| Chris Maza
EASTHAMPTON – The local watering hole has long been associated with the character and sense of community that embodied many American neighborhoods. If the walls of these establishments, many long gone, could talk, surely they would weave intricate tales about the people and relationships of the past.
Two Easthampton natives have embarked on a project to give those walls their voice called “Here Comes a Regular: A Social History of Barroom Culture in Easthampton.” Henry Amistadi and Eric Poulin have been attempting to trace the histories of specific locations in Easthampton that functioned as barrooms. Their goal is to create an archive of information, images, and stories that document the social history of local barroom culture.
“Barrooms and establishments where people gather to drink are integral parts of our community, but often are not acknowledged as such. Countless friendships, relationships, business partnerships and personal connections have happened in these locations over time, but there seems to be a lack of official documentation. This project is our effort, in conjunction with community members, to fill that void,” they explained.
Amistadi has experience digging into the history of Easthampton. A freelance media professional based in the city, he had previously received a grant from Easthampton City Arts+ in 2016 for a visual and oral history project called “New City,” aimed at documenting people, places and stories of Easthampton, both past and present.
“Through this ongoing project, I developed relationships with a number of residents that were eager to engage with their local history and present-day community. These connections developed into rich subject matter as well as points of inspiration to continue pursuing this, and other related projects. Barrooms, in particular, are an interesting subject in this context because they can provide a glimpse into local stories and working-class culture that have avoided official historical records,” he said.
Before the two met Amistadi worked with Poulin’s mother on the “New City” project. Working at the Emily Williston Memorial Library, she assisted with his research in their archives. Later, through mutual friends, Amistadi met Poulin, an assistant professor of library and information science at Simmons University and the director of the Simmons West campus in South Hadley.
“We have a shared love of history and giving a voice to working-class individuals who may not traditionally have one,” said Poulin, who is also working on a book on the Holyoke Millers, a minor league baseball team that played in the Paper City from 1977 to 1982.
When Hugo’s Cafe in Northampton closed its doors in 2018, Poulin said was “extremely saddened” by the loss of a place where he had forged lifelong friendships and formative experiences as a young person. He realized, however, he had few photographs or mementos to commemorate those experiences. As someone who had worked as a bartender for 20 years at various Easthampton establishments as well, he said he had extra appreciation for this having seen the formation of similar relationships firsthand from the other side of the bar.
“With the closing of Hugo’s, it seemed to me that an entire era of traditionally working-class bars was coming to an end,” Poulin said. “The Peter Pan Cafe in Easthampton closed shortly thereafter, and it seemed like we were at a moment where someone needed to compile these histories or they would potentially be gone forever. I was familiar with Henry’s work on his ‘New City’ project, and he seemed like a logical collaborator to work with.”
He added, “This project seemed like a way to combine my background as an information professional and my personal experiences with the local barroom culture.”
Funded by an Easthampton City Arts+ grant, Poulin and Amistadi’s ongoing project has focused on creating an archive of images, objects and stories related to Easthampton barrooms curated through public and private collections, as well as members of the community. Currently delivered via a Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/herecomesaregular), the project with culminate in a book set to be published next year.
The pair encourage people to submit original photographs from local bars of which they can make high-resolution digital scans, which will be provided to the owner along with the return of the originals. Those with photos to share can reach out via the Facebook page. Prints of images from the collected archive will be available on inquiry, and all proceeds will go toward funding the final publication.