East Falls cafe blends art with coffee and community

Imagine getting inked up while ordering your favorite cup of joe, all in one place.

‘Why,’ you ask? Well, an East Falls coffeeshop owner says ‘why not?’

Java Ink, located on Midvale Ave., opened its doors in East Falls in July of 2010. After accidentally being shown the property, owner Sean Murray was inspired by the space and had a unique vision: a cafe that dually functions as a tattoo parlor.

“I wanted to interconnect a comfortable, cafe atmosphere with the artistic environment of a tattoo shop,” said Murray. “When I frequented cafes, my life became richer – you can acquire a little bit of solitude, and inform yourself about your community – about a missing pet or a yard sale.”

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Murray is originally from Long Beach, NY and started his career in graphic design and tattooing. He decided to open a business in Philly after coming here for a tattoo convention and seeing the mural art around the city. Murray envisions the cafe as a place for people to interact and learn about the East Falls community.

“I see connections made at the front counter,” said Murray. “We’re here to give people a chance to get involved with their neighbors.”

The tattoo parlor is expected to be built this spring, and Murray plans to invite guest artists from all over the country once he is able to get the business off the ground. Until then, he is working on improvements to the building and designing the space.

Java Ink is chock-full of antique furniture, mostly of the 1960s era, which Murray picked up at antique shops around the Philadelphia area. One couch set is from what Murray calls an untouchable Italian living room (which no longer dons the plastic cover) and there is a distinctive glass chess board by the storefront windows.

If the retro furniture inside of Java Ink isn’t enough to captivate passersby, then the local artwork might. Jewelry artisan Michelle Greenlee has a display at the front of the store featuring an array of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. The jewelry, called Roxy Beads, is entirely hand-crafted and designed by Greenlee. The store is brimming with work from local artists. Murray’s policy is that all art profits go directly back to the artist.

“I’m here to give an outlet for local artists,” said Murray, “that’s what this venue is here for – the people.”

Murray says using the space as an opportunity for people to see local art is essential to his mission. Each month, Java Ink highlights an artist and hosts an opening night for their work.

Sunday at Java Ink is a night for musicians, called Java Jam, which features an eclectic group of acoustic singers and songwriters. The event is completely free and open to the public.

Java Ink chef Mitchell Karp is a Brooklyn, NY native who says he is bringing a touch of Brooklyn to Philly. A community favorite on the menu is salmon croquets, which consists of salmon, scallions, eggs and bread crumbs all baked together and served with rice and vegetables.

The house drink specialty is the “Tattooed Latte,” which catches the eye with a bold arrangement of cream and spices.

“The idea of this place can be difficult to understand,” said Murray, “people will ask me if it’s safe to have a tattoo shop and a cafe in the same building, and I can’t help but say, well, we don’t typically make blood pudding.”

His sense of humor helps to set the space apart from other businesses in the area but, he says, the difference between his business and other shops is that Java Ink isn’t part of the corporate coffee machine.

“This is not a corporate cafe,” said Murray, “this is a personal care business, there’s real passion here; we sell more than coffee.” 

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