Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Harp, a North Amherst landmark, blends change with tradition

By Griffin Lyons

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Official The Harp Irish Pub Facebook Page

(Official The Harp Irish Pub Facebook Page)

When The Harp closed for repairs in mid-August, questions began to circulate about its future in North Amherst. Was it closed for good? Was Mark “Harpo” Power, the owner and operator since it opened, selling the business?

With the Harp’s reopening on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 12 (just in time for the day’s college football games), those questions were put to rest. The Harp had a brand new ceiling, refinished furniture and new wire-frame incandescent lamps hanging above the bar, among other repairs and improvements. The Harp wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, bar staff assured customers.

In business since 2001, The Harp has become a local landmark in North Amherst, located at the intersection of Sunderland Road and Cowls Road. The bar it replaced, Mike’s Westview, had been in operation since the end of Prohibition. The Harp has kept much of the old business’s daytime customer base, as well as much of the furniture – its L-shaped bar has occupied its position within the building for decades.

Among college students of drinking age, The Harp has attracted crowds regularly for years with Tuesday night trivia games and Thursday night karaoke, in addition to occasional musical acts on Wednesday nights and live performances of traditional Irish seisiun (Gaelic for “session”) music on Thursday and Friday evenings. Proceeds from the trivia night winnings, where players pay $5 per person to participate and access a midnight buffet, are evenly split between winners and a different local charity or registered student organization at the University of Massachusetts each week. Power stated that the Harp’s trivia night has supported dozens of charities and RSOs since its establishment.

In the face of that history as a comparatively young but already established local business, The Harp’s recent repairs have been undertaken with a mind towards its future, said Tom Walsh, who has come on-board at The Harp to oversee the expansion of the food program and help Power manage the business’s day-to-day operations as it enters the next phase of its existence, with the hopes of one day assuming ownership.

Walsh cited the development of the food program as an important element of operations going forward, starting with as-yet unfinished repairs to the kitchen necessary for what he described as improved quality of life conditions for staff.

Plans for The Harp’s food program, according to Walsh, include house-specialty hamburgers, seafood sourced from the Ipswich Shellfish Company and a menu that is gluten-free save for any meals with bread or rolls. The Harp’s current selection of beers, cocktails, wines and other drinks will expand and involve a diverse rotation of options, without sacrificing the staples of which customers are familiar.

Walsh was keen, however, to stress that The Harp will not lose any of its focus on community, affordability or an open environment. He said that The Harp was not, and would not become “a college bar,” and would continue to cater to the needs of college-aged customers without eschewing the local and blue-collar patrons who Walsh sees as the core of The Harp’s business. The goal is to offer excellent service without pitting quality against price

“It has to make literal cents to make financial sense,” he added.
Discussing the varying demographics of The Harp during an average day, Walsh said that he hoped to attract more families in the evening with its food program, between the daytime and nighttime crowds. When asked whether he foresaw any difficulties balancing out the needs of each different crowd, Walsh stated that the transition between them would “always require some finessing.”

With the Harp adjacent to the ongoing development of the Mill District on Cowls Road, Walsh expressed enthusiasm for the revitalization, as well as for The Harp’s prospects in the North Amherst area. Walsh cited the lack of traffic congestion, proximity to other local businesses and different types of college clientele attracted by the distance from town center as strengths in the relationship between the community and The Harp that Power has fostered. He encouraged any neighbors to reach out with their concerns, should they have any.

With a renewed focus to take The Harp’s service to the next level, as Walsh put it, time will tell if, paradoxically, change can help the bar stay true to its existing place in the Amherst community.

Griffin Lyons can be reached at [email protected]

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