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Each year the local weekly newspaper, The Valley Advocate, conducts a readers poll of all that is the very best in the Pioneer Valley. The poll is, of course, all about which companies and individuals can get the most customers, friends and family to vote for them, so whether or not those selected are indeed the very best at what they do is, in many cases, debatable. But it all makes for a terrific issue when the winners are finally announced. The polling is done entirely online (go here), and voters must vote in at least 10 categories in order for your ballot to count. Balloting ends at noontime on February 10th, 2010, and the winners will be announced in April.
This year I thought I’d offer my two-cents on who I think should get “The Best” honors in a few selected categories. Some of my picks may not match up with the Advocate’s categories, but if you’re going to slavishly vote in line with my choices, I’m sure you can find an appropriate spot to write them in.
*Note: I used last year’s categories as reference.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT (Advocate’s: “Get Out” – “Edibles and Eateries”)
Best Adult Entertainment Club: The Mardi Gras
When I was much younger than I am today, my friends and I used to frequent the nudie bars quite a bit. That was back in the day when beer and partying took budgeting preference over such things as, say, food and bills. Invariably, too, we always had to deal with the occasional hag shaking her not-so-hot stuff right up close to us. (Keep on drinking, boys!) Visitors to the Mardi Gras are spared such experiences. I don’t recall ever seeing anything but the hottest looking chicks strolling the stage at a place I have often referred to as “The Man Palace.”
Best Sports Bar: Sophia’s Sports Bar
Located across from Western New England College at the corner of Breckwood Blvd. and Wilbraham Road, Sophia’s has the advantage of also being a pizza shop (they were at one time two different establishments). What I really like about Sophia’s, too, is that they oftentimes hire local college girls to waitress or tend bar – and I can tell you, guys, many of these young ladies are hot. Well worth the price of a draft beer
Best Restaurant: Lido Ristorante
Located on Worthington Street in downtown Springfield (across from the SFD headquarters), long-time city residents will know the Lido Ristorante while many newcomers probably may not. It is truly a gem in an area of the downtown that has seen better days. The food (Italian fare) is great and comes in large portions. Back when my class schedule at STCC allowed, I used to make a lunch stop at the Lido once or twice a week. Good stuff.
Best Vietnamese Restaurant: Bamboo House (Springfield)
Their coffee kicks ass!
Best Indian Restaurant: The Sitar (Springfield)
I once went to the Sitar to have lunch with now-former City Councilor Patrick Markey. The food was fantastic, and the prices were terrific.
Best German Restaurant: Student Prince
The best German restaurant in Springfield is also the best German restaurant in the entire region.
Best Theater Restoration: 1.) The Paramount Theater 2.) The Bing Arts Center
1.) Co-owners Mike Barrasso and Steven Stein finally got the funding needed to pay off their back taxes and begin the immense undertaking of restoring the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Springfield to its full past glory. The Paramount is loaded with history and there’s been a groundswell of support from folks who are eager to visit this vital part of Springfield’s cultural past.
2.) Project leader Brian Hale has done a terrific job restoring the former Bing Theater, located on Sumner Avenue in Springfield, into what he hopes to see as a first-rate community arts center. The Bing Arts Center will feature visual and performing arts exhibitions from throughout the valley, and also host classes and provide meeting space for neighborhood groups. Good luck to Brian and all the folks working to make the Bing Arts Center a success.
Best Downtown: Northampton
On a trip to downtown Northampton last year, I witnessed a family – father, mother and daughter – on what looked like a sight-seeing tour of the city. The daughter was eagerly pointing out shops and stores to her parents (“Look! There’s Thornes!”), sounding all the world like a kid on a trip to Disney World. Unbelievable. That being said, if it wasn’t so far away, Keene, NH, would beat out Northampton in this category.
LOCAL BUSINESSES/SERVICES (“At Your Service” – “Material World” – “Well Worn”)
Best Attorney: Norma Carr Calarese
If you find yourself in a legal jam, call on Norma. Just don’t get on her bad side, though, because she’s got a cold stare that will make even the bravest man tremble in fear.
Best Auto Repair Service: Bob Powell’s Auto Repair (East Longmeadow)
Bob and his wife Karen not only fix cars for folks in need, but in the past they’ve also found time to raise a little hell in local politics – acting as the foils for such past leaders as former Springfield Mayor Mike Albano. These days they’re concentrating on their auto repair business, but they still keep a keen eye on the political goings-on of Springfield.
Best Garden Center: 16 Acres Garden Center
The 16 Acres Garden Center is a huge place that not only provides customers with a wide variety of garden and landscaping supplies, but also hosts regular seminars on gardening and landscaping. What I like most about it, though, is that it’s located on Wilbraham Road (Spfld) – which is right on the way to Sophia’s Sports Bar, where the waitresses and bartenders are hot.
Best Barber Shop/Stylist: Terri’s Barber Styling Shop
Located on North Main Street in East Longmeadow, Terri’s is a nice little place where a guy can get a regular hair cut at a decent price. Not only that, but your host, Terri, is also a cool chick to chat with and always has a good variety of music playing for your listening pleasure.
Best Bed & Breakfast: Naomi’s Inn
Located just across the street from Baystate Medical Center in Springfield’s North End, Naomi’s Inn is the perfect place to stay of you’re in town to visit with loved ones at the nearby hospital. The inn features six themed suites that include amenities such as air conditioning, cable TV, private baths, Internet access and telephones with voice mail.
Best Corporate Benefactor: MassMutual
Where in the world would Springfield be today if not for the commitment of MassMutual? As bad as things have been for the city these past few decades, things could have been a whole lot worse without MassMutual being a part of the community.
Best Hardware Store: Rocky’s
If you want to wander around for an hour or more browsing for something you need, then stop in at the Home Depot or Lowes. But if you want to get what you need and be in and out of a store in five or ten minutes, then Rocky’s is the place to shop. I’ve been going to the Rocky’s in East Longmeadow since I was a teenager.
Best Four-Year College: Western New England College
WNEC gets the nod for Best 4-year College, easily beating out the America-bashing and criminal-loving UMass. Besides being a better representative of the community that surrounds it, WNEC is also the school of choice for some of the waitresses and bartenders that work at Sophia’s Sports Bar. And they are hot!
Best Two-Year College: Springfield Technical Community College
I attend school there, and if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for anyone. Just don’t ever call it “stick” – a lot of the administrators and professors hate that. Student bonus: Go to school and walk the grounds of the nation’s first national armory. The nifty Springfield Armory Museum is on campus, too, and the Springfield Museums are just a short walk down the street.
MEDIA WORLD (“Media Mavens”)
Best Television Reporter: Matt Campbell
Matt Campbell is a great guy – always quick with a smile and a “hello” when we run into each other at various events. He’s not hot, however. Channel 22′s Veronica Cintron is hot. Very hot.
Best Springfield Beat Reporter(s): Maureen Turner and G. Michael Dobbs
Too many times the Republican has white-washed the reporting of events in Springfield for their own purposes. Enter the Valley Advocate’s Maureen Turner and the Reminder Publications’ Mike Dobbs. Just when the shifty characters of Springfield’s political elite think they’ve skipped away with another scam on the people, Turner and Dobbs show up on the news pages to blow their cover.
Best Springfield Crime Reporter: Stephanie Barry
Stephanie Barry’s reporting on organized crime and other gritty issues is top notch stuff. Whenever I see a feature article with her name on it, I know it’s going to be a good read.
Best Radio Personality(s): Bax & O’Brien
Bax & O’Brien have only had me on their show once, but that’s one more time than their chief competitor, the WHYN Morning Show. I guess fair is fair, since I only mention them about once a year, myself. One day, when I have my own radio show, I’m going to have them on twice.
Best Local Online News Source: Masslive
Interestingly, the website that acts as the Republican’s online presence remains largely independent of its hardcopy step sister. Vastly underfunded for what it’s being called on to provide, Masslive still manages to deliver high quality content for its visitors. It’s the first stop for most folks when they go online.
Best Local Blog: Northampton Media
Wow. Northampton Media publisher Mary Serreze has done an outstanding job with this project. Acting as both an original news source and a “news round-up” service, Northampton Media looks more like an online newspaper than a collaborative blog. In fact, even calling it a “mere” blog seems to do it a disservice.
Well, that’s it for my own selections for Best of the Valley. To get your own votes in for the Valley Advocate’s “Best of the Valley” awards, stop by this linked page and register to vote. Remember, the deadline for voting is 12-noon on February 10, 2010.