The Montague Book Mill is an incredibly unique place. They sell a bumper sticker that explains it all: “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” About 15 miles from Amherst, the Book Mill (housed in a 1842 gristmill) includes a used bookstore, a café that sells coffee/beer/light food (à la the Tria toaster-oven kitchen), a reservations-recommended restaurant, an art gallery, and a record store. Eventually, some professor will ask you, “Have you been to the Book Mill? You must go to the Book Mill.” In addition to drawing the academic types, this place is a favorite stop for cyclists.
While I have never bought a book at the Book Mill (small miracle), I have spent many hours in the café. Last spring, the Book Mill was my favorite place to study for my comprehensive exams. A lovely 25-minute drive through the rolling hills that define the landscape of Western Mass, the round-trip time commitment requires you to stay a while.
The café, set partially above the Sawmill River, enjoys tons of natural light. The sound of rushing water below helps to drown out the sound of fellow café goers. While the café doesn’t have an espresso machine, the coffee is strong. The light menu of pressed sandwiches, charcuterie, and salad is totally acceptable. They make what they can with a panini press, toaster over, and microwave.
I have a particular love for cafés that also serve beer and wine. After several hours of studying, this is a rather nice/tempting option. A Dogfish Head or Victory on tap always made me smile. There are about four bar seats in front of the food preparation area. Later in the evening, a local contingent shows up to drink the craft beer on tap and watch the Red Sox on an unnecessary and distracting flat-screen TV.
As anyone who reads or writes for a living might agree, a quality working space is invaluable. As an undergrad I came to believe that certain locations have good “study karma” (southeast fourth floor Van Pelt Library, last carrel on the right, I’m thinking about you). When I'm in Philly, I still find that spot to be incredibly productive. By contrast, UMass has the worst library ever built. Amongst other reasons, I don’t go there because I’m afraid of being sexually assaulted (no exaggeration). Thus, off-campus locations have been the lifeblood of my graduate work in Western Mass.
The Book Mill has all the qualities of a solid working space: natural light, caffeine, the ambient noise of water rushing, food, and if you like, alcohol. I have never found a café quite like it and I probably never will. I’m tempted to buy the bumper sticker, but I’d like to get out of Western Mass with a minimal number of bumper stickers.
Montague Book Mill