An alphabetical list of the best bars and nightclubs, plus a few gay-popular restaurants and cafés, in Northampton and the Pioneer Valley for gay travelers. This scenic college town in west-central Massachusetts has long cultivated a strong following with LGBT folks, both as a place to live and visit. The town of about 30,000 is an art and cultural powerhouse, as well as a bastion of progressive politics. Also included here are a few spots elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley, from Springfield up through Amherst to Greenfield.
In warm weather, this often-packed, mixed gay/straight bar drawing a young, loudly talkative crowd is the place to party in Northampton, thanks to its spacious balcony overlooking bustling Strong Avenue and Pearl Street. True, Bishop's Lounge (41 Strong Ave., 413-586-8900) can be a bit of a scene, but it's reliably fun for people-watching, chatting, dancing (to DJs and, sometimes, live bands), and all-around merriment. Every couple of months, Bishop's hosts an ostensibly gay party called King, but pretty much any evening you'll see a number of gay guys and lesbians here.
Exceptionally well-crafted classic French fare, with a big emphasis on local ingredients from smaller farms, is served at wonderfully romantic Bistro Las Gras (25 West St., 413-320-4666), a warmly furnished restaurant that's just steps from Smith campus, right beside the popular East Heaven hot tubs and spa - hey, why not finish a leisurely afternoon of soaking or spa treatments with dinner here? This terrific choice for a date presents such tantalizing fare as gnocchi Parisienne with dandelion greens, smoked bacon, and Dijon; and classic pot au feu and roast chicken. There's also an outstanding croque monsieur.
A cool, welcoming cafe (open for breakfast all day and lunch till mid-afternoon), the Brass Buckle (204 Main St., 413-475-3268) is in the upper Pioneer Valley, about 25-minute drive north up I-91 from Northampton, in the quite charming town of Greenfield, which is home to some gay-popular inns, including the gay-owned Brandt House and - in nearby Montague - the lesbian-owned Grapevine Inn. The Brass Buckle, which is run by young rockers Jd Hairston and Anika Balaconis, has an inviting vibe, its yellow walls hung with interesting artwork. Excellent coffee is served, along with delicious baked goods, egg-cheese breakfast biscuits, pear-blue-cheese sandwiches, chili-mango salads, and other healthy treats. If you're staying in this part of the valley, this is a great place to kick off your day.
Northampton's own little hipster central, the Dirty Truth (29 Main St., 413-585-5999) is in the heart of downtown's nightlife scene and earns kudos for damn good gastro-pub fare and a list of consistently interesting - if spendy - craft beers on tap, culled from around the country (some of these brews are hard to come by). There's a long bar on one side, and high tables well-suited to group socializing on the other. Like many mainstream bars in town, the Dirty Truth is heavily frequented by members of the gay community, as is its sudsy sister in nearby Amherst, Moan & Dove.
Address492 Pleasant St #3, Northampton, MA 01060-3964, USA
Northampton's largest and most famous gay nightclub, this second-floor space in an industrial part of town just a five-minute drive or 15-minute walk south of downtown is far more inviting on the inside than its exterior (pictured here) might suggest. There's a good-size dance floor, ample lounge space, and a good-size patio. As the main alternative club serving one of the nation's most popular places to live among lesbians, Diva's (492 Pleasant St., 413-586-8161) always draws a substantial number of women, including plenty of students from nearby colleges. The club has an 18-and-over policy on these evenings as well as on Wednesday and Friday; on Saturdays, Diva's is 21-and-up.
No, you won't find drinks or food at East Heaven (33 West St., 413-587-0000), but this serene, quirky, and undeniably groovy spot with private indoor and outdoor hot tubs, as well as a spa specializing in Japanese, Tibetan, and Thai bodywork, is a fantastic nightlife option. The soothing tubs are open until midnight on weekdays and 1 am on weekends, and there's a clothing-optional women's tub time on Saturdays from 11 am until 4:45 pm. On cool nights in fall and even into winter, soaking in the outdoor tubs, under the stars, is a pretty magical experience. This is, of course, a facility created in the Japanese bathhouse tradition, not a place for cruising - the tubs are private, though can be booked by small groups, so you can go in nude or in a suit; that's up to you and the friends you're sharing the tub with. The staff here is friendly and can answer any questions you have, and they keep the entire facility absolutely spotless.
Lesbian comic Kate Clinton once named the long-running downtown Northampton pub FitzWilly's (23 Main St., 413-584-8666) one of her favorite gay bars. While it's not an LGBT establishment per se, this affordable, cozy, and convivial tavern has been a favorite among local lesbians and gays since it opened in the mid-'70s. For its fans, FitzWilly's represents a happy alternative to the many self-consciously hip or rowdy places nearby - it's a solid bet for down-home pub food (there's a long menu, with everything burgers to burritos) and reasonably priced drinks.
Northampton has no shortage of first-rate cafés. The Green Bean (241 Main St., 413-584-2326) is one of the most healthy-minded of the bunch, serving plenty of veggie options. It's open for breakfast and lunch, and is known for grilled tempeh over vegan corn pancakes, huevos rancheros, and veggie as well as meaty versions of BLTs and burgers.
Gay-popular Haymarket Cafe (185 Main St., 413-586-9969) feels a bit like Northampton's own little living room. The storefront space, with an additional seating area downstairs, draws students, academics, artists, and other creative and bookish spirits with its art-filled confines, free Wi-Fi, and delicious food, espresso drinks, teas, and such. The baked goods, including all manner of fattening cakes and brownies, score especially high marks. At breakfast, there are tofu vegan scrambles, bourbon-soaked French toast with creme fraiche and maple syrup, and first-rate house-made oatmeal. At lunch go for the roasted-beet-and-goat-cheese salad, the hummus and avocado dip, or the spicy coconut curry stew with sauteed veggies. The Haymarket is open till 10 or 11 at night, making it a popular hangout early in the evening, too, as well as an affordable dinner option.
Part of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group, which includes other local venues like the Calvin Theater, Mountain Park, and Pearl Street, the Iron Horse (20 Center St., 413-586-8686) is an intimate downtown music club that has presented concerts by dozens of LGBT folk, pop, and rock icons: Melissa Ferrick, Dar Williams, Ani DiFranco, and many others. You can find out about upcoming events and buy tickets to them, for the Iron Horse and other venues in town, at Northampton Box Office.
The town of Amherst - who fans of lit history recognize as the home of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Noah Webster - is the scholarly hub of the Five Colleges region, the home of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Hampshire College, and Amherst College. It's just 8 miles east-northeast of Northampton, and in the quaintly colonial village center, you'll find a slew of trendy restaurants and bars. Lit (41 Boltwood Walk, 413-320-6322) is atypical for little Amherst, with its bright and colorful lighting and urbane vibe. There's dancing to a DJ inside, and a pleasant patio outside. Note that Lit takes a hiatus in summer, reopening when school is back in session
The sister restaurant to Northampton's cool beer hall the Dirty Truth, Moan & Dove (460 West St., 413-256-1710) is downtown Amherst's go-to for hard-to-find craft beers, on tap (Allagash White, Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter, De Ranke XX Bitter) and by the bottle (Victory Prima Pils, Abita Purple Haze, Dogfishhead 120min IPA). It's an atmospheric bar, a good place for drinks before or after dinner.
The town's original craft-beer maker, Northampton Brewery (11 Brewster Court, 413-584-9903) has been around since the late '80s, serving tasty brews like Blue Boots IPA, Hoover's Porter, Windbreaker Hefeweizen, as well as quite tasty comfort fare - burgers, salads, slow-cooked chili, poblano-meatloaf sandwiches, and so on. The brewery is part of the family that includes Smuttynose Brewery and Portsmouth Brewery, both in the lively New Hampshire coastal city of Portsmouth.
For fans of vegetarian dining, Paul & Elizabeth's (150 Main St., inside Thornes Marketplace, 413-584-4832) has been a stalwart in town for delicious, healthful vegetarian cooking since it opened in the late '70s. The menu isn't strictly meatless, as seafood appears in the likes of tempura-style shrimp with orange-ginger sauce, and classic fish-and-chips, but the veggie fare is the star of the show, from the sea-vegetable salad with marinated tofu to Thai-style seitan with udon noodle saute. While in Thornes Marketplace, by the way, be sure to stop by the fantastic ice cream shop, Herrell's Ice Cream.
Cheerful and inviting Spoleto (1 Bridge St., 413-586-6313) is part of a local group of trendy, gay-friendly eateries that includes Pizzeria Paradiso, Mama Iguana's, and Spoleto Express, with additional locales in East Longmeadow and Springfield. Spoleto is an attractive place with indoor and sidewalk seating, with a kitchen that serves modern Italian cuisine. It's a favorite in these parts for happy hour, a number of $2 snacks (oysters Florentine, roasted garlic bulbs, house-made meatballs) and slightly pricier treats, from truffled mac-n-cheese to assorted salumi and cheese plates (for $5 to $7 apiece).
A longtime supporter of May's well-attended Northampton Gay Pride celebration, Sylvester's (111 Pleasant St., 413-586-5343) is a lovely breakfast spot where the odds are strong that you'll see the cute gay and lesbian folks from last night's bar-hopping recovering over weekend brunch. Gorgonzola steak and eggs, lox eggs Benedict, and asparagus omelets are among the favorite treats. Lunch is also served.
Airy and bright Woodstar Cafe (60 Masonic St., 413-585-9777) has developed a popular following for some of the best baked goods, bagel sandwiches, and artisan coffee and teas in the Pioneer Valley. It's an attractive space, open till 8 pm most nights (6 pm on Sundays and Mondays), and the kitchen relies heavily on produce, eggs, and fruit from a nearby farm. Grab a seat on the patio on sunny days. The Wheel of Fortune bagel sandwich, with chevre, capers, and olive-roasted red pepper relish is a winner.
Address50 Conz St, Northampton, MA 01060, USA
One of the more offbeat nightspots in town, this vintage Veterans Club nicknamed "The Deuce" (50 Conz St., 413-586-3315) is a gay-friendly venue for everything from Friday and Saturday karaoke dance parties to open-mic Thursdays to trivia competitions. The club is a few blocks south of Main Street.
Northampton's beloved dive bar, Ye Ol' Watering Hole (287 Pleasant St., 413-585-0990) is perhaps most noted for its huge collection of beer cans (more than 4,000), but it's also a fun, low-keyed place to drink beer - the menu is extensive, with a good mix of standard and less-common brews. There's pool, darts, backgammon, and plenty of other games, and the jukebox is one of the best in town. It's a mainstream bar, but as with many other Northampton hangouts, it pulls in a number of gay folks.