The Fight Mass Travelogue (tentative name until we think of something better) is a new feature we are rolling out as the season goes along. Each edition, we will look at one of the fabulous places we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Traveling to road venues is one of the most enjoyable things about being a sports fan, particularly in college sports. Plus, we’re craft beer snobs and we love to share good beer spots with the people. This is in no way a direct ripoff of Fear the Triangle’s Road Trip section. Anyway, let’s kick it off with our home sweet home, in honor of Homecoming, and go from there.
The Setting: We may be juuuuust a little biased, but there’s always going to be a spot in our hearts for the Pioneer Valley. With all the campus construction that started in our heyday starting to come together, the overall level of architecture on the campus has been dramatically improved, and there’s more where that came from in the form of a new Comm/Journalism building right in the heart of campus. With the ComCol dorms and new Rec Center in place, the area directly around the Mullins Center is as vibrant as ever, and it’ll look even better with the Champions Center completed. Downtown is quaint and neat with lots of cool shops and restaurants, though the bar scene is admittedly a letdown. But hey, this is a pahhhhtttyy schoooool keeehhhhd. The students, on and off campus, still throw some of the most insane house parties you’ll ever see, and lately the number of shitty incidents with law enforcement seems to be on the decline. The campus population has learned that you don’t need to be a “zoo” to have a good time.
The Venues: The Mullins Center, two decades later, is beginning to show its age somewhat compared to the shine of the new or recently-renovated buildings in the conference, but still holds up well in terms of atmosphere. This year’s changes to the student seating for hockey creates a more intimidating and cohesive unit. Of course, as we’ve complained about pretty much since the first day of the blog, our students are probably last in Hockey East in terms of things like “actually wearing the home team’s colors/gear to games,” “cohesive chants,” “maintaining traditions,” “chants that aren’t just ‘fuck (name of other school)'”, and so forth. But there’s potential now, at least. Our basketball student section is a lot better, and personally I think the overall atmosphere for hoops, particularly from the non-student side, is a lot louder and more conducive to a home court advantage. Not saying that having a band there is a factor, of course. Still, I wish they’d allow, say, ABC to sell beer in the Bill. Yes, I know, our reputation and whatnot, but if we stuck to a cool local product which most of the Barstool crowd would never drink anyway, the rest of us could responsibly have a good time. This is mostly because I can’t stand that Lowell Beerworks sells its wares in the Tsongas, which is filled with Lowell students who by all accounts are just as drunk and abrasive. Alas.
Other venues on campus include the Cage, which is still a fun gimmicky place for the hoops team to occasionally play (but which is way too small and hot and how in the world did they play there on a regular basis anyway?), McGuirk Stadium, which maintains a certain high-schooly charm but which will undoubtedly benefit from facelifts both current and (hopefully) future, and Garber Field, home of the national powerhouse lacrosse team and a swell place to get a good view of the game in spite of being in the shadow of the ugliest building on Earth, Tobin Hall.
Best Food: Antonios, of course. Best single-slice pizza place ever. It’ll change your world. Other solid options are the Wings at the Hangar, which you can now get by themselves at the Big Y Plaza (but lol why) and the big ol’ burritos at Bueno Y Sano. I’m also coming around on White Hut for uber-unhealthy late night snacks, though it pales in comparison to the old grill at the Springfield location. The food at ABC unfortunately seems to have gone downhill since they moved into their new site, just as the quality of their beer list has dramatically improved. In the Bill, the Baby Berk burgers are still a great option, though I wish they still had the food truck right outside to make them to order.
And let’s not forget about RJ Stables, the Official Fight Mass Breakfast of Choice in the Amherst area, or the fact that UMass dining has climbed up the rankings to be one of the best college dining experiences in the country – particularly with the newly-renovated Hampshire.
Best Beer: This is a tough one. I think overall the best venue from a beer-and-food standpoint has to be the Hangar. There’s always something for everyone on the beer list, it’s close as shit, and you can get a huge meal for a big group (wings and nachos!) for a reasonable price. And it’s not quite as packed as it used to be, thanks to the new secondary location to draw away the just-wings crowd. As mentioned before, ABC has a massive selection between their own quality brews and a much-improved guest taplist since they moved into the old Gold’s Gym, and it’s right across from the Hangar. It’s also arguably a better place to watch a game on TV, and easier to navigate, so you really can’t go wrong with either on the beer front (the food is hit or miss though). Taking ABC’s old spot downtown is the High Horse, which gets a bad rap for its dark and moody atmosphere but which carries the best beer selection downtown by a moonshot. The Moan & Dove is a little further away in South Amherst, and has one of the best beer lists in New England IF NOT THE WORLD. But the hipster vibe is a little off-putting to the more casual beer-drinkers (or non-beer-drinkers) in the crowd, and apparently they don’t take out-of-state IDs anymore, no matter how obviously the bearer is of age, so that takes this place off the table for Mass ex-pats like the writers of this blog.
So that’s how we’re gonna run these. I’ll also let Matt have his say whenever he wants to. We’ll probably do one of these after the weekend about Orono if Matt and Derek don’t get eaten by aphids or whatever happens up there (I’ve already made the trip so I’ve got plenty to say anyway). Stay tuned and we’ll be putting these aside in a separate page once the next one goes up.