How to make the most of your weekends in Manayunk this summer.
By Noel V. Bartocci
Photos by Alexa Nahas Photography (alexanahas.com),
JPG Photo & Video (jpgphotography.com)
Manayunk has always straddled the fence of what kind of neighborhood it is— is it a neighborhood of indulgence: delicious food, craft cocktails, tempting sweets, happy hour specials, and top-notch boutique shops? Or is it a neighborhood of art, adventure, activity, and culture? Over the course of two Saturdays, I ventured to prove it can be both.
THE FIRST SATURDAY: TAKE IT ALL IN.
I often find it difficult to get out of bed on Saturday mornings, but on this particular day, I had no issue. I knew the night before that there were a handful of things I wanted to accomplish and needed an early start. So, my wife, Sam, and I are out the door by 10 a.m. and ready to tackle the town.
PARKING – I’ve heard the complaints about parking in town, even contributing to the chorus from time to time. I’ve evolved on that stance over the years, especially with the growing number of lots we have along Main Street – tucked under the Manayunk Bridge, on 4400 Main, next to Valerio Coffee Roasters on Levering Street, and on Venice Island with entry points at both Cotton and Lock Streets, which is where I’m parking for this trip.
Any adventure I have usually begins with some caffeine. Call it a crutch, but there’s never a lack of quality coffee on Main Street.
PILGRIM ROASTERS – Located auspiciously close to the Towpath Trail entrance, this cafe has some of the finest coffee and tea options this side of Center City. The pastries aren’t too shabby either. My wife and I started our morning with something fancy (I went with the Maple Cinnamon Latte and she had a Mixtape green tea) and something sweet to share — a blueberry lemon muffin. I may or may not have ate more than my fair share of the muffin. It’s her word against mine.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we made our way to the…
PRETZEL PARK FARMERS MARKET – This neighborhood perk has become a favorite Saturday destination. Philadelphia-area vendors set up along the pathway in the center of Pretzel Park to sell their wares and socialize with the community. Featured products range from fresh produce, roasted coffee, and homemade spreads to local art, pastries, crafts, and spirits, all found between the playground and dog park right above Main Street. We walked away with a restock of Fifth of a Farm Creations’ apple butter (and a new jam for good measure), as well as a new mask from The Fussy Cutting Quilt Shop, some sweets from Kou Klet Brazilian Bakery, and produce from Walnut Run Farm. I almost grabbed some beverages from Deer Creek Malthouse but decided on next time. I’m not even a fan of IPAs, but their PA Pride Hazy is fantastic.
With our shopping complete, we headed back to the car to unload the goods, but not to end our day. A quick change into the right footwear (courtesy of sizing at Philadelphia Runner) and we take to the trail for a light run/hike.
MANAYUNK TOWPATH – The Towpath has always been my go-to spot for pick up runs, random bike excursions, and light exploration hikes. As far as runs go, the terrain is level and ranges from paved to packed dirt, making it relatively safe regardless of weather conditions. On this Saturday, we’re feeling adventurous and take the trail about two miles out from the start at Lock Street. Canopied under growing foliage, the further out on the trail you go, the closer it moves towards the Schuylkill River. Right about when you come up to the old canal sluice house, you can hear the roaring of the water just in the distance. It’s amazing just how close the center of town is to the sights and sounds of nature. If biking is your thing, Trek or Cadence can hook you up with the right model, and you can take this fantastic trail all the way to Conshohocken and beyond. Not today, though, there are other things on the to-do list.
On our way back, the hankering for a sweet treat sets in. It stands to reason that we’ve earned it.
CRUST VEGAN BAKERY – Appearing on Main Street in the summer of 2020, Crust Vegan Bakery very quickly became a prime spot for sweets in Manayunk (and in our home). Offering a rotating menu of delicious treats, Crust never ceases to amaze with their creativity. Personal favorites include whatever homemade pop tart flavor available (lemon lavender is clutch) and the compost cookie. Nothing takes the sting out of indulging in pastries like knowing you’re supporting an amazing staff and a responsible, forward-thinking business.
Despite walking back towards the car with a cookie, I wasn’t quite done with Manayunk — or imbibing for the day. Since the weather was beautiful, we decided to grab a drink outdoors.
PHS POP UP GARDEN – Located on Jamestown Avenue, Manayunk’s PHS (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) Pop Up Garden opened late last summer, when we were all in desperate need for a safe outdoor space to see different faces. Since then, it has become a warm and welcome addition to Main Street’s more popular hangs. PHS is committed to using “horticulture to advance the health and well-being of the Greater Philadelphia region,” partly with their various beer gardens across the city. As we safely sip our beverages, surrounded by scenic plants, flowers, and art, I have to say— mission accomplished, PHS.
While soaking up the last of the sun, the hankering for dinner creeps in, but we have to get home sooner rather than later to feed the cat. We whip out our phones to scroll through the to-go options and very quickly decide on Chabaa Thai Bistro.
CHABAA THAI BISTRO – Chabaa is that rare restaurant that facilitates any need— be it a beautiful date night or a comfort-fueled to-go, their menu checks every box. We put in an order for Tom Kha soup with chicken, fresh spring rolls, and spicy basil fried rice. The intention is to split it all, but I have a feeling that I might not get much of the soup (it’s a household favorite). Serves me right for hoarding the muffin earlier in the day.
It’s not long before our food is ready and it’s time to head home. Take out bag in hand, we set out to the car and make mental note of all the things we weren’t able to hit until next time.
THE SECOND SATURDAY: TREAT YOURSELF
Having spent the previous weekend seeing great faces and having a little adventure (with bites in between), I thought it best to spend this Saturday filling in what we missed – the top tier indulgences, for my stomach as well as my home. I’m talking food and shopping. Today, we treat ourselves! However, in order to reconcile the oncoming onslaught of beverages and meals, I decide to start the day off as right as possible…
THE WALL CYCLING STUDIO – Taking its name from the eponymous Manayunk Wall, this cycling and fitness studio has become a second home for me. During the less than reliable reality of 2020, they kept their doors open, so to speak, by adding streaming options and outdoor classes when restrictions allowed. They kept their customers engaged all the way through, ingratiating me to their offerings even more than before. This morning, I am attempting to pre-earn the brunch I plan on having in just a few short hours.
Five hundred calories less and a shower later, my wife and I put our names in at Winnie’s for brunch. We’re sure to get there at the start of brunch service in order to avoid a wait — especially since outdoor seating is at a premium on days like this.
WINNIE’S MANAYUNK – Winnie’s is a foundational restaurant that some consider the standard bearer for friendly drinks and dining offerings in Manayunk. It’s a welcoming spot no matter what kind of experience you’re craving. We’ve had family meals here as well as just sitting at the bar for a few drinks and an app. The atmospheric versatility would be attractive enough, but they had to go make the food fantastic, to boot. Today, it’s their homemade Bloody Mary and Mimosa concoctions that I couldn’t wait to sample. The Chicken & Waffle Bennie didn’t hurt either. Cycling class in the a.m. or not, I refused to feel bad about this delicious spread.
One of our favorite things to do after a meal like that is simply to walk it off a little. This neighborhood is so friendly to foot traffic, that it seems like a no-brainer to peruse the shops and storefronts on such a nice day.
As new homeowners, we’re still figuring out what our interior aesthetic will be, but absolutely want the neighborhood’s history to be incorporated. So, we hit up a few spots that sell Philadelphia and Manayunk items.
THE LITTLE APPLE – So many of my searches for presents have happened within the four walls of this boutique. Specializing in everything from the irreverent to the exclusive, it’s very easy to walk into The Little Apple to simply browse, but walk out with a full gift bag of necessities. Staying on the new home front, I found myself eyeing some fantastic candles and kitchen accessories, but opted to pace myself and only get the birthday card and gift for my brother-in-law that we needed. Some fantastic socks, novelty gummies, and a pencil set.
JOHNNY DESTRUCTO’S HERO COMPLEX – A favorite spot on Main Street is this community-oriented comic book and hobby shop. What was intended as a quick visit to pick up the previous week’s books became extended as we started chatting with the owner, JD. Fun fact: The shop happily pre-orders and sets aside books I let them know I want to read, which is a service that many hobby shops provide, and not enough casual readers know about. In my mind, you’re never allowed to be upset about missing out on something when you can have it (and good conversations) waiting for you instead.
MAIN STREET MUSIC – A trip to Main Street isn’t complete without popping into my favorite record shop. In a year that we’ve been unable to experience live music, my wife and I have refocused that energy into supporting local and seeking new, different artists. The staff at Main Street Music are always down to dive into recommendations with you. So, go and discover something new. That way, you’ll be ready when those bands get back on tour later this year.
Having spent the entire afternoon dipping in and out of stores along Main Street, the dinnertime hour is rapidly approaching. It’s a leftover night, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to class up the meal with a nice bottle.
JAKE’S & COOPER’S WINE BAR & WINE SHOP – I’ve spent many evenings enjoying drinks and delicious food at the bar of Jake’s, but during the majority of last year, that kind of patronage was impossible. Luckily, they updated their offerings to include a wine shop, allowing us to continue supporting local restaurants and having access to a fantastic wine selection. We normally take part in a dry white but tonight we grabbed a red to pair with the homemade Italian waiting at home.
The day is winding down and we’ve covered quite a bit of ground, but a playful day of indulgence couldn’t end quite yet. That’s right — today, we eat dessert first!
TUBBY ROBOT ICE CREAM FACTORY – Look, there was no way we weren’t having an indulgent day without some homemade ice cream. Tubby is a premier ice cream spot, boasting a menu of staples as well as a rotatation of seasonal flavors. We walked in with nothing but hopes and stepped out with two scoops of dreams, Chocolate Coconut (dairy free) and Cinnamon Boast Bunch. Needless to say, the ice cream is basically gone by the time we make it back to the car.
As another wonderful day in Manayunk comes to a close, all I can think about, again, are the things we didn’t get to do, like furniture shopping at UrbanBurb Furniture, happy hour at Manayunk Brewing Company, a slice in the outdoor patio at Pizzeria L’Angolo, a growler to-go at Bald Birds Brewing Company, checking out the sunset atop the Manayunk Bridge, and even a visit to Clairvoyant Monica. The possibilities seem endless… we’re just going to have to just keep our Saturdays open for the foreseeable future.