It’s a Philly thing. Those four words are all around town these days. Printed on T-shirts, sweatshirts, flags and banners, the phrase coincides with the Eagles' run to Super Bowl LVII.
It’s a Philly thing. Those four words are all around town these days. Printed on T-shirts, sweatshirts, flags and banners, the phrase coincides with the Philadelphia Eagles and their improbable run to Super Bowl LVII, a path few predicted before the season began. But what exactly is a “Philly Thing?”
In an effort to get a more definitive take on this vague expression, the Local went to McMenamin’s Tavern, an Irish bar in Mt. Airy, to watch the Eagles play the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football Conference (NFC) championship game. As the No. 1 seed, they would play at their home venue Lincoln Financial Field. Tickets to the game sold out in minutes after going on sale.
Is it the neighborhoods?
Long viewed as an underdog town, Philadelphia is best understood as a city of neighborhoods. South Philly, Overbrook, Germantown, Chestnut Hill and dozens of others are unique in their own way. Shaped organically by ancestry, tradition and environment, their diversity is sometimes reflected in their taprooms. McMenamin’s is such a place.
“When my husband, PJ, took over,” said Shannon McMenamin, in between filling sandwich and hot wing orders, “It had been in the family for three generations.” The bar was founded by PJ’s grandfather Charles in 1936. His picture sits high up on a shelf under a tin ceiling amid a line of liquor bottles, keeping a watchful eye on the crowd below. McMenamin’s solid oak bar, round tables and chairs as well as 17 beers on tap make it conducive to rubbing elbows with your neighbor.
Is it the camaraderie?
An hour before the 3 p.m. kickoff, the tavern was standing room only. The back room’s tables for eating were full with people parked there for the game’s duration. Multiple televisions are mounted throughout the bar making the game watchable from lots of angles. Most patrons wore Eagles green – everything from Randall Cunningham throwbacks to current-day Jalen Hurts jerseys. The crowd was loud, buzzing and pumped. “I’ve worked here for 13 years,” said bartender Claire Bogart. “You won’t find a more diverse and sociable group of people.”
Could it be the people?
The place has characters as well as character. An older gentleman in a No. 66 Eagles jersey with the name ‘Psycho’ stitched on the back looks more grandfatherly than serial killer. Another man, when asked his opinion of the bar, responded in staccato-like outbursts – a wholly original way of saying “I’m not interested in being interviewed.” A woman named Antonieta laughed and said, “Where else do you see so many folks from different backgrounds all getting along. The atmosphere is great and I love it.”
A man named Charles (who later said his name was Rory) was in attendance with his girlfriend Kelsi. She hails from Oregon, has lived here for ten years and finds the area and the people in Mt. Airy just like home. She pointed to another bartender, Eric, who was bobbing and weaving through the crowd like Eagles running back Kenny Gainwell, delivering drinks to thirsty fans. “When I first got here guys like Eric helped me move in and get organized,” Kelsi said. She waved a hand around the bar. “These people helped me out and I love them for that.”
Maybe it’s the fandom
The game began with all eyes focused on the TV screens. When Eagles wide receiver Devonta Smith made a terrific one handed catch only yards from the 49ers goal line, the crowd erupted. Two plays later, after a Miles Sanders touchdown run, the cheers were even louder. Apparently tradition demands a hearty E-A-G-L-E-S chant followed by a fervent singing of the Eagles fight song. It was as if a whole section of fans from the Linc had been transported to Germantown Avenue.
And, it wasn’t a rowdy, intolerant crowd. Electricity was in the air but so was respect for others united for a common goal – a win and a trip to the Super Bowl. Although not everyone shared that wish, they weren’t harassed for West Coast loyalties. Mike, who hails from San Francisco, wore a black T-shirt with an SF logo emblazoned on the front. He was there with his wife, Evie, who wore an Eagles shirt. No one hassled him for his rooting interest and Evie apparently forgives his allegiance to his hometown.
Another gentleman named Paul has lived a few blocks away for 18 years. “When I first started coming here, I was just a Phillies fan,” he said. “But I like the atmosphere, friendly and open. I got interested in football and now I’m an Eagles fan.”
Philly’s just Philly
Throughout the afternoon, there were three more Philadelphia touchdowns and a field goal. After each score, an Eagles chant and singing of the fight song ensued. The rout was on. There was booing when appropriate and plenty to cheer about. The solidarity was tangible and on display in the way people made sure not to block the vision of others watching the game or the offer of a seat to an elderly fan. McMenamin’s embraces that goodwill.
With all the divisions and partisan politics out there in the heartland, not enough people can envision the type of fellowship on display here. A good bar can offer a possibility of what can be. When we remarked on the camaraderie to one patron, Tom, he raised a fresh glass of Guinness and said, “It’s a Philly thing.”