Double Date

Drinking in Lowell's past

Get an inside look at the architecture of a classic mill town and then visit some of Jack Kerouac’s favorite watering holes

(Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe)
By Luke O'Neil
Globe Correspondent / May 14, 2010

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It’s easy to take the artistry of our cities’ architecture and the history that comes with it for granted. We shouldn’t, especially in some of the great old classic mill towns. For all of those times when you’ve walked past a really old, interesting looking building and wondered what it looked like inside, Doors Open Lowell is your answer. It’s also a free event as part of National Preservation Month.

“It’s our premiere architecture design and historic preservation event,’’ says Stephen Stowell of the Lowell Historic Board. “It’s a chance to get into the buildings and see how they’re designed and being reused. A lot of them have limited public access, and you kind of wonder what’s going on behind those walls. It’s a chance to expose the public to rehabilitated buildings.’’

One of those most interesting buildings on display this year is called Tremont Yard. A site that dates to the middle of the 1850s, the building was largely underwater when it was associated with water power production in the Lowell mills. “What you can see in there are tunnels and stonework. It almost gives you the impression of a subterranean Roman ruin or something like that. In the 1850s it was a pioneering hydraulic turbine testing location. You have this modern office building on top, these subterranean ruins, I think people are gonna be really curious about what’s going on down there,’’ says Stowell.

Doors Open Lowell, Fri. 6-9 p.m. and Sat. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 3-6 p.m. Lowell National Historic Park Visitor Center, 246 Market St., Lowell. 978-446-7200.

Of course no trip through Lowell history would be complete without a mention of the city’s favorite son Jack Kerouac. Since Kerouac drank his way through large swaths of the area, there are more than a few bars where you can hoist one alongside his ghost, like the Worthen House Cafe.

The oldest restaurant in Lowell, it was built in 1834 and became a tavern in 1898. Edgar Allan Poe is said to have stopped in here as well.

The tin ceilings, belt-linked fan system, and bar all date back to the early days. For dinner consider skipping over to Ricardo’s Cafe Trattoria. In an earlier incarnation as Nicky’s this was one of the Beat writer’s favorite watering holes. The room has quite a lengthy history.

“Going way back to the late 1800s it was a house of ill repute,’’ says owner Richard Rourke. “Then it became a bar that was frequented by Kerouac. Jack spent a lot of time and did a lot of his creative thinking here. I believe the soul of Kerouac still exists.’’ There’s a sign above the bar that reads “Jack lives here.’’ History lives here too.

The Worthen House Cafe, 141 Worthen St., Lowell. 978-459-0300. Ricardo’s Cafe Trattoria, 110 Gorham St., Lowell. 978-453-2777.