Local haunt, the Harp serves up delicious food, cold beer and goodwill

By Brendan Murphy

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The Harp is the quintessential traditional Irish bar that every town needs, but very few have. In addition to their 16 beers on tap, they offer a wide selection of great food and entertainment to keep their patrons happy. Upon walking in, there’s a noticeable feel that this bar is different than any other in Amherst. The walls are adorned with Red Sox garb, and of course, everything Irish. Heroes from Ireland’s history such as Daniel O’Connell, Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone hang outside the men’s room. Flags, jerseys and shamrocks decorate the place as well, and festive green lighting trims the ceiling all around.

As a restaurant, the Harp serves lunch on Fridays and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. Starting this week, they are offering lunch on Thursdays and Saturdays as well. “We’re known for our seafood,” said bartender Yasmin Abbyad, referring to their regularly offered fish and chips and frequent lunch and dinner seafood specials. Their menu is packed with everything from burgers and hot dogs to hot sandwiches and salads, and flatbread pizzas are available any time the Harp is open. The beer-battered boneless chicken is flavorful, juicy and delicious, while their appetizers make for great pub food when knocking back a couple beers. Anything from crispy, golden French fries to jalapeno poppers are available. Their famous Irish nachos, Cajun-seasoned waffle fries topped with cheddar jack, olives, sour cream, salsa and jalapenos, go hand-in-hand with their trivia night. It is, by far, the most popular appetizer on the menu.

The Harp offers entertainment in the form of a trivia night on Tuesdays and live traditional Irish music on Thursday afternoons and Friday evenings. After 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Irish music yields to the brand-new karaoke night. It also doubles as a sports bar, and is probably one of the only places in town to televise soccer and rugby matches. When the Red Sox regular season kicks off, they set up an 8×10 foot projection screen on their outdoor deck to show the games.

The wildly popular trivia night is one of the Harp’s busiest events. Most nights of the week, Harp owner Mark Power (also known as “Harpo”) is at the bar, running around greeting regulars or introducing himself to newcomers. On Tuesdays, however, he takes the microphone and emcees trivia, announcing 50 questions to his patrons. Multiple teams of up to five people compete for five different cash prizes of varying amounts. At the end of the night, there’s a free all-you-can-eat buffet that seems to cap off the evening perfectly. There’s a mandatory $5 donation to join in, and all of the proceeds (besides the cash prizes) go to charity.

As a well-respected contributor to the local community, the Harp generates tens of thousands of dollars each year in charity donations. Trivia night proceeds go to a different organization each week, ranging from cash-strapped RSOs at the University of Massachusetts, to the Amherst Survival Center. The Anthony B. Anderson fund, founded by the Harp, donates thousands of dollars each year to local youth sports organizations. Patrons who wear a Yankees hat into the bar must donate a dollar to the Jimmy Fund, the Red Sox-sponsored cancer charity.

Born in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston and raised in Roxbury, Mass., Mr. Power was a boat builder by trade. He came to Amherst in his 20s and opened the Harp nine years ago, coincidentally on the anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland.

When asked what the inspiration was to start a traditional Irish bar, he explained, “I became interested in Ireland after studying Norman history. Norman influence can be seen almost everywhere, including Ireland. I studied Irish history, and essentially my interest in that caused me to create the Harp.”

The Harp isn’t like the average Amherst bar. It caters to a wide variety of clients, from local farmers and lumber yard workers to students and university faculty. He wanted to create a different experience other than what he calls “Meat-rack bars: Drunks yelling over noise.”

During my interview with Mr. Power, he excused himself to cut a check out to the local Boys and Girls Club and point a local farmer in the direction of recycled fryolator oil, used to power his farm equipment. 

When asked about his regular charitable donations, Power explained, “The Harp’s primary function is charity. My theory is that I donate the same amount to charity as what I pay myself.” There’s no arguing that the Harp’s donations have helped out many different organizations around Amherst. Places like the Jones Library and the Amherst Survival Center are grateful for the hard work and money that the Harp doles out regularly.

In addition to being a bar owner, Power teaches classes at the University of Massachusetts, is a member of the Amherst Town Meeting and holds a seat on the farm committee. He has experience teaching early and late medieval history and early and late western civilization, and for the past 20 years has taught “The Irish Experience” through the University’s continuing education program.

The Harp is located at 163 Sunderland Road in North Amherst, Mass. Although many students don’t discover it until their senior year, or at least until they turn 21, it’s just a seven-to-eight minute walk from Hobart Lane or Brandywine Apartments. Stop in for lunch or dinner, or just come for a drink to be greeted by the lovely staff of bartenders. The Harp’s theme is steeped in Irish tradition, but there’s enough going on for people of all backgrounds to have a truly great time.

Brendan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]