125 Pleasant Street Northampton MA

Daily 5 pm - 1 am


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The Tunnel Bar
By Keon Ruiter

I raised the oversized glass to my lips and could smell the potent scents of different liquors mingling together in the glass.  It was my first martini ever, chocolate-raspberry flavored, for only eight bucks.  I took a small taste, it was a chocolaty sting; Iím not a big drinker, so I had to choke down the first few sips, but after awhile, I began to enjoy it.  I considered having another martini, but I was having too much fun after the first one and I had to drive.

I was drinking my first martini in a little hole in the wall bar in Northampton .  When I say hole in the wall, I mean that literally.  I was in the Tunnel Bar.

It was my first time going to the Tunnel Bar.  I was with a good friend of mine, and we were meeting mutual friends that we hadnít seen in a while.  I parked my car and nagged him as we walked along the damp pavement, ďSo where is this tunnel place again?Ē I chided.  ďRelax,Ē he said. ďIt sneaks up on you.Ē  My friend was right.  The barís entrance is barely visible and lies between two old train lights in the dark stone wall off of Pleasant Street , overhead is Union Station. 

We walked in.  I had to let my eyes adjust because the only source of light came from ones that were set in the wall and a few track lights overhead.  We scanned the area for our friends, which didnít take long because the bar was only 100 feet long and 12 feet wide.  Huge overstuffed leather chairs were set along both sides of the walls in groups of twoís and fourís, and right in the middle of the tunnel was a small bar with a few tall bar stools lining its perimeter.  Our friends were sitting at the back of the tunnel.

We took our seats and started to catch up with one another.  But I was taking in the atmosphere while everyone else was talking.  Hanging above the bar were two beautiful, dimly lit chandeliers. Opposite the bar was a set of stairs that led to the rest of Union Station.  Rugged granite stone lined the lower portion of the wall, and polished yellow tile lined the upper portion of the wall and the arc of the ceiling.

Part of the barís charm comes from its history.  It doesnít take a genius to figure out that the Tunnel Bar was once a real tunnel.  I Google searched the Union Station Tunnel online and found out that it was built in 1896 by H.H. Richardson.  The tunnel that the bar occupies used to be a passageway that led pedestrians up to Union Station, which was a large railroad stop back in the day.  Farmers, manufacturers, and the US Postal Service relied on Union Station to import and export the goods that they needed to survive on.  The station was also a major player in the war effort during World War II.  The trains that left the station there carried many men to and from war.  The area behind the actual bar used to be a stairway that led to the boarding platforms to get on the trains.  Over the course of its 110-year existence it has survived two fires.  The granite and the tile that make up the Tunnel Bar are original since the tunnels construction.  In September of 1999, the Union Station complex was renovated into dining facilities.  Part of the renovation included the Tunnel Bar, which before the smoking ban, was a cigar bar.

Soft jazz hummed in my ear as I continued to breathe in my surroundings.  I understood why my friends liked to come to this particular bar.  Itís not the typical bar that people our age would go to.  College students are definitely the minority in the tunnel.  Most of the patrons are older men and women going out to eat in Northampton , businessmen wrapping up a long day of work, or professors from one of the many area colleges.  The bar didnít play loud rock and hip-hop music like most other bars and I could actually think and have conversations instead of shouting and getting a headache like I do at the Salty Dog and Hooters. I heard a couple softly arguing close by, ďI spent ten thousand dollars on a ring for you and youíre never ready!Ē the exasperated man said to his fiancťe.  I couldnít hear what she replied, but I spent the rest of the night pondering over my drink what a $10,000 ring looks like.

The bartender approached our group soon after I had staked my claim in one of the leather thrones.  He asked my friend and I if we wanted something to drink.  I ordered the chocolate-raspberry martini I described earlier.  The bartender soon returned with a towel draped over his arm and a tray in his other hand.  Perched atop the tray was the biggest martini glass I had ever seen, and it was just for me.  It took me a while to finish the martini, but for the rest of the night the bartender made sure I was satisfied.  He would walk close enough to see if I needed another drink.  If I didnít, he would walk away.  If I was ready for more, he was there.  The service was impeccable and the martini was divine!  

The Tunnel Bar serves more than just oversized martinis, those are just what the bar is famous for.   They boast an eight-page drink menu that describes each drink in detail, including the wines.  Most of the drinks are modest, sophisticated, and inexpensive.  An average glass of wine will run you anywhere from five to eight dollars, the martinis are eight dollars apiece, and a bottle of beer will cost four to five dollars.  The drinks are much cheaper than those you would get at a restaurant.  They taste fresher and crisper too.  

One page of the drink menu is devoted to simple gourmet appetizers including a cheese and fruit platter, a few shrimp dishes, roasted nuts, and strawberries DíAmour.  Most of the appetizers cost around nine dollars.  If simple hors d'oeuvres arenít what you had in mind you can go up the stairs opposite the bar area and pop into the Union Station Restaurant or Spaghetti Freddyís for some dinner.

While the martini began to take effect (yes Iím a lightweight), I realized that the Tunnel Bar is not a place to go to get wasted.  I tend to get louder when alcohol is involved, and my friends had to remind me that we werenít in a dive bar or at a party.  The atmosphere is quiet and mature.  Even when the bar is crowded the volume only gets louder than a hum. 

I have fell in love with the bar since that first trip.  Now, I like to go to the bar to relax, have a drink, and work on some homework or do some light reading.  I donít feel awkward if Iím relaxing by myself in one of the comfortable leather chairs like I would anywhere else.  If you are under the drinking age, you still can go and have a soda and enjoy the atmosphere.

A haven for the stressed, the tunnel bar helps relax.  If you are looking to party, the Tunnel Bar is the wrong place to be.  But, if youíre stressed out from exams and the like, head down to the tunnel and try one of the oversized martinis, or indulge in some strawberries DíAmour.  With a huge drink menu, you are bound to find something that will help ease your college burden.

I never thought being surrounded by six feet of stone would be my idea of a good time, but I guess I was wrong.


This website was created by the students of Journalism 375 at the University of Massachusetts 2005