Tofutti if you eat bagels at Satellite; you may wish to avoid the bagels, however, as they do not have a toaster and instead ‘grill’ the bagels in the same unwashed press as their cheese-filled wraps. The shelves are full of vegan cookies, brownies, and cakes. Most importantly, they have a number of varietal coffees through which they cycle each day, rather than a single bitter house blend.

Naturally, Satellite is indistinguishable from the multitude of college-area coffeehouses that groups like Citysearch or Zagat might call ‘funky’ just because the furniture doesn’t match or a barista might be heard cussing. Nevertheless, if you are already stuck in West Philadelphia, beyond the expanding borders of ‘University City’, it is likely that anyone* with whom you are hanging is going to be at Satellite, anyway.

Despite the spectre of Green Line fading after every visit to Satellite, the veneer soon was worn clear. The operation of Satellite is poorly oiled; they consistently are short of items they offer – for example: pesto, bananas, coffee. The clientele are often as ridiculous as any you’ll find in a Center City Starbuck’s, and, at times, even the music can be powerfully awful**.


Having grown up with crusty punx; I barely noticed the customers draped in filthy costumes that are more patches than clothing. It is curious, but hitherto unremarkable that the number of the kids covered with paint is disproportionate to the amount of painting going on in the city. What cinched it for me was the second time I noticed a girl drinking coffee from a pseudo-Mason jar.

I’ve seen a slew of people bring their own travel cups or mugs into all manner of cafes. That is reasonable. In fact, Satellite knocks 50 cents from the price if you bring your own mug. The distinction here is the types of vessels which Satellite clients choose to bring: former containers for peanut butter, beans, or bruschetta. Drinking coffee from a glass jar is preposterous posturing beyond all rationality.

There is a reason that coffee mugs are porcelain or ceramic: thermal conduction. This lesson is not missed by these jar-drinkers, based on the method of gripping the jar by the rim with two finger tips they have developed to avoid a scalding wake up call.

I’ve never spoken to anyone at Satellite, so I merely can presume the motivations of these people. The only purposes I can imagine, based on the political positioning of the typical West Philly Kid, are matters of thrift and of ecology.

iced coffee

Iced Coffee

Make no mistake; I am cheap. I could squeeze the shit from a buffalo nickel. How it would please me to have one of those nickels for each time I’ve had to suffer derision from a fellow tableur because my shoes have a few holes, because my sweater is the ‘wrong’ brand, because I buy brake fluid from Pic’N’Save, or because I’m trying to get one more season from my bike tyres.

I understand well the attempt to draw parallels with ‘po folks’ of the Depression who could not afford glasses and had to reuse jam or Mason jars. However, people who lost their farm and can not afford to pick up a mug for pennies at Second Mile or One+Five probably would not be riding up to a cafe at 11am on a Gitane fixie and dropping $1.75 for 12oz of Sumatran, anyway. The faked deprivation is made naked by this contradiction.

Perhaps one is trying to ‘save’ something by using one’s own jar. Are they saving Satellite’s dishwater? Presumably they use an equal amount of dishwater when they clean(?) the jar back at their squat. Are they saving some glass by reusing the jar? Now there is a pot of spaghetti sauce or bag of lentils that requires a new vessel. It is fair to say that no use of resources is being reduced by the use of the jar.

What could it be, aside from image? Is there any object more ill-suited for this use? Maybe the bicycle inner tube I tried to use as door trim for my F-150 qualifies; we’ve already established my frugality, and no one ever rode in the truck, anyway. Once I saw a 1954 Land Rover with a Budweiser tallboy serving as an oil filter; however, this contraption was fashioned in a resource-poor desert, and, besides, it actually worked. I’m sure the list of reprogrammed items is endless; but if there is a Top 10 of Inconvenient Attempts at Statement Making listicle, the olive-jar-as-coffee-cup ranks high.

Satellite Coffeeshop

In any event, all my attempts at rationalism have been rendered moot by the guy who showed up one morning with a plastic tub — like those used to package hummus or fresh salsa – and filled it with hot coffee….

I still enter Satellite a couple of times a week, as, unlike other tableauxists, I frequently get the opportunity to hang out in coffee shops. Have I gotten too close to Satellite? Well, after my 100th order, no one working there has yet figured out that I get the same drink each time I visit – something not lost on the baristas at some nearby establishments. I remain at Satellite — in it, but not of it — curious of an evolving social phenomenon.


* anyone white
** playing at maximum volume at 7.30am a tape of a tape of a tape of an analog live recording of Aus-Rotten playing your roommate’s little sister’s basement in Minneapolis? unnecessary attempt at cred.

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Satellite Coffeeshop

701 S 50th St
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19143

soymilk: no extra charge
wifi: free access

8 Responses to “Satellite Coffeeshop”

  1. j.h. trefry

    Satellite was the first cafe I have been to that has been previously tableau’d herein. It was a strange experience not because it failed to meet any of my expectations, the tableau being meticulously crafted over what I am told was an interminable stint. It was more strange because I felt that I had already been there, as if I were the pro that Thos. clearly is. This perceived facility only served to position me as a fool in the place, not knowing what to order, what size to order, what vessel to request, how to pay, etc. The barista whom I mistakenly pegged as being from Mississippi was clearly annoyed and I was embarrassed for myself. It was the sort of feeling someone who has played Doom for the entirety of their freshman year of college probably faces when they actually end up on Mars confronted with the armies of Satan, one of misplaced confidence and competence that quickly erodes when the reality of the situation hits and you end up as a stain on a wall. That is, however, an inaccurate comparison, because I do in fact know how to order coffee and I do it in reality quite often. I guess I just expected Thos. to hold my dick for me while I ordered.

  2. Rich Wexler

    I do not understand why in reviewing the Satelite Shop you have to talk negative about the Green Line. People see what they want to see. If you all actually spent time there you would see the reality of who goes there. I am sorry that the Green Line doesnt play a staedy music diet of Black Flag. There are probably times that I dont like the music that is being played, but there are times that I do, not to mention a purposeful attempt to highlight local music.
    I think you defining the Green Line clients as breeders seems to state that The Green Line is lacking in queer culture. Again you see what you want. If I were to walk into the Satelite and someone annoys me, I would not go off and write a review stating how other shops are better because folks dont act as bad as the Satelite folks do.
    If you want to do a review on the Green Line, do a review. Talk as much trash as you want to but actually spend time there so see what goes on. There is no reason to do it on a review of another coffee shop, not to mention starting some type of fued. Its immature and unecessary. It seems that you are extremely biased in this review. The Green Line Cafe has done more for this neighborhood than you can imagine. Thay work on a cooperative that makes sure the coffee goes to support the growers who make it. They put money out of thier pocket to host local shows for two years. They donate to countless organizatons. They employ many artist and musicians. I like the Satelite. I like the owners. They are good folks who do great things in the neighborhood. I know many folks who go there on a regular basis. I just dont see the need to trash the Green Line cafe based on a very limited and biased perspective, especially since the review is not even about the cafe. I challenge you to actually spend some time at the cafe and do a real review.

  3. Paul

    Mason jars? Such derision. Who really gives a fuck?

  4. PJ

    …Why is most of this a review on the type of cup people use, while what’s in the cup gets only a few flimsy sentences?

  5. girl

    It’s such a cozy place, but I like Green line too.

  6. michael mcgettigan

    Well, geez, there might be a coffee hang cool enough for this reviewer… but man, I’d never be allowed in the door. Go home dude and make your own.

    For the record, I am some old white guy, but I would never try and write up a coffee shop without taking a minute to actually get in a dang conversation with some of the entities therein.

    Greenline, Satellite, hey, if you’re stuck in the wrong place, gimme a starbucks… it’s all caffeine, gentlemen.


  7. xee

    thanks for assuming we are all men, “mcget”…have you ever even been to satellite, oppressor?!

  8. michael mcgettigan

    xee (cool name) : sorry if I assumed everyone wasting time on this site is male. Good to know that both genders are wasting time here, ha. For the record, oppressee, I have been to Satellite a few times, but not a lot because it’s far away from where I currently live. ALTHOUGH I wish it opened 41 years ago so I could have hung out there since it would have been only a 10 minute walk from the house I was bred in by my breeder parents.

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