Anchored at its northern tip by Union Station, an area known as the Canal District is reinventing itself as an entertainment and shopping zone. Named for the Blackstone, which operated until 1848 and ran beneath today’s Harding Street, the district retains much of the building stock from the city’s heyday. With its main north-south arteries of Water and Green streets converging in a “V” at the southern tip in Kelly Square, the district is easy to navigate and has plenty of bars and restaurants.
On a recent visit to Bocado, a lively tapas restaurant, patrons enjoyed dishes, such as fried goat cheese with honey and almonds; peppers stuffed with veal, cheese, basil, and pine nuts; and pork meatballs with red wine, figs, and blue cheese. In addition to a wide selection of Spanish wines,Bocado offers wine flights.
The Crompton & Knowles Loomworks factory building, dating from 1860, has taken on new life as the Crompton Place commercial and residential complex, with tenants including an upscale hair salon and home furnishings store. On the ground floor is the Crompton Collective, an artisan and antiques market established in September by Amy Chase, owner of Haberdash Vintage. Sarah Blatt, a partner in Crimson and Clover, arranged a display at her booth. “We’ve been here since it opened,” she said. “It’s going well.”
Crompton Place also is home to Worcester’s newest historical exhibit, the Blackstone Canal Historical Museum. The gallery, the handiwork of amateur historians Eugene Zabinski, Donna Decoteau, and Dave Maki, includes a 4-by-8-foot diorama of the town in 1834 and the canal.
The Canal District Alliance, of which Zabinski is treasurer, is advocating the creation of a replica of the canal along Harding Street as a way to further boost the neighborhood’s rejuvenation. “It would be lined with small shops, cafes, and stores,” Zabinski said. “Cities get their vibrancy from the bottom up.”
Walking back up Water Street from Kelly Square, I stumbled on Weintraub’s, a delicatessen dating from 1920 and one of the few remnants of the former Jewish community. Beginning with the Irish, who dug the canal, Worcester’s growth drew legions of immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Swedes, French-Canadians, Italians, Armenians, Lithuanians, Poles, and Eastern European Jews.
My last stop of the day was at Canal Bar and Grill, a New Orleans-accented pub and restaurant on Water Street. Sitting at the bar, I ordered a series of appetizers. The corn and shrimp chowder was tasty and the fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade had a nice smoky flavor, with the tomatoes’ texture detectable beneath the breaded fried exterior. While the jalapeno grits could have used a touch more salt, the heat level was just right.
My friendly bartender at Canal Bar and Grill, Alicia Pascarelli, found a transformed Canal District when she returned after college. “I’m just getting to know it now,” she said.
In my excursions I discovered Worcester’s good bones, a robust legacy to propel it forward.
Anne Hanson can be reached at www.annehansonwriter.com.