The Advocate’s Guide to the Valley

Hey-hey, new and returning students! Welcome to Western Mass.

   This area, the Pioneer Valley, is a unique space for free spirits and old salts. We’re in the middle of nowhere (we just have to accept this, my Western Mass chums), surrounded by nature’s charms and small farms, yet we still have a strong culture scene. What do you want? Live music, a bevy of theater, art house movies, dancing, museums, galleries, artist spaces, and lectures galore by top thinkers drawn to the area by the Five Colleges? Because we have all that here.     In fact, we have so much, it can be difficult to figure out which of our 20-plus Chinese restaurants is the best; or who’s got the best dancing; and where to buy beer.     Let the Advocate show you around and give you the lowdown on what to do, where to go, and how sweet life can be in the 413.     The following suggestions come from the Advocate’s Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll 2017 — an annual ranking of the area’s top three businesses in 150-plus categories as voted on by thousands of readers — and the wonderfully funky minds of Advocate staffers.  

FIRST UP: THE ABSOLUTE BEST PLACES TO PUT FOOD IN YOUR FACE

Whatever you’re in the mood to eat, the Valley probably has it. We’ve got a diverse restaurant scene.

Some of the best restaurants in the area for creative American food are Coco & the Cellar Bar in Easthampton (a place with an adventurous menu anchored by the best damn fried chicken you’ve ever tasted), and the classic local favorites Eastside Grill and Paul and Elizabeth’s, both of Northampton.

If you’re in the mood for food like mama used to make, hit up Penny’s Soul Food in Springfield (it’s a little shop with mismatched furniture and torn tablecloths, but it only adds to the place’s homestyle vibe with a mac ‘n cheese that won’t quit), Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland, Wildwood in Hadley, or Theodore’s, and Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou, both of Springfield.

And now for something completely different: Ginger Garden in Amherst has the best Chinese. India House and Bombay Royale, both of Northampton; and Pintu’s of West Springfield make Indian food you’ll want to eat until you burst. For sushi Moshi Moshi (ask for the Sam I Am roll and the chef will come up with something unique just for you), and Osaka of Northampton are excellent, as is Goten of Japan in Sunderland. For a hidden gem, check out Sultan Family Restaurant in Agawam; the Eastern European eatery will open your palate to a new world of delicious possibilities. Also, we’d be doing you a disservice if we didn’t mention Amanouz Cafe (come for the falafel, stay for the dolmas), Filos Greek Taverna, and Pita Pockets (all of Northampton, PP also has an Amherst location) as great places to get Mediterranean food.

OR MAYBE YOU JUST WANT A SANDWICH. THAT’S COOL.

For fast food on the go you’ll want to grab a banh mi from, where else, The Banh Mi Spot in Northampton. The Vietnamese sandwich features pickled vegetables over spicy meat, fresh herbs, and cool mayo. For burgers go to Local — they’re open late and serve nothing but grass-fed beef. There’s also the Bluebonnet Diner and Miss Florence, both of Northampton. If you want a good breakfast hit Sylvester’s or Jake’s in Northampton; the Black Sheep, or the Lone Wolf, both of Amherst; Rick’s or Pancake Sundaes in Westfield (make sure you have time to spare for a trip to PS, the food is out of this world and it takes time to prepare); or Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen in West Springfield. In addition to being a tasty breakfast and lunch place, Auntie Cathie’s has an all-gluten-free menu. If you’re going to Cathie’s, go early. There is always a line on the weekends for breakfast. Do we need to tell you Antonio’s has the best pizza around? We figure their reputation will precede this article.

 HOW ABOUT A DRINK, THEN?

The 413 is home to more craft brewers than we can count. New ones are constantly being added. We also have several wineries and plenty of stores with great booze selection.

The mecca for booze buying, though, has to be Table & Vine in West Springfield. On Saturdays the normally well-stocked purveyor of aisles of craft and imported beers, wines, liquors, cheeses, and cured meats goes even further by hosting extensive tastings. A Saturday at Table & Vine is an experience. But if you don’t want to make the trip to West Side, there are wonderful options closer to you: Liquor Store 44, Northampton and more; Ryan & Casey Liquors, Greenfield; and Provisions, Northampton. (Also, if you’re into places with cheesemongers, you must go to Provisions.) If you want to go straight to the source, the area’s top breweries include Lefty’s Brewing Company in Greenfield (it’s all good, but we’re particularly huge fans of the Graham Cracker Porter), Berkshire Brewing Company in South Deerfield (if you leave the Valley without drinking a BBC, did you even go to school here?), and the infamous Treehouse Brewing Company of Monson. You can’t get Treehouse suds anywhere, but the brewery. They’re open several days a week, there is a limit on how much beer you can buy, and if you don’t go early enough you’re SOL.

We’ve got good coffee: Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, of Hadley and more; and Esselon Cafe, of Hadley. And for a fine cup of tea, check out: Dobra Tea, Northampton, or Crepes Tea House, West Springfield.

OH THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

Do you like going outside? Then you’re going to love it here.

The Valley is home to hundreds of parks, ponds, lakes, hiking trails, mountains, ski resorts, rivers, and nature reserves. If you’re looking for a gorgeous place to chill outside, the Summit House at Skinner State Park in Hadley provides a panoramic view of the Valley from the Mount Holyoke Range. Cool parks include Look, Northampton; Mill 180, Easthampton; Stanley, Westfield; Energy Park, Greenfield; and Forest Park, Springfield. Hiking trails at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, Bare Mountain in Amherst, and Chesterfield Gorge are easy-going and gorgeous. People will tell you that Mt. Tom is a good hike, but it’s just okay — there’s a lot of development there now (and an abandoned ski resort, which, we’ll admit, is kind of neat).

WANT TO CATCH SOME MUSIC? We know you do, see a list of excellent music venues with free-to-cheap shows on PAGE 6.

If you’re looking to get away from the area for a bit, Brattleboro in southern Vermont is a funky paradise. A center for arts and entertainment, Brattleboro’s downtown bustles with life, thanks to growing crowds flocking to some of the town’s amazing venues and festivals, including the 1930s Art Deco Latchis Theatre, the Hooker-Dunham Theater, Brattleboro Music Center, the Vermont Jazz Center, and the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, plus monthly gallery art walks. If you like skiing, Mt. Snow in West Dover isn’t a far drive.

If you want to get your drink on and a 30-pack of whatever’s on sale isn’t going to cut it, you need to visit these bars with long rows of taps: The Dirty Truth in Northampton (order the french fries and you’re welcome); McLaddens, also of Northampton; The Hangar, in Amherst, Westfield, Springfield, and more; The Lighthouse Lounge, Ludlow; The Pizza Shoppe, East Longmeadow; Amy’s Place or the Brass Cat, both of Easthampton; the Moan and Dove in Amherst; and Packard’s of Northampton. If you’re more into wine head out to Black Birth Winery in Hatfield, or ConVino Wine Bar in Northampton.

Dating is also fun, so take your mate somewhere nice: Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland is the place for a romantic dinner, followed closely by Alina’s in Hadley, The Federal in Agawam (go on Thursday, they serve free gourmet apps in the bar), and the Alvah Stone in Montague (gorgeous view, great food). If you’re interested in dining outside, the Northampton Brewery has three decks on which to chill and sip.

LOOKING OUT FOR #1

Sometimes you need more than the best of what’s around — you need people with specific skills to help you make the most of your time here.

So, for getting around, if you want a car the best place to buy a new one is Steve Lewis Subaru in Hadley. If you’re in the market for a used car, see Nicky D’s in Easthampton, which has built a stellar reputation as a car dealer (no easy task); Pleasant Journey in Northampton; and Country Nissan of Hadley. And if you bust up your wheels, you can take your car to E.S.P. Auto in Easthampton, Pelham Auto in Belchertown, Full Tilt Auto Body in Easthampton, or Ernie’s Garage in Northampton for an honest fix. If motors aren’t your thing, Northampton Bicycle sells bikes of all kinds and repairs them, too. Other great cycle shops include Valley Ski & Bike Werks in Hadley, and Laughing Dog Bicycle in Amherst.

If you broke your computer, do not despair, take it to Yes Computers in Northampton, Green Earth Computers in Northampton, LeftClick in Amherst, or Reliable Computer Services in Holyoke for repair.

Taking care of yourself is really what life is all about. In the area these folks can help: Valley Hot Yoga and Yoga Sanctuary, both of Northampton; Nirvana Yoga in Sunderland; 50/50 Fitness/Nutrition in Hadley; Elements Hot Tub Spa in Amherst; East Heaven Hot Tubs in Northampton; Clinic Alternative Medicines, Northampton Integrative Medicine, both of Northampton; and Pioneer Valley Pain Relief Therapies in Hadley. And if you’re concerned about your pet’s health, take your furry, feathered, or scaly-skinned friend to Northampton Veterinary Clinic or Valley Veterinary Hospital in Hadley.

And finally, if you need an attorney you can often get advice at your campus’ legal services department, but if that’s not an option look up Bacon Wilson Attorneys at Law in Springfield and elsewhere — they won the Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll 2017 for best law firm — Etheredge & Steuer of Northampton, or Ziomek & Ziomek Attorneys at Law of Amherst.

SOMETIMES YOU’VE JUST GOTTA SPOIL YOURSELF.

And when that time comes, the 413 heeds the call.

Want to look good? Get your haircut at The Lift in Easthampton and Amherst, or Salon 241 in Northampton. Guys, if you want a primo man-salon experience that comes with a whiskey, go to Hero Barber in Northampton — one of the few places where you can get a straight razor shave in the area. If you just want a cheap cut that will look good, hit Bucci’s in Northampton where cuts are $14.

Get your ink done at Off the Map Tattoo (a little shop in Easthampton with an international reputation), Lucky’s or Haven Body Arts, both of Northampton. For piercings Lucky’s, Haven Body Arts, and Bang Bang Body Arts, all of Northampton, come highly recommended.

Buy some fun, erm, stuff at Oh My Sensuality Shop in Northampton (a feminist, come as you are, sex toy shop with a knowledgeable and friendly staff), Adam & Eve in Greenfield (it’s HUGE), and Bookends of Enfield (it’s got quite a kinky lingerie section). For a not so kinky, but still damn sexy lingerie selection go to The Gazebo in Northampton.

Like to read? Screw Amazon and the terrible way they pay authors, hit up a local book seller at: Broadside Books, Northampton; Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley; Raven Used Books, Northampton; Red Brick Books, Springfield; or Blue Umbrella Books, Westfield.

Local smoke shops include Greenfield’s The Enthusiast for all your vaping and smokeless tobacco needs (they also sell crazy, artisanal pipes in case you ever wanted to smoke out of a bong shaped like Aquateen’s Shake), Jim Buddy’s Vape Shop in Chicopee, and Notorious Vapors in Easthampton. For marijuana-specific shopping (apparatus and accessories only — Massachusetts can’t sell recreational weed until July 1, 2018, but possessing and growing pot is fine if you’re age 21 or older) go to PotCo and Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing, both of Springfield, or The Vault in Northampton. There are a lot of places with signs calling themselves “smoke shops,” but they’re mostly selling tobacco and hookahs.

Other fun places to shop include River Valley Co-op (for the biggest collection of local food in the Valley), Ten Thousand Villages in Northampton (fair trade artisanal goods from around the globe), Downtown Sounds (a stalwart music shop) in Northampton, Dave’s Soda & Pet City (who doesn’t love soda and/or pets?), Turn It Up! in Northampton (has an excellent selection of used CDs, records, and DVDs).

That should be enough to get you started on adventuring and living your best life in the Valley.

Contact Kristin Palpini at editor@valleyadvocate.com.

Advocate Staff

Author: Advocate Staff

Editor of the Valley Advocate

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