By The Howl Street Team
There’s nothing more American than sitting down to a three-egg scramble and perfectly fried bacon with just enough calories to make your doctor cringe. Diners are a real salt of the earth, up by the bootstraps way of serving hot food to hardworking people. After all, most original diners are just converted box cars shipped in and given a foundation. Lowell’s “Big Three” are nothing short of iconic. The subject of paintings and postcards, they’re a slice of city history. So saddle up to the breakfast counter and order a cup. This isn’t the Chai latte sort of crowd. This is the black coffee and keep it coming crowd.
The Four Sisters Owl Diner, 244 Appleton St. Arguably the most famous diner in Lowell, the Owl has established itself as well-oiled, family-run institution. An Appleton Street landmark since 1951, The Four Sisters name was added in 1982 when Tom and Mary Beth Shanahan took over the reins. From delicious pancakes hot off the griddle to Texas-toast thick slices of salty ham, food is dished out in lumber-jack sized portions. Besides the friendly atmosphere and waitresses who call everybody “Hon,” the Owl’s claim to fame is the omelets. There are 32, each named after a Lowell street. The Andover Street, so called after the city’s swanky estate-lined throughway, includes the works (steak, bacon, veggies; you name it, it’s in there). In the mornings, you’ll find this diner car jam-packed with people from all walks of life. Construction crews and politicians sit elbow to elbow, swilling coffee and reading the newspaper before work. A regular stop for meet and greets on the campaign trail, everybody from the Kennedys to the Bushes and in between have made the rounds at the counter to connect with voters. But the city’s own politicos — State Rep. Tom Golden, who has been ordering The Special with cheese for as long as anyone can remember (two eggs lightly scrambled with diced ham, toast, home fries and beans) — ate here well before they were part of the city’s political circle. “This is a place where people can come for years and count on things staying the same,” Tom Shanahan says. “Good, fresh food at great prices with a big family welcome.” Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Cash only.
Club Diner, 145 Dutton St. When revelers file out of downtown’s pubs and taverns at 2 a.m., they want nothing more than a home-cooked meal that might require two dinner plates. Basking in the soft glow of white lights, The Club Diner is a beacon of hope for the hungry. Arthur Turcotte had the car constructed by the Worcester Dining Car Co. in 1933. The diner was taken over by Emile Levasseur in 1938, who was a staple behind the counter until his death in 1962. Today, his son and grandson, both named David Levasseur, continue to keep the place running. The youngest David packs in a solid lunch crowd before 2 p.m. with all the bases covered: home-cooked meals like meatloaf and Shepherd’s pie and fish and corn chowders to die for. The whopping blue cheese bacon burger with sweet potato fries is a greasy griddle favorite. While you’re wolfing down your food, be sure to look above. Just below the ceiling, The Club car is lined with pictures of patrons throughout the years. The morning crew is especially cheerful and good for some laughs. Chef Dave, along with waitresses Louise and Diane, provide service as sweet as the strawberry rhubarb pie. Hours: 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Sunday, and 11 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. Monday through Sunday. Cash only.
Arthur’s Paradise Diner, 112 Bridge St. The epitome of old-school, this landmark establishment has its priorities straight. Arthur’s has been serving perfect, greasy food at low, seemingly inflation-proof prices for more than 75 years. A patron having a hearty breakfast would be hard-pressed to crack the $12 mark. How’s that for priorities? When the door opens at 6 a.m., construction crews line the breakfast counter, stuffing their faces and solving the world’s problems over bottomless cups of coffee that come free with every meal . Here you’ll find the greasy griddle food dreams are made of. But nothing beats the famous Boott Mill sandwich – a toasted bulkie roll baked fresh daily from the local Olympos Bakery, piled high with home fries, egg, cheese and your choice of sausage, ham, bacon or corned beef hash. Some cholesterol junkies order the works. For more than three decades, the 1936 vintage Worcester Diner Car was lovingly owned and operated by Arthur Dufresne and his wife, Dot. The pair were stars of the diner’s morning show, where hungry patrons eat an average of 200 to 350 Boott Mills a day. When Dot passed away a decade ago, Paul Delisle took over to keep the institution running. He says he still sees Arthur drive by almost daily as he heads to the cemetery to visit Dot. Following the early morning work crews that pack this diner car, high school and college students fill the joint as they have for years. Students who get their name in the newspaper for sports or academic achievements get free Boott Mills on Fridays. Arthur’s oozes with nostalgia. It’s small, it’s cramped and it’s old. In other words, it’s paradise. Do yourself a favor and have a Boott Mill at the well-worn counter. The gut-busting sandwich will only set you back about $5.75. Hours: 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday. Cash only.