The El

By Rosalie Tirella

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The El’s famous stuffed grape leaves. photos courtesy of the Worcester Historical Museum.

I loved the El – as in the now long gone El Morocco restaurant and jazz club up on Wall Street. Up on the hill, a bit past the Friendly House, the crown jewel of an East Side Worcester neighborhood that for years was home to Armenian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants.

My late mom adored El owner Joe Aboody who was the sweetest guy in the world. Joe had the cutest little grey poodle that was clipped to pom pom perfection, and he’d bring his poodle into the dry cleaners where my mother worked and plop him down on the counter. The dog would “sit” and Ma would give Joe his drycleaning, all the while admiring his smart, regal little companion, who was a star in his own right.

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The first El Morocco with a few Aboody family members.

At the restaurant/club Joe and his handsome brother Richie made the rounds as guests dined and wined. They’d visit every table making each and every guest – from actor Al Pacino to Cecelia Tirella of Lafayette Street – feel like a ✨star✨. The Aboody’s put 1950s glamor into gritty, “utility closet” Worcester and Woo wallowed in the opulence. There was gold painted on the walls, chandeliers that cried sparkling glass tear drops, camel decor on the outside of the building, sconces inside the restaurant that dramatically lit up the faces of patrons sitting at the bar or around dining tables, making everyone look beautiful …

How do some people do it? Attract EVERYBODY? Flash a smile and instantly gain a rapt audience? The Aboody brothers were the sultans of any room – they oozed charisma.

When older, in college, I’d go with my kid sister to the El. We’d take a cab to go listen to Scott Hamilton and other cool cats. Sometimes I’d see the assistant principal of Burncoat Senior High School, my alma mater, at the El! He’d be wearing dark shades and smoking a cigarette and acting very cool, blowing right past me! I loved it when after a jazz show Joe would invite me and my sister to the restaurant’s noisy, busy kitchen, seat us at a high, round table for two and serve us, on the house, plates of the El’s delicious hummus and baba ganoush with plenty of triangles of Syrian bread for dipping. Joe knew we were poor. He knew our mother was proud of us, her good girls going to college – she’d only finished the eighth grade. So he lavished us with his love – great food – and then he raced back out to the busy dining rooms packed with people. I mean hundreds of happy, gregarious, buzzed, dancing, flirtatious people, shoulder to shoulder … it was always a tight squeeze at the El …

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A restaurant booth from the first El – the second El was much fancier!

Every Christmas the Green Island dry cleaners Ma worked at would have their annual Christmas party at the El. I remember going a few times with Ma and watching her beam at the whole scene, out for some much needed fun, a little drunk from her drinks, soaking up all that Rat Pack Old Hollywood atmosphere: the gorgeously dressed and coiffed men and women, the clinking of wine glasses as couples canoodled, the silver rings of cigarette smoke spiraling up up up … everyone so florid … so boisterous…so happy … the gold shimmering on the walls, the bar packed with guys and dolls flirting. Ma loved to dance and always sashayed around the dance floor with the owner of the dry cleaners who was her ally for decades … Ma wore her Elizabeth Arden red lipstick that night, effortlessly reapplying it during and after her meal, straight from the bullet, no mirror needed.

I miss the El. You can see some of it, photos, forget me nots …. an old restaurant booth from the original El … at the Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St. Trust me, the historic artifacts don’t begin to capture the excitement.