On the town
by Annamaria Goosens
On a Saturday night this past winter, at the request of UMass Magazine, I ventured out with two friends to sample nightlife in Amherst. Our mission: to assess the validity of that old student saw, Theres nothing to doooooooo in this place!
We couldnt figure out how this became de rigeur winter party wear, but, as my friend Allison intoned from the depths of her turtleneck, Im soooo glad I dont have to feel obligated to wear a tank top in November.
Maybe they keep warm dancing. While we stood mesmerized by the hip-hop lyrics being blasted in one club Put your back into it, ran one, delivered in tones suggesting something other than lifting of boxes the dancers crowding the floor swayed effortlessly. I admired their style.
Its a little weird to have become an old fogey in ones late 20s, but there it is.
Amherst Center, after 8, Saturday night
If students are willing to go anywhere in search of a good time, it seems at first glance that no one has told the student population of Amherst.
We cast about for signs of nightlife. The Black Sheep on Main Street is mostly empty, as are Amber Waves and the Asian Tea House next door. Around 8:30 we come upon the first crowded bona-fide hangout: Raos, the coffee shop off Kellogg Avenue.
Its a mellow crowd sweat shirts and jeans are the uniform here. Judging by the number of books or reading packets lying open on tables, the crowd is mostly students. The reading is often neglected, though; conversation is muted but constant.
One couple prevails upon someone at a nearby table to take a photo of their date. Outside, a few dedicated smokers shiver.
I do remember the Drake. It was a Sunday-afternoon kind of place, a great little cool, divey place with pool tables, says Cheryl Dellecese 78, assistant editor of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly. And the Rusty Nail in Sunderland it burned down was a really well-known place. They had bands. All the old blues guys ended up there.
David Lenson, a professor of comparative literature at UMass since 1971, remembers Quicksilver on North Pleasant Street, where you used to be able to play pinball. He also recalls Rashids in the Mountain Farms Mall, which featured one of the first gay nights in the area and had a racially diverse clientele.
Other alumni headed to Northampton for their fun. Until the early 1990s, Sheehans, located on Pleasant Street, was the place to go for live shows.
Many hearts broke when Sheehans closed, says Northampton writer Greg Lauzon 90.
9:30 p.m., Amherst Brewing Company, 24 North Pleasant
Students of drinking age say they like ABC because it offers beer beyond the Bud and Michelob level. The place is divided into two sections. On the left as you enter is the dining room, where some are finishing a late supper as the crew for tonights band begins setting up; on the right is the brewerys mammoth bar, around which are arrayed groups of mostly students.
The dress code here appears a bit more chic than at Raos: pretty sweaters or tank tops and nice jeans for the women, ironed shirts or maybe sweaters for the men.
A woman in search of a date approaches a likely-looking guy. As her opening gambit she tries telling him shes really drunk. It doesnt work. Neither does the tank top. She rejoins her companions across the room.
I think there are definitely places to go, says Dina Mouldovan, a senior from Teaneck, New Jersey. Maybe Amherst doesnt have a million bars, but you can also go to the movies, iceskating, hang out, go to Northampton.
Of course, says Mouldovan, it is easier if youre over 21. While some bars and dance clubs offer 18-plus nights, many wont admit younger friends even if they have no intention of drinking. When Mouldovan wants to go to Mikes Billiards on North Pleasant, one of her good friends cant join her because hes still 20.
Ari Zuckerman III agrees with Mouldovan that being 21 is a big help. This senior from Park Ridge, New Jersey thinks Amherst needs more dance clubs open to all ages, and that thered be less drinking among students if there were.
His friend and classmate Peter Frost agrees. The local entertainment options are pretty homogeneous, says Frost. His conclusion: Amherst nightlife caters to just geting drunk.
10:30 p.m., Atlantis, 14 Boltwood Walk
Atlantis, having opened last summer, is the new kid on the block, but already has its legions of devotees.
Restaurant by day, laid-back lounge by night, this teal-painted room has a cooler-than-average ambience any club with live animals is a good thing, and Atlantis boasts several aquaria where the fish must be grooving to the thumping hip-hop. Atlantis also has the niftiest bar stools in town (they look like giant springs).
Atlantis seems to have a more ethnically diverse crowd than many Amherst nightspots. And as at ABC, patrons dont seem to be drinking for the sake of drinking. One group is sipping cognac, too expensive a liquor to throw back if youre just trying to get a buzz.
People here seem stylish in a subtle way few plain old running shoes and jeans, but no eye-brow-raisingly short skirts. Tank tops, interestingly, are at a minimum.
Peter Frosts picks are Atlantis, ABC, Mikes Billiards, and Charlies. Rachel Graber, a junior from Chicago, also puts in a vote for Charlies, a Pray Street spot with a fun vibe.
Some nights, its time to get out of town, and Northampton is usually the destination: Fire and Water, a folk music and spoken-word joint on Old South Street, is one of Mouldovans favorites. But tonight were sticking close to campus, and will check out a couple more spots in Amherst before calling it a night.
11:20 p.m., The Spoke, North Pleasant
Service with a grunt, is the motto of the Spoke, and its but one of several signs of the no-nonsense vibe of this college-and-town mixed bar.
A group of students enjoys a game at the bars pool table, while the rest of the customers lean against the bar or hang out at tables.
Theres no make-up, no fancy shoes, and continuing our census of tank tops, we find not a single one here. In fact, the sweatered and sneakered denizens of this bar would probably laugh at you if you showed up in one.
Mikes Westview was where you would go to get blitzed, says Butler, recalling the recently closed North Amherst landmark. And Barselottis on Pleasant Street that was the big bar people used to go to hang out.
Also, I remember driving through Amherst Center and thered be a line down the block in front of Time Out, Butler says, miming the elbows-in shuffle that people adopt in really crowded bars. By reputation, Time Out was heavily populated by sorority and fraternity members and residents of the Southwest area.
Bars still have their stereotyped audience. Mouldovan claims that the Monkey Bar, a fairly new spot, attracts a heavy sorority crowd, and the conventional wisdom is that the Pub is also often populated by Greeks.
11:40 p.m., The Pub, 15 East Pleasant
If its true that the Pub attracts a crowd from the Greek organizations, someone should do an epidemiological study on the prevalence of colds and flu among sorority sisters. To a woman, near-freezing temperatures notwithstanding, they are wearing spaghetti-strapped tank tops.
The Pubs dance parties are weekly, and judging by the photos posted on the website of the production company that offers them, they are always crowded, sweaty affairs. That is evidently a drawing card. Certainly this spot has the most overt pick-up scene weve encountered in this evenings rounds.
The womens outfits are one indication of this collective intensity of purpose. Another is the increasing grimness of the unlucky men still sitting by themselves in booths lining the dance floor. One solitary gentleman is all but fetal by the time we leave. Still, a frequent attendee boasts on the website that hes never gone home alone from these parties.