Iconic Places: Manayunk Wall

Perhaps no climb in the U.S. has as much history as the Manayunk Wall in Northwest Philadelphia

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Where: Manayunk, Northwest Philadelphia
Length: 0.5 miles
Average gradient: 8.2 percent
Maximum gradient: 17 percent
Elevation gain: 226 feet

Since 1985, the Manayunk Wall featured prominently in what was most recently known as the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship. Previously the race took the names of the title sponsors, which were a series of banks, including CoreStates, First Union, Wachovia, Commerce Bank, and, finally, TD Bank. Through 2005, the highest placed American finisher
in the race was named USPRO champion. Since 1994, the women’s Liberty Classic was run on the same course. In early 2013, citing rising city costs and loss of sponsors, longtime organizer Dave Chauner said there would be no Philly International that year. By February, the race was reborn as the Philly Cycling Classic, and its route, though shortened, would finish on the Manayunk Wall.

History: The Philly race is held in June, it’s usually hot, which, in Philly, almost always means unbearable humidity. In the beginning, it was just a bunch of guys smashing the Wall, with neighbors cheering them on. Then one year, out came the hoses and a tradition was born. A local named O’Brien had a house on the Wall, a road that hits 17 percent over its 800-meter ascent. As the story goes, during the early Manayunk races, he stood out front with a hose, cooling the riders off. It was known as O’Brien’s Watering Hole. While O’Brien sold the house in 2007, the tradition continues, albeit slightly modified. Now, a fine vapor greets the riders on the left side of the climb.

“[O’Brien] stood out there on a ladder and sprayed the racers down with a garden hose,” said Gary Brett, who bought the house with a friend. “Then, he morphed it into what we have here. And we just tweaked it a couple years back with the misters.”

Ride: The Wall begins at Main and Leverington Streets, proceeds on the well-worn cobblestone Cresson Street under the elevated railway, then back on to Leverington. Most of the Wall is part of Leverington Street, but it becomes Lyceum Avenue at Tower Street. The steepest section, a 17-percent grade, begins just after the slight left with Tower Street, and ends at the intersection with Fleming Street. Turning right from Lyceum Avenue onto Pechin Street, you begin “The Fall from the Wall.”

If you’re in need of wrenching after your ride up the Wall, take a trip to Bicycle Therapy, voted Philly’s best bike shop many times; shop owner Lee Rogers will happily share some of the best local rides.

Food: After a few trips up the wall — or better yet, a few laps of the full Philly course — you’ll be ready for a few favorites from the City of Brotherly Love. Look no further than the cheesesteak. Though the most famous shops serving up the chopped steak and cheese sandwich are across town in south Philadelphia’s Italian Market, Manayunk has its fair share of culinary delights. Likewise, with it’s strong Italian heritage, the city is known for water ice, or Italian ice.

If you’re looking for a stout cup of Joe before your ride, step into Elixir Coffee — a hipster, Macbook-only shop that serves up amazing coffee, both the brewed and espresso varieties. If you want something a bit more unique, ask for a pour-over.

If you need something a bit stronger, you’re in luck. Philly is home to Monk’s Tavern, one of the most famous pubs in America. Monk’s has a beer list that weighs more than your bike, featuring tap beers and bottles from around the globe, including many specialty beers from Belgium that you’ve likely never heard of. Bartenders are walking beer encyclopedias and will steer you in the right direction. Should the post-ride hunger pangs hit you, try the mussels and frites; they are among the best we’ve ever had.

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