Proof is everywhere that Easthampton is blooming. No longer Northampton’s scrappy sister, this Pioneer Valley city defined by Mount Tom has a new energy coursing through its small town streets. A new bagel shop opens this month, two breweries are brewing, there’s a quality bookstore, and enough urban dining options to appease the most jaded palate.
With Noho becoming a no-go as rents rise, artists have been nesting here for years. On their heels creative entrepreneurs are rehabbing vacant stores downtown. “I didn’t spend 10 years traveling around the world to settle on Easthampton for nothing,” said Kristen Davis, owner of Popcorn Noir, a quirky food and film emporium.
She saw opportunity in this city of 16,000 that has successfully exorcised the heaviness that traps many postindustrial cities. It’s not precious, but not downbeat either. “For years people have been driving through Easthampton, now they are stopping,” Davis said. Here’s why.
Easthampton is not chockablock with overnight options. But the Park Street Bed and Breakfast (238 Park St., 413-527-7861, www.parkstreetbb
.com, $90-$120) in a restored 1848 brick farmhouse just outside of town is your best bet. In the spring, the Mount Tom River Inn Bed and Breakfast (4 Symansky Ave., 413-584-4884, $90-$100) opens, with porches, gardens, and a gourmet breakfast for a rustic, relaxing stay.
The best food in town is incognito. Locals tipped us off about The Hideaway Lounge (116 Pleasant St., 413-527-8811), tucked into a burrito joint in a mall in a mill. Just head to the back room at Riff’s Joint in Eastworks for craft beer like Jack’s Abby and People’s Pint and tasty grilled salmon ($18) with roasted garlic smashed potatoes served at low tables in a chill, speakeasy space.
On Main Street the spot generating the most heat is The Cellar Bar. The underground lair of three-year-old Coco (95 Main St., 413-203-5321) has done the unthinkable: lured foodies from Northampton. Butter fried chicken with jalapeno slaw and garlic mashed potatoes ($18) served in a snug space with perfect lighting and vermilion walls emanates underground cool. Chef Unmi Abkin, whose North-ampton restaurant Cha Cha Cha rocked the Pioneer Valley a decade ago, spent years cooking on the West Coast at top-tier spots like Chez Panisse Café before settling in Easthampton. For dinner with a view, take the high road out of town just before sunset to Tavern on the Hill (100 Mountain Road, 413-493-1700, www.tavernonline.com). Here, halfway up Mount Tom, you’ll find fellowship at the bar and panoramic views looking west to the Berkshires. Cornmeal fried oysters ($8.95) and pasta jambalaya ($18.95) go down nicely with a Berkshire Brewing Co. creamy coffee porter ($5.25).
Children clutching cones say “hello” as they merrily exit Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream
(34 Cottage St., 413-529-2929, www.mttoms.com) and set the tone for this friendly stretch of town where galleries, independent shops, and cafes thrive next to the clock and appliance repair shops.
Stop into White Square Fine Books and Art (86 Cottage St., 413-203-1717) for a well-curated collection of first-edition classics and used modern mysteries like Paul Auster’s “Brooklyn Follies.”
Find out what the local artisans are up to at The Nash Gallery (40 Cottage St., 413-529-9393, www.nashgalleryart.com). Whimsical jewelry, pottery, and fun hats are displayed in a serene setting.
The Manhan Rail Trail (www
.manhanrailtrail.org) is a 6-mile bike path that goes through Northampton to Belchertown to the north and the Southampton border to the south. When the snow melts you’ll pass farms, ponds, and even a pop-up library.
No matter the season, a quick romp at Mount Tom State Reservation (125 Reservation Road, Holyoke, 413 534-1186, www
.mass.gov/dcr/parks/central/mtom.htm) is mandatory for sweeping views of the Connecticut Valley.
For trivia, vintage films, and a heavy dose of camp, pop into Popcorn Noir (32 Cottage St., 413-529-4647). This membership-based entertainment club asks people to pay $10 annually for flicks such as “The Station Agent” and “The Big Lebowski” shown in a cabaret-like setting. But the fare is much better than Milk Duds and buckets with extra butter. Chef owner Kristen Davis makes a mean meatloaf panino ($14) with hoisin ketchup and roasted garlic, and a midnight sun ($8) warm white wine cocktail made with house-infused rum.
In keeping with the hybrid theme, farther up the street,
Luthier’s Co-Op (108 Cottage St., 413-527-6627, www.luthiers-coop.com) is a guitar shop that does repairs by day and live music at night. It’s an unexpected find with a great lineup of local beers on tap.
Back on Main, the Old Town Hall is now home to arts collective Flywheel (43 Main St., 413-527-9800, www.flywheelarts
.org). The alcohol-free music hall, churning out discordant beats, is a draw for teens looking to let loose. Amid the creaky floors and DIY-ethos, the next Sonic Youth may be discovered.
Kathleen Pierce can be reached at www.kathleen-pierce.com.