Photo of the John E. Cox Bridge and smokestacks by Tory Germann.
By The Howl Street Team
Ah Lowell. Let us count the ways we love thee: You are the birthplace of a revolution that changed America, home of Jack Kerouac, Micky Ward and Spinners baseball, where Moxie cola was invented and the Boott Mill Sandwich. Now we’re getting hungry.
The staff at HOWL had no difficulty listing the countless ways Lowell earns our undying affection. Since we could have gone on forever, we decided to make our slow kiss to the city an annual thing. Here’s the first mash-up of places, faces and things that make Mill City memorable. Enjoy.
Ricky Gervais in a scene outside Major’s Pub (formerly The Dubliner) for The Invention of Lying.
After eyeing eight different towns for filming his romantic comedy The Invention of Lying, Ricky Gervais said no place looked as unique and beautiful on film as Lowell. Even the grittier side of the city featured in The Fighter — David O. Russell’s 2010 boxing biopic based on retired welterweight champ Micky Ward’s legendary rise to fame — still made Lowell look like a winner of a working-class town. Sure we have our share of hard-luck souls, but there’s plenty of Lowellians forged from scrappy neighborhoods with enough guts and heart to rise above.
To hell with major league ticket prices. Go Spinners. Go River Hawks.
On the baseball diamond, the ice or the court, Lowell has two unbelievable venues for games — LeLacheur Park and the Tsongas Center — that will give you plenty of reasons to have a blast watching live sports action without burning a hole in your wallet.
Our immigrant forefathers helped build America on blood, sweat, cheers and waterpower
Machinery in Lowell mills was powered by water.
By harnessing the mighty Merrimack through a framework of canals, early innovators like Francis Cabot Lowell and Paul Moody put the city’s mills in motion. The breakthrough changes in technology and production paved the way for America’s Industrial Revolution with Lowell’s immigrant workers teaching the world how to get the job done. By 1850, the city’s textile mills had produced enough cloth to encircle the earth twice.
Home of the best Irish bar north of Boston
Finbarr Sheehan pours the perfect pint at Old Court.
This is no emerald in the rough. At the Old Court, 29 Central St., owners Jerry Murphy and Finbarr Sheehan are the real deal. Born and bred in Ireland, their beer taps flow like water and the perfectly poured Guinness attracts regulars like flies to honey. The OC also serves up a mean shepherd’s pie and fish and chips plate, not to mention their famous crew of friendly bartenders who attract an all-ages stew of office workers, college kids and locals, all down for a boozy chat or an occasional raucous sing-a-long — this can happen when bartender Ian “Bean” Sheehan talks you into drinking his infamous Green Dragon. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The Boott Mill Sandwich
Named after the Lowell mill where an “everything including the potatoes” sandwich was rumored to have been born, you simply cannot say you’ve experienced Lowell without wolfing down this gut-buster served on a fresh toasted bulkie roll and piled high with home fries, egg, cheese and your choice of sausage, ham, bacon or corned beef hash. Some live large and order the works on this sandwich that puts the “paradise” in Arthur’s Paradise Diner, 112 Bridge St. Hours: 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday. Cash only.
Young entrepreneurs building the future and making good beer
Lydia Blanchard of Sweet Lydia’s
Sweet Lydia’s gourmet marshmallows. Navigation Brewing Company’s flagship IPA. Meghan Harrah’s Eyeful Beauty salon. Scott Pelletier bridging the gap between fine dining and tavern fare at Fuse Bistro. The list could go on and on. Lowell is a magnet for young, creative minds who are helping reenergize the city and keep it on your radar.
Veteran entrepreneurs taking care of business
Karen Bell (left) whips Lowell into shape.
The city wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for the dream chasers and risk takers who laid the groundwork for everybody else. Business owners like Karen Bell of The Club Fitness Health & Spa, Life Alive’s Heidi Feinstein, and Cobblestones owners Scott and Kathy Plath to name a few, all set up shop in Lowell even when naysayers told them they were crazy for doing so. And they’re still here to tell about it.
We got Moxie
Moxie soda was invented in Lowell in 1876 and was the first mass produced soft drink in the U.S.
You can visit Brazil without the jet lag
When bars close on weekends, Romeo and Juliet Cafe, 16 South St., waits up for the nocturnal diner, serving a full menu of Brazilian street food and breakfast with a kick, including marinated steak and eggs and spicy omelets with avocado and bacon. Delicioso.
You can find high art in a public bathroom
Artist Mike Dailey Jr.
The loo at Brew’d Awakening Coffeehaus, 61 Market St., is a floor to ceiling painting by artists Rick Stec and Michael Dailey Jr., taking the concept of staring at the walls to a whole new level.
Jack Kerouac’s literary consciousness was awakened here
“By Saturday morning the sun is shining, the sky is piercingly heartbreakingly blue, and my sister and I are dancing over the Moody Street Bridge…” ~ Jack Kerouac, Doctor Sax.
Kerouac’s wanderlust and free-spirited prose inspired a counterculture movement. But the first 17 years of his life were spent in Lowell, where the rhythms of the city had a big influence on his work.
When Hollywood needs flickering candle light, they call on Ymittos.
The Ymittos Candle Co. started up in 1910 to provide votive candles for the Greek Orthodox Church. Today, the landmark business is still a huge supplier of church candles but their quality slow-burning bees wax is a star in Hollywood. The Dutton Street candle makers provided all the candles for the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie and more recently, blockbusters like Lincoln and The Lone Ranger.
Make a call from an old telephone booth or change into Superman
Changing into superwoman at Cappy’s.
When was the last time you used a public phone booth? You can still find one of the near-extinct four-walled variety soldiering on inside Cappy’s Copper Kettle, 245 Central St.
The Zen Fuddhist
On the corner of Central and Middle streets, the intoxicating aroma of sweet sausage leaps up from the sizzle and smoke of Brad Thibodeau’s push cart. The sidewalk chef serves up fast and delicious gourmet street food with a side of witty banter to Lowell’s hungry lunch crowd. Pay him a visit. Your stomach will thank you.
Art is the handmaid of human good (our city motto)
Cue up the guitar solo: Lowell’s newest art haven, Mill No. 5, arrives this summer with a bang.
And it’s true. If you take the past decade and measure the city’s explosion of artists, galleries and studios with a brush and canvas it will resemble a Pollock. From landmark galleries and museums like the Brush Art and Whistler House to collaboratives like the Arts League of Lowell, Gallery Z and Lowell Film, to bigger studios housing several creative minds under one roof like Western Avenue and UnchARTed — we think it’s safe to say Lowell is going through a Renaissance of sorts. Next up is Mill No. 5, an inviting mix of loft spaces for artists and start-up companies with shopping, an independent movie theater, farm to table cafe, Victorian lounge and so much more.
The Electric Donkey
Yeah, Boston has the Citgo sign but Lowell has got the infinitely cooler electric donkey. Around since 1925, Haffner’s filling station began in Lawrence and Lowell. And the animated iconic donkey on the famous neon sign does exactly what it claims to do: “It kicks.”
Vacant lots transforming into community gardens
Francey Slater (left) and Lydia Sisson of Mill City Grows.
When spring is in bloom, take a peek at the former trash-filled lot off Richmond Avenue or the once neglected parcel on Smith Street and witness the burgeoning spirit of the city. Thanks to Mill City Grows founders Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson, community gardens are giving Lowell access to grow, purchase, distribute and consume healthy food in our own neighborhoods.
The Aiken Street Bridge
Built in 1883, this city landmark holds the record for longest lenticular truss bridge in the country at 155 feet, and also hits the first place mark for most lenticular spans — a whopping five. But we love this structure, officially known as the Joseph R. Ouellette Bridge, because it’s a beauty.
Home of the largest free folk festival in the country
This annual summer music festival is Lowell’s best and biggest party of the year. Always held the last weekend of July, this free event is spread out over three days with several stages set up throughout downtown spotlighting some amazing music from around the world. And don’t even get us started on the food. Mouth-watering international cuisine can be found around every corner. .
Cote’s famous baked beans
Some traditions never die. Maybe that’s why the family owned and operated Cote’s Market has been in business for nearly 100 years. Every Saturday come rain or shine, people line up for beans to go at this Acre-neighborhood store. Clerks will tell you they dish out about 300 pounds of beans a week. Regulars say there’s a reason for this — the small white beans are slow cooked for about nine hours to perfection in loads of salty pork fat.
Drag queens rule
Beyond the glitz, glamour and all that big hair, drag queens can teach us all a thing or two about confidence. Watch for great shows at Western Avenue’s Onyx Room, where these fierce and lovely ladies show you how to work it in a carnival-like atmosphere filled with imagination, fun and larger-than-life talent.
A river runs through it
Adventure seekers take note: An urban whitewater gem plunging over class III-IV rapids lies in the heart of the city from April 6th to May 19th. The Concord River rafting trip by Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust and Zoar Ourdoor includes passage through an 1850’s lock chamber that puts you smack in the center of downtown Lowell.
Find a moss-covered three-handled family gredunza
Well, if one does exist, we’re pretty sure you’d dig it up at Found, the coolest everything store anywhere. This fun Middle Street retail shop is a treasure trove dripping with antiques and sweet vintage finds from just about every decade.
Paul Tsongas was here
“Let’s try winning and see what it feels like,” Tsongas said. Spoken like a true Howler. The late U.S. Senator and presidential candidate found his unique voice in Lowell. With a childhood marked by closing textile mills, empty factories, storefronts, and high unemployment rates, he made it his life’s work to turn ideas into actions and change his city for the better. Tsongas helped secure millions of dollars in state and federal funds to improve Lowell, resulting in its designation as a national historic park, becoming a city with a minor league baseball team, the creation of a nonprofit economic development group and much more, all leading to a general shift of consciousness about Lowell as a city moving forward, full of promise and possibility.
Having trained boxers since 1968, Arthur Ramalho has a favorite saying: “Building boys is better than mending men.” You might have heard of The Fighter — a little made-in-Lowell movie that packed a punch at the Oscars and every other major film awards show in 2011 — well, you could say it all started with Ramalho. For more than 40 years, the 79-year-old has opened his heart and his doors for the city’s youth, giving them a place to turn for discipline and direction. Countless kids, including retired welterweight champ Micky Ward himself, found a path in the boxing ring thanks to Art. He’s a true Lowell fighter in every sense of the word.
Lowell Summer Music Series at Boarding House Park.
Rock, blues, dance, rap, reggae, soul, funk, world — you name it, and you’ll find it playing on a stage inside one of the city’s many bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Lowell is also home to the best outdoor summer concert venue in New England, Boarding House Park, where you can catch national and regional touring bands under the stars.
Grocery shopping adventurous enough to satisfy Anthony Bourdain
Lowell is culture rich and one of the best ways to explore the city’s many ethnic groups is by indulging in the cuisine. From restaurants to neighborhood markets, there’s always something new to add to your grocery list, like banana leaves stuffed with sweet sticky rice, dragon fruit, prahok (fermented fish paste), halal meats, fresh tumeric and ginger root, conaprole (caramel spread), bacalhau (salted dried codfish), Guarana soda and a whole lot more.
The magical, mystical Grotto — even Bob Dylan says it’s so
If heaven had a phone booth or a mailbox, the rock grotto behind the Franco American School on Pawtucket Street might as well be it. Since 1911, thousands have flocked to the site to leave a hand written message for God and light a candle. Kerouac wrote about it and a fair share of notable names have visited, including President John F. Kennedy, Gen. George Patton, Bob Dylan and Johnny Depp. Modeled after the original legendary grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes in southern France, the Lowell Grotto is an interesting hidden gem to explore whether you’re religious or not.