Worcester’s Special People

In 1986, I moved from New York City to Worcester, Massachusetts. Beyond the basic necessities of food, housewares and automotive parts, there was not very much to shop for in Worcester. Grafton Street, though, did have a birdbath store.

Worcester now is not the same city that I moved to back then. Let’s just look at spring and summer of 2012.

Local break dancers - stART on the Street - September 2012Great performances by a local break-dancing group were among the many highlights during stART on the Street’s 10th Anniversary Fall Edition, held in September 2012 along Park Avenue in Worcester.

There was the stART on the Street art festival along funky Green Street in the Canal District. Thank you Tina Zlody and her stART on the Street crew. The next week, two events attracted people came from across the country and around world to Worcester. Paulie Collyer put on Paulie’s NOLA Jazz and Blues Festival, a three-day extravaganza of music, fun and food that attracted a packed crowd. Many more attendees were from outside of Worcester than there were Worcesterites.

Not taking a backseat to any event, Alec Lopez of The Dive BarArmsby Abbey and a soon-to-come-artisan bakery), along with world-famous beer importer Will Shelton of Shelton Brothers, attracted brew masters and micro brewers from all over the world to Worcester. What an event and crowd! And just like after stART on the Street, there was no better place to enjoy it than on the patio behind The Dive Bar, with Duncan Arsenault leading the band.

A week earlier, there was Blue Man Group at the beautifully and authentically restored, Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts. For the Hanover Theatre’s ongoing success in bringing national tours and community support to Worcester, thank you to project developers Ed Madaus and Paul Demoga with an assist from David Forsberg, Craig Blais and the rest of the Worcester Business Development Corp.

That same Thursday evening, 150 or so people ventured to nearby Worcester Common to hear a rock-and-roll band and then watch an outdoor movie. Thank you to Jim McKeag and Eric Kuczarsk of Worcester Film Works.

The weekend after, the Worcester Asian Festival took place at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, featuring dancers from Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Laotia, Japan, Korea, China, Nepal, Thailand and Bhutan. Thank you to Sahdev Passey, Thuha Le, Oanh Nguyen and the rest of the folks at the Southeast Asian Coalition.

I also attended the African-American Juneteenth celebration at Institute Park. thank you to organizers Parlee Jones of Abby’s House and Keesha LaTulippe of the Henry Lee Willis Center as well as to WPI for the park enhancements. And I went to Byblos Restaurant & Lounge. Thank you to Salim Lahoud for a soul experience inside the beautifully restored Union Station, (Also at Salim’s place every third Thursday is Poetry Cove, hosted by Efua Dufu).

Thank you to Allen Fletcher of the now-defunct Union Station Alliance, Congressman Jim McGovern and the Worcester Redevelopment Authority for both the Union Station renovation and the new, fantastic streetscape enhancements in the Canal District. Thanks also go to Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, Jim McGovern (again) as well as to John Giangregorio, Seth Derderian and Allison Alaimo of the Canal District Alliance for the District’s vibrant spirit. Recently, New Orleans-style food came to the Canal District, when Gumbo opened on Water Street. Check out the backroom cave, if you’re suffering from heat or light exhaustion.

The next weekend, I went to a new, stylish Asian restaurant, 7 Nana on Shrewsbury Street. Thank you to owners John Batista and Rob Franco for restoring the former Buick dealership and adjacent building, across Shrewsbury Street from the 111 Chophouseand Via Italian TableIA A big thank you to owners Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist for those two restaurants plus Tthe Sole Proprietor, their one other restaurant on Highland Street. The Sole is so good that it caused Legal Seafood to flee the city because it couldn’t compete with the Ahlquist’ delicious food.

Good place for a social 

I started this voyage out and about town from where I live at Bancroft Commons on Franklin Street. Thank you to John McGrail and the rest of the team at the Mayo Group,which developed that project. Thank you as well to the Mayo Group and Paul Morano and Timothy McGourthy of the City of Worcester for developing the nearby Portland Street Lofts. I also considered living in the Canal Lofts, a restored building on Water Street that used to house Chevalier Furniture. Thanks also go to Winn Companies for developing that project.

After eating Middle Eastern food at the recently upgraded Bay State Bakery on Water Street – thank you to owner Ayman Jaber – I went to Third Thursday at the Worcester Art Museum on Salisbury Street – thank you to WAM’s Brigit Straehle. There, I heard Jubilee Gardens, who play once a month at Sahara Restaurant on Highland Street. Thank you to Sahara owner Farid Aoude for a good place to have a social life for those who are no longer in their 20s but too young to feel comfortable with an older crowd often found at Maxwell Silverman’s Toolhouse at Lincoln Square.

Thank you to owner Gus Giordano for both Maxwell Silverman’s and Luciano’s Restaurant in Union Station. Thanks to the John family for the mixed-aged crowd at The Boynton Restaurant & Spirits on Highland Street. And thanks to Irish immigrants Brendon and Claire O’Connor, who so long ago brought us Worcester’s other great pub, O’Connors Restaurant & Barand on West Boylston Street, that we forget they weren’t born and raised in Worcester.

Earlier that same week, I ate terrific food at the monthly Flamenco Night at Bocados Tapas Wine Bar on Winter Street, in the Canal District, and had the greatest guacamole ever at Mezcal Tequila Cantina on Shrewsbury Street. Thank you to owners Mike Covino and Mike LaRusso at the Niche Hospitality Group.The guacamole at Plaza Aztecas on Lincoln Street can’t compete with Mezcal. But at both Plaza Aztecas and Cantina Bar & Grill on Main Street, you can dance to Latina music on Friday and Saturday nights. Thank you to Grace Carvajal, who owns Cantina.For even more Latino music and food, you can attend the Latin American Festival, held every August behind or in front of City Hall in downtown Worcester. thank you to organizer Dolly Vasquez and her team at Centro Las Americas. Thank you as well to Allen Fletcher and the Fletcher Foundation, which helps to fund the Festival.Multiple times, I have also attended the Live At Sunset weekly summer music series at the EcoTarium on Harrington Way. There, I’ve heard great rhythm and blues as well as zydeco music from New Orleans.Weeks earlier, I attended the wonderfully famous St. Spyridon Grecian Festival at Spyridon Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Russell Street, near Elm Park. Thank you to organizers Sideris Angelou, Chris Liazos, former owner of The Webster House, Christina Andrianopoulos and Worcester’s entire Greek community. This bi-yearly festival alternates with the Albanian Festival, held at the nearby St. Mary’s Assumption Albanian Orthodox Church on Salisbury Street.I also heard jazz that Thursday night at the high-end Ceres Bistro, located at the Beechwood Hotel on Plantation Street. Thank you to owner Charles Birbara, chanteuse Niki Luparelli & the Gold Diggers and, again, the Niche Hospitality Group, which manages Ceres Bistro. And I attended the Summer Stolztice party at Worcester Fitnesson Grove Street. Thank you Hank Stolz and Sherman Whitman of  WCRN 830 AM News & Talkradio for organizing the event.
Afterwards, Hank and Patty Stolz and I went to Vincent’s Bar on Suffolk Street which is great, but no more so than Ralph’s Rock Diner on Grove Street and especially Nick’s Bar & Restaurant on Millbury Street. Thank you owner Vincent Hemmeter and manager Nicole Watson of Vincent’s Bar, who help define cool in Worcester. As do singer Helen Beaumont and singer/songwriter Bob Jordan, who played a Bob Dylan tribute at Beatnik’s on Park Avenue, and thanks to owner Niki Brouillette and her former husband and good friend, Josh Dolittle.On the Fourth of July, the Massachusetts Worcester Symphony Orchestra performed at Cristoforo Colombo Park (a.k.a. East Park) on Shrewsbury Street. Thank you Paul Levenson of the Mass. Symphony Orchestra, and thank you to Bob Moscoffian for having his New England Summer Nationals car extravaganza roar into town again at Green Hill Park.Especially, thank you to Erin Williams of the Worcester Cultural Coalition and Ellen Dunlap of  American Antiquarian Society for creating and adding to the Coalition. And thanks to Troy Thompson of Social Web for keeping us informed of what’s going on year around in Worcester.
Every Friday during the summer at lunchtime, you can attend the free Out To Lunch Summer Concert Series on Worcester Common, behind City Hall. Thanks again to Erin Williams, City Manager Mike O’Brien, and concert hosts Sherman Whitman and Hank Stolz of WCRN 830 AM.Not the same as 26 years agoUnbelievably, all of this happened in Worcester only during the late spring and early summer of 2012. This is not the same Worcester that I moved to, 26 years ago.Late that same summer, I bought a bike at Barney’s Bicycle on Chandler Street (after also looking at Bicycle Alley at Webster Square), to ride in the city and on the Route 146 Blackstone River Bikeway. Thank you again to Congressman Jim McGovern for securing federal funding for the bikeway.After joining a running club at the YMCA Central Community Branch on Main Street, to break up my usual routine of doing Zumba at World Gym on Neponset Street, I am soon going to start tango lessons at both the Y and Poise, Style & Motion at Webster Square. (I’m doing this only because I struggled with salsa in spite of the best efforts of Salsa Storm on Harrison Street, to which my Anglo spirit , or non-spirit, didn’t respond.) Thank you to Poise, Style & Motion’s Ray Gonzalez, Annette Montanez and Jackie Alvarado, my dance instructor.Just outside the city limits, don’t forget about the great music and picturesque settings of Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston. There’s also the Summer Concert Series at Indian Ranchmusic in Webster — where you can learn how to pronounce “Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg,” the original name of Webster Lake. And there’s the Worcester Chamber Music Society Summer Concert Series at Anna Maria College in Paxton.Until a few years ago, for those who liked a quieter style of engagement, there was Stanley Kunitz, a Worcester native and former Poet Laureate of the United States, He had a reading every Sunday night at his childhood home on Woodford Street, until he died in 2006.

You can also hear Worcester’s original poetry slam at WCUW 91.3 FM on Main Street, near Clark University, thanks to General Manager Troy Tyree and the WCUW Board of Directors. And thanks to co-host Alex Charalambides for the Dirty Gerund poetry slam at Ralph’s Rock Diner.

And thank you to Bill and Suey MacMillian for beginning the Worcester Poetry Slam Team. Thanks also go to Bill for all the cool events, from fencing to riding replicas of medieval horses, at the Higgins Armory Museum on Barber Avenue.

If you like summer Shakespeare, you’d now need to travel only a few miles south of Worcester. Mel Cobb (a.k.a. Othello) has moved his Worcester Shakespeare Company from Worcester’s own Green Hill Park to the Mill at Whitinsville in Northbridge.

Becoming a pretty good place

During the winter months in Worcester, there are plenty of ways to cure yourself of cabin fever.  Clark University on Main Street, the College of the Holy Cross on College Hill, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Worcester Economic Cluball bring great speakers to our city.

Lastly, I‘m now going to eat at Sweet T Southern Kitchen on Blackstone River Road, in the newly restored Quinsigamond Village area. It’s located behind the new Walmart on Tobias Boland Way, named after Irish pioneer Tobias Boland.

Worcester is becoming a pretty good place to live, work, play and raise a family. One more large step, and we’ll become a great place to raise an adult, not just a child.

Every Friday at noon during the summer of 2012, hundreds of people gathered on Worcester Common, behind City Hall,  for the Out to Lunch Summer Concert Series.

Here are great links, to find out what’s going on in and around Worcester: