Campus, Places, Reviews

Bursting the Penn Bubble

Studying on campus gets tiring - if you're looking for a change in scenery, try these new study spots!

Article by Mer Fagliano

Feature Photo by Justine de Jesus


Having been through some midterm and finals seasons at Penn, I have realized that I always have this need to study in a place different from my residence. Four semesters in and I am completely, truly, 100% tired of studying in my room. How can I concentrate when my bed is two steps away. Lounges and study rooms don’t do the trick either; they are too close to my room. The library is nice but, similar to studying in my room, I grew tired of it soon. In the effort of looking for more places to study, some of us have found the bliss of studying in coffee shops and tea rooms. Coffee shops make studying enjoyable. Between the coffee, the food, the free wifi, the silent atmosphere and the working environment that characterizes our campus, it is easy to focus.

Despite fulfilling all these requirements, coffee shops at campus have become so crowded with familiar faces that it is hard to focus there. Whether you go to Saxbys, Starbucks #1, Starbucks #2 or Starbucks #3, you are bound to meet someone you know. If you are anything like me, you say hi, you talk and you seat together. This is the perfect formula for avoiding work. Besides, during midterms or finals, get full really fast. I have lost count of the amount of times that I went to Saxbys, in the morning, and could not found a seat. Therefore, I took the matter into my own hands and went around Philly to find good study spots. One of my conditions, however, was that the place had to be easily reached with public transport. I was not about to waste money on an Uber or Lyft to find a place to study. Wherever I went needed to be Septable.

Each study spot has its own thing. Some places are prepared to have people working with their laptops. Others, prefer the reading and writing crowds. In my search, I found different types of places that I have catalogued for different forms of studying. So, it doesn’t matter how you want to study, I promise you can go to any of the following.

Elixr Coffee Roasters (207 S Sydenham)

It was around 9 am when I arrived at Elixr. The first thing that I noticed was how energetic, funny and nice the staff is. With a smile and a “Good Morning”, they give you the good vibes to start a productive day. The place is not huge but it has enough tables and outlets to support several people working. Between that and the chill, relaxing, music, the mood is set for you to write that essay for your class, read that book for the other, and practice your math for another. Elixr is ready with free wifi and nearby outlets for you to be there all day in your computer if you need to. Of course, you don’t want to be the only one working while everyone else is chattering with their friends. Which is why Elixr was great. I was there a total of 3 hours and there were always more people working than socializing. To complement that, the place is not loud, so for those of us who prefer (need) peace to concentrate, the atmosphere is perfect.

From what I could gather, the food and drinks are pretty good too. At that time in the morning, my body needs coffee and food to be able to function. I decided to be simple and ordered a small coffee (no cream, no milk, no sugar; pure coffee) and a bagel. Although the coffee was not amazing, it was good enough for the price I paid. The bagel, on the other side, was great with the honey cream cheese spread I paired it with. My breakfast was good and set.

After two hours of studying, I decided that I need to order another drink. Because I had already tried the coffee, and because I noticed several people around me having it, I ordered some tea. Before describing the tea, let me tell you something about myself. One of my biggest pet peeves is to pay, at a cafe, for people to put a tea bag in hot water. There is something about paying for tea-bag tea that I hate. The flavor might be similar but the experience is entirely different. In my head, if I am going to pay for the product, taxes and tip, I expect loose-leaf tea. Luckily for me, the Happiness Tea at Elixr fulfilled my expectations. This loose-leaf, green tea, proof to be relaxing and appropriate for a nice reading time. The taste was simple. The herbs did not overpower each other. Overall, it was some really good tea, served nicely with the pot and small cup.

Parliament Coffee (30 S 15th Street)

Compared to Elixr, Parliament had a more professional vibe. While the former cared about presenting a relaxing atmosphere, the latter had a more active environment where, apparently, many people like to work at. With open space and big windows looking at the street, this coffee shop is very well lit and has that positive sensation that we all need when doing our work. What I liked the most about the shop was that nearly every table had available outlets. I sat at the communal table where many people, who do not need a whole table for themselves, prefer to work. Despite being in the center of the room, I had outlets at the table to plug my computer and work as long as I wanted. Other tables against the wall, or couches in front of the window, also have their outlets nearby. It seems that regardless of whether you sit, Parliament is not going to let you use lack of battery as an excuse to avoid your work. Similarly to Elixr, there were several people working while having their daily cup of coffee. However, this place, seemed to be louder. On the bright side, the noise was not so loud that it was impossible to do my work. But it was loud enough that I, sometimes, had to put on some music to cover it. Otherwise, Parliament has a nice working environment.

Parliament’s specialty is, clearly, coffee. Aside from offering the typical options of latte, cappuccino and americano, this coffee shop adds the option of ordering light or dark variations of coffee. True to my caffeine-addicted self, I ordered a dark coffee (again, pure coffee, without sugar, milk or cream). To be honest, I do not think I have ever had such a tasteful coffee for so little money. For the inexpensive price of $2,50, I had a coffee that, compared to cheaper options from around campus, did not taste like they had burned the grain or watered down the infusion. The flavor was there 100%. In terms of food, the shop is prepared with sandwiches and salads for you to eat while working. Therefore, if you plan to stay a full day at Parliament studying, you are at the right place.

Joe Coffee (1845 Walnut)

For me, Joe combined the best things about Elixr and Parliament in one place. Placed in front of Rittenhouse Square, Joe Coffee had the perfect environment for me to fully enjoy a whole day of working. Between the natural light coming from the windows and the clear furniture, the place has the vibrant and positive environment that I love. The staff are extremely nice and welcoming, greeting everyone with a smile. At the same time, the place had several people working too. Although there were not many outlets, that I could see, the ones there were always available and at accessible places so that you do not need an extremely long charger to work. Combining this with a silent enough environment, Joe was good at preserving a study spot for me to peacefully read.

At Joe, because I noted the amount of people having tea, I decided to order some of their tea variations. Throughout the whole day, I had a total of three tea flavors: emerald spring, king crimson, and chamomile. Although not all of these passed my loose-leaf-tea-policy, all of them were incredibly tasty. The emerald spring offered the relaxing experience that any green tea should. Given to you with the pot and strainer, this tea offered a pretty good combination of flavors for you to enjoy. King crimson was a whole different experience. Because of its fruit base, this tea was really sweet. Despite not loving sweet teas, I must admit that this one was very nice. If what you want is to get some energizing tea, this one might work. Or, at least, it worked for me. Besides, if you are a fan of instagramable food, the vibrant pinkish, purplish color of this tea is perfect. Finally, the chamomile tea, was another dive into relaxation drive. Also served as loose-leaf tea, this infusion was what I needed to conclude a long day of studying.