The Historic Worthen House Café is now open for dinner

By Terry Badman

.photo by Tory GermannIf you were a bootlegger traveling through Massachusetts during the 1920s and ‘30s, odds are good you visited the Worthen House in Lowell.

The building that still sits at 141 Worthen St. housed many businesses in those years – a restaurant, a real estate company, a soft drinks vendor – but evidence suggests they may have quietly provided alcohol during America’s prohibition. A false wall panel behind the vintage mahogany bar conceals a small, hidden storage space. Removing the panel reveals dozens of dusty glass liquor bottles. Many are remnants from a bygone era: when booze was illegal and patrons crafted unique ways to discretely quench their thirst.

.photo by Tory GermannLocals and tourists alike still frequent Lowell’s oldest tavern, and with good reason.

“It has old-school charm,” said co-owner Penelope Hamourgas. “When you walk in here, enjoy your drink, talk to people, and look at the history, it takes you back in time a bit.”

The Worthen has been a staple of downtown since its construction in 1834. Jack Kerouac drank inspiration at the same bar that stands today. Legend says Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven while staying on the building’s second floor. And there’s tales of a ghost dwelling in the attic.

Known by the staff as “Matthew,” the tavern’s resident spirit is rumored to live on the third floor, atop a creaky flight of stairs leading to what used to be bedroom space when the building was an inn.

“There are some really strange noises and things that happen at night, but it’s all good stuff,” Hamourgas said.

.photo by Tory GermannListed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s antique tin ceiling, ornate woodwork, and original pulley-driven fan system – the only one in the U.S. still in its original location – draw stares from all who enter.

“For anyone that really loves history, music, and culture,” Hamourgas said, “this place has character. It’s a cool, funky place.”

And while there’s great interest in the Worthen’s storied past, Hamourgas is also excited for the future.

worthen-food-burger-closeupFor years, hungry workers have saddled up to the bar for an affordable lunch cooked on the grill. Now the menu includes dinner Thursday through Saturday from 5pm to 8pm, where guests can enjoy home-style cooking like steak tips, baked haddock, grilled chicken and Salisbury steak with easy-on-the-wallet prices ranging from about $8.50 to $13.95.

Hamourgas decided to take over the reigns of the family business after her father, Nikolas Hamourgas, died in April 2013. A well-known musician in Athens, Greece, Nick’s love for music and history prompted him to purchase the Worthen along with his savvy wife and business partner, Penny, in 2001.

.photo by Tory GermannA destination spot for live music, including a weekly Wednesday open mic night, Hamourgas plans to add acoustic sets to the tavern’s lineup every Friday for dinner guests. The tavern’s doors will also be open to more diverse entertainment in 2015 including paint nights, comedy nights, fun mixers and even more local bands.

In addition to free on-site parking and affordable food and spirits, the best part about the Worthen, said Hamourgas, is good company is always free.

“You can come in here any night and find someone to talk to,” she said. “We want people to have a good time and leave with a smile. You can lose yourself, in a good way.”

Worthen House Café | 141 Worthen St., Lowell | 978-459-0300

About The Author

Terry Badman
Arts & Culture Editor

Terry Badman grew up in Vermont, where he developed a semi-unhealthy obsession with craft beer, pond hockey, and Cheddar cheese. A graduate of Castleton University, he has worked for newspapers and magazines in the Green Mountain State, and publishing and software companies in and around the Boston area. He enjoys cooking too much food for himself, pestering his two cats, and playing guitar poorly. Now happily residing in Lowell, Terry can usually be found prowling the local restaurants, pubs, and UML hockey games, seeking out good people and great stories.