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Union Station in Northampton to become banquet facility, sports bar; Tunnel Bar and The Deck to stay



Monday, November 18, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — As a customer of the former Union Station restaurant, John Rhoades liked what he saw in manager Jeremiah Micka.

So he meant it two years ago when, over a beer served up by Micka, he floated an idea of going into business together.

“One night he said to me, ‘If you ever really plan on doing something, I’m in for X amount of dollars. If you ever want to get serious about owning this place, let me know,’” Micka said.

A short time later, Micka turned to his wife and said he wanted to buy the historic building in which he’d worked off and on for nearly two decades.

“When you’re in this building for that long, you see things that work and don’t work ... I wasn’t going to lay in bed and think the rest of my life that I should have,” he said.

So was born the reincarnation of the former Union Station train depot, an iconic 1896 building in a prime downtown spot off Pleasant Street where high-speed Amtrak trains may soon stop several times a day. Earlier this week, Micka and Rhoades, along with Dave Fortier, Rhoades’ brother-in-law, closed on a deal to buy the 30,000-square-foot building and accompanying 200-space parking lot at 125A Pleasant St for $2.55 million under a pair of business entities called Harmonic Rock LLC and Notch 8 Inc.

The sale includes two existing businesses: the Tunnel Bar that runs underneath the building and The Deck, a seasonal bar near the front of the building. Micka currently manages those businesses, which will stay open and be joined by a new 200-seat banquet facility called Union Station Banquets and a bar called Platform Sports Bar.

The 2.5-acre site is next to an old passenger platform pegged for upgrades later this year in preparation for the return of passenger rail service to Northampton. The three self-described “Hamp” natives began pursuing the purchase of the building from Matthew Pitoniak before those train plans crystallized, but they say a train dumping potential customers at their door is an enticing prospect.

“That’s icing on the cake,” Fortier said.

Pitoniak, a restaurateur who owns Fitzwilly’s downtown, had operated the former Union Station and Spaghetti Freddy’s restaurants out of the old train depot for years before closing both restaurants in March of 2011.

The new banquet facility would take up most of the space formerly occupied by the Union Station restaurant. The 3,000 square feet of space would include a main dining room that takes advantage of the original depot’s 30-foot-high ceilings. Micka said renovations over the next six months will include removal of nearly everything — booths, seating and a staircase, to name a few — except for the ceilings and brick siding. Other than construction of a new built-in dance floor, the rest of the improvements will be cosmetic changes.

The facility will be marketed for weddings, bar mitzvahs, bridal showers and other special events on weekends, and to business clientèle during the week, Micka said.

The new bar is to be sited at the back of the building where the old train platform used to be. In addition to drinks, the bar will serve traditional pub food and offer 22 televisions, including 16 40-inch flat screens around the outside walls; two 55-inch TVs on the back wall; and four TVs hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the bar.

“Everybody will have visibility of every game,” Micka said.

The restaurant will feature booths along its exterior, an area for pool tables and other games, and an 80-foot, U-shaped bar top made out of trees that came out of Childs Park years ago. Micka said the bar will also feature photos from Northampton’s history, including one of President Theodore Roosevelt campaigning on the back of a train with the Union Station building in the background.

“We want to add a lot of the city’s history to this,” Micka said.

The owners believe the sports bar will fill a niche, and Micka hopes it will give The Deck customers a place to go during the off season or in bad weather.

He said he hopes to see the sports bar open in about three months, with the banquet facility opening in about six months.

The main entrance will be in the center of the building that fronts a bike path. Patrons who enter will be able to visit the banquet room and pub on the main floor or the Tunnel Bar downstairs. Additionally, space between the bar and banquet room will be used as overflow for the businesses and for small functions.

Micka, who will manage the businesses with his wife, Jessica, started washing dishes for Pitoniak at age 13 and worked his way up to prep cook, server, bartender, bar manager and now owner.

Jessica Micka will be the general manager, overseeing day-to-day operations. The group anticipates it will need to hire about 30 new employees, who will join 11 who work at the Tunnel Bar.

Rhoades, who owns a financial planning business, said he will move his business from West Springfield into second-floor office space, where Notch Inc.’s offices will also be located.

Like many businesses, Rhoades said the group will display a symbolic dollar bill in the bar that he received while the deal was coming together. This phrase was written on the bill: “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

“This dollar bill is very appropriate,” Rhoades said. “So I said we’re going to keep that. We’re going to frame it and put it in here. If we ever doubted that we could this, that would kill the dream right there.”