Patrons from far and wide bid adieu to Hugo’s

  • Carol Joannidi and Dana Hunt have a beer during the final day of business at Hugo's, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steve Robillard shares memories during the final day of business at Hugo's, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Artwork drawn by Mark Bode on the women's rest room wall at Hugo's in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Susan Harrison reminisces about time she spent at Hugo's during the establishment's final day of business, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Vinnie Falkowski shares memories of Hugo’s during the establishment’s final day of business, Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Elaine Jandu, left, and Michelle Squires share a hug during the final day of business at Hugo's, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A card for Linda Omasta, the bartender at Hugo's, rests on a table during the establishment's final day of business, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Beer pulls, signs and other souvenirs were available for purchase during the final day of business at Hugo's, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Patrons line the bar during the final day of business at Hugo's, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2018 11:26:33 PM

NORTHAMPTON – On its final night of operation, those who love Hugo’s Cafe came to say goodbye.

Posted at the far end of the bar, near the jukebox, Dana Hunt and his wife, Carol Joannidi, recalled their first date, which took place at the bar, one day short of 16 years ago. The couple, who now live in Holyoke, mark this, not their wedding, as their anniversary,

“We ended up pretty much closing the bar,” said Joannidi. “We’ve been together every day, pretty much ever since.”

Hunt and Joannidi said that they learned about Hugo’s closing from the article on it in the Gazette.

“This is an institution for a certain era,” said Hunt, who made clear that Hugo’s is not a Noho bar. “It is old Hamp.”

They travel a lot for their work — Joannidi is an artist and Hunt her assistant — but they still try to stop in “once a quarter.”

“Seeing this leave is really hard,” Hunt said.

“So hard,” said Joannidi. “We had to come.”

Hunt said that it’s vital that the working class continue to be a vibrant part of life in the city.

“Without it, what is known as Northampton would not exist,” he said.

Indeed, he said Hugo’s loss is a blow to those who are invested in staying in the Pioneer Valley and not just passing through. On this last night, tables, chairs, beer taps and art that has been on Hugo’s walls for years was sold to those in attendance. And within the bar’s now bare walls, the electricity of a true moment in history could be felt.

Some in the comfortably crowded bar hadn’t been to Hugo’s in a long while.

“I haven’t been in here in many, many years,” said Susan Harrison.

Harrison recalled coming into Hugo’s 43 years ago, when she was 19 years old and living in her van with her dog. Later, she got a one-bedroom apartment near the bar.

“I was here in the days of Willie throwing people out the back door and Duncan with his giant afro,” she said.

Still, Harrison said she always felt safe at Hugo’s, noting that Duncan and Willie made the “perfect pair,”  with Duncan being the nicest man in the world and Willie being the roughest, although she couldn’t remember  last their names.

“It was the best,” she said, recalling playing pool and the jukebox.

Indeed, she said that the jukebox made the bar special.

“Number one,” said Harrison. “It was the best jukebox anywhere.”

Harrison, a retired artist, lived for 20 years in Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula, in a small town.

“Kind of like old Northampton,” she said.

She moved back to Northampton to be near her grandchildren, two of whom live in Easthampton and one of whom lives in Brooklyn. However, she hadn’t been in Hugo’s since the 1970s.

“This was the place to be,” said Harrison, whose drink of choice Wednesday was a Smuttynose IPA.

And now that it’s closing?

“It makes me so sad,” she said, lamenting the loss of the neighborhood bar.

Al Valenta, meanwhile, a Hugo’s regular, was also in attendance bidding it goodbye.

“Been coming here for years,” he said.

Indeed, Valenta used to come to Hugo’s for sandwiches when he was “a kid, working up the street,” in 1972-73 at Hastings, a door and window place.

“The guys would come down here for lunch,” he said. “I would tag along.”

Valenta remarked on the packed bar, and that it was too bad that people didn’t show up like this all the time.

“Then they’d probably still be open,” he said.

Valenta said he’ll now be going to The Office in Florence, his other bar.

Old employees also made an appearance at the bar’s wake.

“I used to work here many years ago,” said  Steve Robillard, who bartended at Hugo’s from 2002-03.

“I’m gonna miss it,” Robillard said. “It’s like a fixture of this end of Pleasant Street.”

Flo Howes, of South Deerfield,  was a bartender at Hugo’s in 1989.

Like Harrison, she noted that Hugo’s was a safe place.

“The beautiful thing was, everybody was family here, and the patrons were here,” she said. “If anybody came and gave any ... trouble, they would take care of the problem, so you didn’t have to call the police.”

Calling the police also cost a dime at the payphone back then, she revealed.

“And I was just this young kid,” she said. “There was a lot of stuff that went on here that we’ll never even say.”

Howes also noted that she and her fellow bartenders used to have a contest for how low the lights could be kept down.

“My childhood is legitimately over,” said Howes, 52, on Hugo’s closing.

Vinny Falkowski used to go to Hugo’s “a lot,” although he hasn’t been to the bar in a while.

“I have so many memories of these two dart boards,” he said.

Falkowski, a member of four local bands, also recalled the jukebox fondly, which included the music of local act The Unband, as well as free pool nights and sitting and talking at Hugo’s tables.

“It’s not just this bar,” said Falkowski, saying that there is a national trend of dive bars closing, a term he used with affection and reverence. “A lot of these places are going.”

“This is eclectic Nirvana,” he said.

“It’s sad when you see a city icon go down,” said Mike Willard, who first started coming to the bar before it was even called Hugo’s in 1961.

“Where were they five years ago?” said Willard, on the night’s crowd.

Bob Aquadro started coming to Hugo’s in 1972 when he was a “kid.”

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “Time has stopped in this bar.”

He said there was a long time when he didn’t come to Hugo’s, but that he started coming periodically again in his “old age.” And he expressed sadness at its passing.

“When you get to my age, things start to go,” he said. “It was old Northampton.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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