Massachusetts is pretty far left-leaning already, but the free-spirited hippie town of Northampton takes liberal to a whole new level. Here, you'll find a mix of college grads (from nearby Amherst, Hampshire, and Smith) and artsy folk who all contribute to the counterculture Northampton is known for. This quirky town in the Pioneer Valley may be small—having a population of less than 30,000—but its got mega character. It's no surprise that the LGBTQ+ community thrives here. In fact, the National Enquirer once called it "Lesbianville, USA."
Over the years, gay men and trans people have joined the vast number of lesbians in this Massachusetts town, altogether lending to an accepting and inclusive vibe throughout. There isn't exactly an epicenter for gays in "Noho," as the locals call it; they're just everywhere. You'll find the LGBTQ+ community dispersed throughout the many bars, restaurants, and shops, but there are, of course, some that are a bit more proud than others.
Northampton has more than five times the national average number of same-sex households, yet the town has no gay drinking establishments (not officially, anyway). Rather, every place here is presumed to be LGBTQ+-friendly, so drift between these local mainstays proudly and without reservation:
- FitzWilly's: Lesbian comic Kate Clinton says this long-running downtown Northampton pub is one of her favorite gay bars. While it isn't an LGBTQ+ 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. Expect down-home pub food and reasonably-priced craft brews.
- Ye Ol' Watering Hole: Northampton's beloved dive bar is perhaps most known for its huge collection of beer cans (more than 4,000) on display, but it's also a fun, low-key place to drink beer, play darts, and listen to the jukebox.
- World War 2 Club: Better known by locals as "The Deuce," this offbeat nightspot is actually a veterans' club that hosts karaoke dance parties on Fridays and Saturdays as well as open mic nights and trivia competitions throughout the week.
- The Dirty Truth: This is Northampton's hipster central. The walls are lined with art and the rotating beer menu is as craft as they come. Located in the heart of downtown's nightlife scene, The Dirty Truth is heavily frequented by members of the LGBTQ+ community, as is its sudsy sister in nearby Amherst, Moan & Dove.
- Northampton Brewery: Every hipster town has a brewery. Northampton's has been serving up its tasty and beloved brews—like Blue Boots IPA, Hoover's Porter, and Windbreaker Hefeweizen—since the late '80s.
If you're looking for a hyped-up club scene, then head instead to the town of Amherst about 20 minutes away. This scholarly hub is where college kids dance all night to DJs on Lit's always-lively dance floor. It's only open on Fridays and Saturdays and not during summer, when the universities take their breaks. Otherwise, you can get your music fix right in town at Bishop's Lounge. It's less of a scene than Lit, but has still seen its share of DJ acts. On occasion, it'll host bands, too. 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.
During the day, there's plenty of restaurants and coffeeshops to fill the hours between partying. Don't leave town without trying:
- Sylvester's: The odds are high that you'll bump into the same gay and lesbian folks from last night's bar-hopping having a breakfast burrito at Sylvester's, a longtime supporter of the annual Noho Pride celebration.
- Spoleto: This cheerful and inviting Italian eatery is part of a local group of trendy, gay-friendly eateries that also includes Pizzeria Paradiso and Mama Iguana's. It's a favorite in these parts for happy hour and $2 snacks (oysters Florentine, roasted garlic bulbs, and meatballs).
- Paul & Elizabeth's: Paul & Elizabeth's has been a stalwart in town for delicious, healthful vegetarian cooking since it opened in the late '70s. The menu isn't strictly meatless, but the veggie fare is the star of the show.
- Haymarket Cafe: This gay-popular cafe feels a bit like Northampton's own little living room. The storefront space 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. Because it doesn't close until around 10 p.m., it's a popular evening hangout, too.
Events & Festivals
Come during the month of May to join more than 30,000 people celebrate Noho Pride. This one-day event includes a parade and festival, which features food stalls, beer gardens, workshops, youth activities, drag shows, music, and more. Noho Pride hosts more events (like proms and other themed parties) throughout the year, too, so check its website for events that may be happening while you're in town.
Tips for Going Out in Northampton
- Although some bars stay open until 2 a.m., last call for every Northampton establishment is 1 a.m. sharp. No one is permitted into a bar after that time.
- The nightlife vibe in Northampton is low-key and hipstery, so feel free to leave the club attire at home.
- Don't forget to tip your bartenders (or run the risk of being barred).