Baltimore Sun

Milling around in a mill town

The Manayunk Towpath is part of the 22-mile Philadelphia-Valley Forge Bikeway. Bikes can be rented in the town.
It's only minutes from anywhere you might want to go in Philadelphia, but Manayunk, Pa., couldn't be any further from a modern metropolitan area.

Originally a 19th-century mill town, Manayunk has turned into a bustling residential and business community that has managed to retain its small-town America atmosphere even though it sits on the outskirts of America's first city.

In the town, where skinny rowhouses line narrow streets, real estate is going faster than developers can build.

Kay Smith, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corp., says every lot in town is being bought.

An influx of 20-somethings and college students has brought a youthful spirit to Manayunk's residential area. Smith says families have moved away from the Main Street thoroughfare and into the outskirts of Manayunk.

In a place where district borders are really defined by whoever you happen to be talking to, 5,000 households along the Schuylkill River make for a bustling retail district just a short walk from many area homes.

"The [Main] Street actually has two audiences: It has the young audience that is living here and the wider audience that comes for the range of stores," Smith said.

And shop they do.

Manayunk has about 70 boutiques and galleries. From funky fashions and handmade gifts to tattoos and antique-lamp restoration, Manayunk's Main Street shopping area has enough to keep anyone busy for an afternoon.

Independent shops make Manayunk quaint, but the town has not escaped national retailers. Pottery Barn, Nicole Miller and Banana Republic are here, but these shops don't detract from the small-business feel of Main Street.

The word Manayunk is a Lenape Indian term for "where we go to drink," and modern-day Manayunk is not without places to refresh after a long day in the city or shopping on Main Street.

The Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant has enough variety to suit any taste. The brewery offers indoor and outdoor dining, as well as deck and bar locations. Thursdays offer a "Stack the Deck" happy hour, and Sundays come with a brunch and live jazz from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. As if all this were not enough, this place has a sushi bar.

If you're trying to get away from city life but are not ready to venture to the mountains, take a stroll on the Manayunk Towpath. Part of the 22-mile Philadelphia-Valley Forge Bikeway, the towpath offers a reasonable jaunt along the Manayunk Canal and Schuylkill River for walkers, hikers and off-road cyclists. Away from shops and restaurants, the towpath offers visitors a look at the area's industrial history. Bicycles are available for rent from the Bike Line retailer on Main Street.

For a taste of contemporary art, visit ArtForms, a gallery that has called Manayunk home for 10 years. Stop in to view the monthly exhibits of local artists.

Whether it's a day trip from Baltimore or a quick stopover on your next trek to the City of Brotherly Love, Manayunk's charm and small-town appeal is worth a visit.

Where to eat

  • Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant (4120 Main St. 215-482-8220): This pub offers American regional cuisine at a mid-range fare.

  • The Bayou Bar and Grill (4245 Main St., 215-482-2560): A casual Cajun-style place with covered deck for outdoor dining.

  • Carmella's (1 Leverington Ave., 215-487-1400): Family-style Italian steakhouse.

  • Jake's Restaurant and Bar (4365 Main St., 215-483-0444): Upscale dining, new-age American cuisine. Average dinner entree runs $23 to $32

  • Manayunk Italian Ice (4162 Main St., 215-482-5600): Formerly Chole's Corner, this ice cream shop offers a cool treat on a hot day.

    Where to shop

  • Moon Over Manayunk (4327 Main St., 215-483-7255): Feminine gift shop that occasionally shows work of local artists.

  • Belle Maison (4340 Main St., 215-482-6222): European boutique sells furnishings and specializes in home textiles.

  • Mainly Shoes (4410 Main St., 215-483-8000): Shoes and accessories for men and women.

  • Gary P. Mann Design, Goldsmith and Gemologist (4349 Main St., 215-482-7051): Custom-designed jewelry in an elegant shop - from classic to contemporary jewelry designs.

    Things to do

  • Bike on the Manayunk Towpath. Bikes are available for rent from Bike Line of Manayunk (4159 Main St., 215-487-7433). Visitors can rent bikes for $8 an hour, $25 a day or $45 for the weekend.

  • ArtForms Gallery (106 Levering St., 215-483-3030): Contemporary work from local artists.

    Getting there

    From Baltimore, take Interstate 95 North. Follow signs for Philadelphia/Interstate 676 West. Follow I-676 West to Route 76 (Schuylkill Expressway) West (toward Valley Forge). Take Route 76 to Manayunk, Exit 338. Turn right, cross the Green Lane Bridge to the traffic light at Main Street and turn right. First available parking is on the right, just past the firehouse.

    More information

    Visit or call 215-482-9565.

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