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On the list of Philadelphia’s quirkily named geographic landmarks, Manayunk is right up there. This Native American word, meaning “where we to go drink,” references the neighborhood’s location next to the Schuylkill River. While the river helped shape Manayunk’s identity, so do the hills (more on those to come). Yet despite its famous inclines, or maybe because of them, what was once one of the city’s hottest industrial centers is now one of its hottest neighborhoods, with plenty of places where people can go to drink.
The combo of singles, young families and life-long residents whose families have lived here for generations infuses Manayunk’s blue-collar origins with a modern edge. Row homes that once housed millworkers during the community’s late 19th- and early 20th-century industrial boom are now a hot commodity and as in demand as the trendy loft apartments and stately Victorian houses that dot the community. And although its original outreach to the world was manufacturing, today it is a bike race (the Philly Cycling Classic) that has made it an international destination. Ever since 1985 when Philadelphia hosted its first international biking race, cyclists have frequented the area to take on the “Manayunk Wall,” a section of Levering Street that has defeated some of the world’s best cyclists with its 17% incline.
Manayunk’s past and present is tied to the riverfront and the Manayunk Canal, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can stroll the Main Street Historic District, or take a walking tour of the Manayunk Canal where remnants of manufacturing recall the neighborhood’s starring role in the Industrial Revolution.
The heart and soul of the community is Main Street, a mercifully level thoroughfare bustling with dozens of restaurants, owner-operated boutiques, bars and galleries. Daytime activities give way to nighttime action as foodies and revelers hit the streets, scoping out new menu additions at restaurants, jockeying for views at the riverside clubs, catching up-and-coming local musicians or dancing to a DJ.
Manayunk’s art scene is alive and hopping, and its galleries are proof. Orbit Gallery specializes in contemporary crafts and fine art with a focus on local artists, while Soft Illusions Fine Art Gallery focuses on contemporary abstract expressionism. Bazemore Gallery presents contemporary art by emerging and established artists.
Bikers and walkers like the challenge of Manayunk’s hills, particularly the “Manayunk Wall” at Levering Street. Outdoorsy types can hike or bike the Canal Towpath. Local cycling shops also organize rides that challenge various skill levels. Not content to just look at the water? Hidden River Outfitters guides kayakers on Schuylkill River tours. And Venice Island Performing Arts Center and Recreation Park, scheduled to open in fall 2014, will feature a basketball court, a “sprayground” for kids and a 250-seat theater.
As a popular spot for chefs to spread their culinary wings and with at least 50 dining spots, almost every craving can be satisfied. Sushi? There’s Yanako or long-time favorite Hikaru. Mexican? Try Taqueria Feliz or Cactus Cantina. Indian, Thai, New Orleans or a big juicy burger? They’re all here. Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar turns out high-quality fare that has kept folks coming back for more than 25 years. Can’t decide? Chew Philly Food Tours leads hungry visitors on a tasting tour of six authentic mom-and-pop restaurants, ethnic eateries and local bakeries.
Any town worth its trendy reputation boasts great clubs, and Manayunk is no exception. At the Grape Room, the cool crowd gathers to hear hot local and traveling bands, open-mic jams and other live performances. Weekends at the Canal Lounge at Bourbon Blue feature DJs and live party bands.
Those in need of retail therapy can rejoice. Within a few blocks, a shopper can score a runway design at Nicole Miller and get gorgeous with imported high-end products from Beans Beauty. Shoppers can order furniture at Pompanoosuc Mills or, in a nod to Manayunk’s manufacturing past, make their own at Philadelphia Woodworks, a center where aspiring craftspeople and master woodworkers can take classes, use tools and equipment. And cyclists of all levels can find just the right equipment at Cadence Cycling and Human Zoom Bikes and Boards.
Manayunk’s event calendar is jam-packed, but there are a few biggies not to be missed. Cheering crowds pack the streets for the giant neighborhood party that accompanies the annual Philly Cycling Classic, the largest international sporting event in Philadelphia. Each June during the eagerly anticipated race, thousands of revelers root for some of the world’s best riders who take on the “Wall,” Manayunk’s topographic challenge. Art lovers circle their calendars for the Manayunk Arts Festival, which transforms Main Street into a giant outdoor art gallery. Juried works by more than 300 artisans from around the country, food, music and other entertainment add to the weekend festivities. The spring and fall StrEAT Food festivals lure foodies who nosh at food trucks. And during First Friday, galleries and shops stay open late and restaurants have special offers for the evening.
Take SEPTA bus routes 35 or 61 or the Manayunk/Norristown Regional Rail line to the Manayunk stop.
The two main driving routes are via route I-76 or Kelly Drive. Metered street parking is available, but it is tight. Many merchants validate parking at several private parking lots and valet parking is offered at several lots after 6:00 p.m. The Manayunk Development Corporation manages lots on Main Street at Lock, Levering and Cotton Streets and use the proceeds to support Manayunk events.
The Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West, located just up City Line Ave., is the best bet. If you do stay, make sure you save with the two-night Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, which includes FREE hotel parking.