For those of us who have dabbled in Philadelphia’s vast landscape of hipster coffee shops, the scene inside Baltimore Avenue’s newly opened Milkcrate Cafe on a sunny autumn morning wouldn’t appear at all surprising.
On its first open Sunday, the convivial Fishtown–based java bar’s new University City location is filled with tattooed singles toting laptops and thermoses, flannel–clad couples chatting over cappuccinos, and young parents doling out bagels to excited toddlers. Sunlight streams in through large windows, bouncing off of wooden high–tops and illuminating an open coffee bar, behind which black–clad baristas pull espresso shots and froth oat milk. In many ways, Milkcrate shares all of the hallmarks of curated hipsterdom found in Philadelphia’s favorite neighborhood cafes—Rival Bros. in Graduate Hospital, Shot Tower Coffee in Queen Village, Menagerie Coffee in Old City, and University City’s own Green Line Cafe.
In many ways, that is, except for one—“cafe” is only half of Milkcrate’s job description. As its website boasts, Milkcrate is both a coffee shop and a “vinyl record boutique.” While tables, chairs, and espresso machines fill its airy interior, the space also houses a collection of vintage records, decor, and musical paraphernalia, much of which is for sale. Alongside their chai lattes, customers can purchase authentic hip–hop, rock, and jazz vinyls; toasted everything bagels can be enjoyed underneath 1980s concert posters, below album–cover displays, and next to bins of records.
Milkcrate advertises a unique customer experience—the combination of delicious cafe fare, neighborhood people–watching and relaxation, and musical exploration for vintage heads of all stripes. Its menu already highlights an emphasis on locally made ingredients and offerings. We enjoy toasted bagels slathered with flavored cream cheese (vegan “tofutti” is an option, of course) from South Street’s family–owned Philly Bagels; also available are exotic herbal tea blends from Mt. Airy’s Craft Teas, and a small collection of cookies and pastries house–baked at Milkcrate’s own Fishtown location.
Milkcrate’s coffee menu is a veritable greatest–hits list of craft cafe classics. Typical espresso drinks are advertised alongside hot teas and chai lattes, and a comprehensive spectrum of available flavor shots includes coconut, mint, and lavender alongside the usual vanilla and caramel. Like many of Philadelphia’s favorite coffee spots, Milkcrate brews with La Colombe coffee beans, affording their drinks a familiar, dependable degree of quality. My cold brew is a perfectly respectable iteration of the form—smooth and flavorful, strong but not too bitter, elevated by a (free!) splash of oat milk.
But the perfectly satisfying, relatively predictable food and drink is by no means the standout aspect of my visit to Milkcrate. Rather, the cafe’s musical spin is what sets it apart, turning an otherwise typical coffee stop into an inviting weekend haven. Milkcrate’s decor is a beautiful, whimsical representation of hipster eclecticism—vintage Victorian lampshades dot the walls, cream–colored crown molding covers the ceiling, and scarlet leather mid–century couches fill the back. Large windows and warm lighting create a bright, cozy atmosphere, emphasizing the shop’s homey, vintage aesthetic.
Of course, the most striking aspect of the decor is its musical theme. Milkcrate’s walls are lined with a patchwork print of vintage concert posters, music magazine covers, and newspaper clippings citing Jethro Tull and The Who; wooden shelves display colorful rows of vintage record sleeves. One lineup features albums by R.E.M., the Dead Kennedys, and Jurassic 5; the shelf below displays an entire row of vintage Booker T. And The M.G.’s vinyls. Elsewhere on the wall are Bob Dylan, De La Soul, Etta James, Willie Nelson, the Ramones, and the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. The collection is far–reaching and filled with cult classics—exactly what one would hope for from a vinyl–themed cafe in the heart of University City.
Overall, while its meticulous vintage decor and artfully displayed vintage records could potentially border on hipster overload, Milkcrate Cafe feels cozy, accessible, and authentic. Its corner of 45th and Baltimore streets has been a volatile location for neighborhood cafes since the downfall of long–time hotspot Milk and Honey in 2020 and Vagrant Coffee’s short–lived stint in its wake. And in a neighborhood jam packed with beloved, unique spots for cafe fare, from funky vegan joint Grindcore West to the delicious Ethiopian coffeehouse Alif Brew just across the street, it’s easy to question whether another oat–milk–toting haunt represents an in–demand addition or a salient business venture.
If any new cafe can find success in University City, I believe it could and would be this one. With its clever marriage of vinyl, coffee, retail, and relaxation, Milkcrate fills in West Philadelphia's dining and leisure scene with whimsy and musical fun and appeals to the interests of its young, diverse neighborhood clientele. For Penn students, Milkcrate is an equally great option for a playlist–powered afternoon study session or a festive weekend brunch after hitting the Clark Park Farmers' Market. And for those interested in music, vinyl, and vintage culture, Milkcrate offers an experience unique among Philadelphia’s many cafes—the chance to sip, eat, chat, and work surrounded by musical greats, against a gentle soundtrack of handpicked classics.
TL;DR: New location of Fishtown cafe combines eclectic styling, creative local fare, and a passion for vintage vinyl in the heart of University City.
Location: 4435 Baltimore Ave.
Hours: 9 a.m.—1 p.m. every day