Remember When: The El Morocco, a Worcester Gem!
By Phil Heywood, Briarwood Resident and regular contributor to the monthly residents’ newsletter, “News & Notes.”
The El Morocco Restaurant is a famous Worcester landmark, which is gone but certainly not forgotten. The year was 1943. From its humble beginnings in a triple-decker, which had been a barbershop at 75 Wall Street overlooking Worcester, the Aboody family of eight built one of the most successful eateries of all time. At first there were only three tables on the first floor. As its reputation grew, they expanded by digging out a 20’x60’ basement, which added space for 85 more patrons. Its drawing card was Middle Eastern cuisine such as Lebanese specialties of hummus and shish-ka-bob. Thursdays became known as “Meat Pie Day” because of mother Helen Aboody’s weekly meat pie specials.
Soon the El became the “after hours” place to go. Live jazz had its Worcester beginnings here. Customers would eat, drink and party until 5:00a.m. As time passed many famous people became ardent fans. Often seen on any given night were entertainers such as Wayne Newton, Dizzy Gillespie, the Beach Boys and Nat King Cole to name a few. Others, such as Arthur Fiedler, the conductor of the Boston Symphony, and a local boy named Abbie Hoffman were regulars as well.
In 1976, after years of constant growth, the restaurant was in need of more space. The family decided to expand by building a large facility across the street from their old location. The new nightclub was large, swanky and magnificent. They opened their doors to a first night crowd of 5,000 people eager try out the new facility. Jazz bands from across the country continued to come, but the El now became more of a restaurant and not so much a haunt of the “in crowd”. Wedding receptions, birthday parties and other special occasions were the order of the day. George Gregory, a well-known local pianist, provided background dinner music.
In 1980 the Heywood clan gathered from Florida, Indiana and Connecticut to celebrate my Dad’s 90th birthday with window seats at the El. Halfway through the meal, we looked out to see rapidly developing snow falling on the city streets below. By the time we finished dessert a major storm was in progress! We did get down the hill in time to get Dad safely home but by the next morning the streets were impassable.
Like many family businesses, the later years were not kind to the Aboodys. Turmoil among the siblings and a financial lawsuit spelled the doom of the enterprise. The El Morocco closed its doors for good in 1994. What are left are memories that linger for a lifetime.