Nestled away on Broad Street in South Philly is CineMug. The café, which blends coffee, movie rentals, and community, is one of the city’s hidden treasures. If you’re sick of Starbucks or the Van Pelt basement and want a new place to study outside of the Penn bubble, you would be hard–pressed to find a more inviting and artsy space.
On the way to CineMug, my subway car is pleasantly empty: there are a few eager fans in Phillies jerseys and sleepy–looking professionals riding home from work, but most of the orange–backed seats are empty. I’m tempted to stretch out a little after a long day of trekking around campus, but it’s not that long of a ride: CineMug is right off of the Tasker–Morris stop on the Broad Street Line.
The storefront is draped in black velvet curtains—like a theater, unassumingly nestled among the vibrant chaos of Broad Street. There are a few typical Philly coffee shop touches—jazz over the speakers and day–old Dottie’s Donuts behind the counter—but the main thing that catches your eye when you walk in are the wall–to–ceiling movie posters. I spot the posters for some of my favorites, like Casablanca and Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as plenty that I don’t recognize. According to owner Dan Creskoff, that is very much intentional.
“It’s a look I always liked, the sort of...subway, plastered with posters look,” he says. “I went through hundreds of titles, and tried to pick posters that were mostly different than the normal American release."Many are foreign language films from different countries or are just different, odd images that you don’t normally see on movie posters. "And then a couple iconic ones, that you just have to have,” he adds with a smile.
The philosophy on CineMug’s decor extends to its in–house movie selection. The shop also has a collection of rental movies in the back, with a selection geared towards “art films, cult movies, and foreign films.” They hold screenings in the store every so often, showing films with a similar bent as their library, as the art–house–feel is what Creskoff is an avowed fan of. If you’re not into that, though, fear not. CineMug is no hub of elitism—it’s all about creating a comfortable space to celebrate cinema.
The idea to open CineMug was born when the rental store Creskoff was working at shut its doors. “One thing I noticed is a lot of people would come, and hang out and talk to us for, you know, half an hour, an hour,” he said, and cited a desire to keep those kinds of conversations going as the catalyst for opening CineMug. He had no experience working in food before, but coffee and conversation seemed like an good combination.
It’s late when I visit, though, and the chatter has died down. The seating area is small, and except for the eclectic mix of tunes playing, the store is surprisingly quiet for a coffee shop in the city. The few patrons sip their drinks and type away at laptops or read, with the view from their seats looking out onto the neighborhood—which is an important part of Cinemug’s story.
Creskoff tells me that he grew up outside of Philadelphia, and “fell in love with the city” while he was a student studying film at Temple. When he decided to open CineMug, staying in Philly was never in question—the only thing to figure out was where in the city it would be. He looked all over, but when it eventually came down to Fishtown or South Philly, he had to pick the latter thanks to the explosion of arts and culture in the the neighborhood in recent years.
And what about the film community? I ask him if it exists in Philadelphia, and he says yes. “But one thing that I think is a little sad is that it’s very splintered. It does feel like a lot of people don’t know each other, and it does feel like there’s a lot of things going on, but not a cohesive scene. I try to be helpful, and connect people,” he says. From keeping movie–themed magazines on CineMug’s bookshelf, to exhibiting Twin Peaks inspired art on the walls, I can see the evidence of that all around.
As we’re wrapping up, he asks me why I came out to write about CineMug. “I always think, West Philly...it’s so far, it’s across a river, people aren’t going to come.” I reassure him that it was worth the trip out—and it very much is.