You could say that Packard’s on Masonic Street is an institution in Northampton. Purchased by Bob McGovern in 1977, the neighborhood bar, which has long been a watering hole for locals, has now put the focus on food.
As Bob says, “It used to be a bar with a restaurant, now it’s a restaurant with a bar.”
It was Meg Cole, Packard’s manager and a bartender, who recommended Packard’s shift gears and focus on food, noting that the bar would take care of itself.
Bob agreed, saying, “The days of the bars are gone. The days of having fun in the bars are gone – everyone’s too serious.”
Packard’s is still where the locals hang out, but by putting the focus on food, it is drawing a new crowd. One of the reasons is that Packard’s keeps the kitchen open late. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. during the week, 11 p.m. on Thursdays, and midnight on weekends.
We’re the place to go for late-night food,” Bob said, noting that workers from other restaurants that close earlier, will come here to eat after their shift.
Umi Abkin, who owned the popular Coco restaurant in Easthampton, consulted on the new menu, and Bob said he was grateful to her for reaching out during tough Covid times.
“Her departure from the Valley was a great loss to those who loved her,” Bob added.
Collin Warner, formerly a chef at Sierra Grill, is now at the helm of Packard’s kitchen, turning out Jerk Chicken, Cuban and Carolina-Style Pulled Pork sandwiches, appetizers and salads, and Kona Rub New York Strip Steak, Grilled Steak Tips (Bob’s favorite), Buttermilk Friend Chicken and a Grilled Vegetable and Rice Bowl, to name a few of the dinner entrees. There is a kid’s menu, too, as well as a short list of desserts.
There are food and drink specials that change every two weeks. A recent specials menu featured Swiss Cheese and Bacon Croquettes, Cajun Chicken and Vegetables – and Bob’s favorite special – Pulled Pork Tacos. The most popular specials are rotated, but something new is always added.
Even with the new focus on food, Packard’s would not be Packard’s without its legendary history. Although known for always taking care of the locals, Packard’s has hosted its share of celebrities – Tom Cruise has visited, as has the actor Ken Tigar, and the cast party for the movie “The Cider House Rules” was held there.
During the Blizzard of ’78, when most businesses were closed, Packard’s was packed with snow plow drivers and EMTs – all of whom ate and drank on the house.
Bob recalls when Northampton instituted a smoking ban in all bars and restaurants.
“I said we’re not gonna do it and The Board of Health didn’t fine me or shut me down then. They have been a great help during Covid, and we thank them for all that they have done. Let’s say that on some things we agree to disagree, and that makes all the difference,” Bob said.
“We’ve always pushed the limit,” Bob said, but when the smoking ban was made statewide five years later, Packard’s complied, although customers can still smoke outside in an outside courtyard off the center of the restaurant.
Packard’s is still the local hangout, and as Bob McGovern says, “If you want to have a good time, you’ll have a great time.”
14 Masonic Street