'Is One Eleven Chop House haunted?' and other dubious observations on April Fool's Day

by 24USATVApril 1, 2024, 6:40 p.m. 22
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It’s April Fool’s Day as I write this, and the Table Talk Pie Store is closed. Turns out, it’s not open on Mondays, which is a fact I didn’t know. It also turns out that I didn’t know it had moved to the Worcester Public Market, locating first from the old Table Talk building, which is now partially demolished, and then briefly down Green Street a bit.

I’m disappointed. There are very few places you can get a hot blueberry pie buried in whipped cream, and a caramel drizzle relatively cheaply, but I am happy that’s it’s just closed for the day, not permanently. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Table Talk is a big corporation, not a small indie business, but by golly, it’s our big corporation.

I think, like a lot of people in Worcester, I’ve become increasingly protective of “our” places, the bars and restaurants and such that have for so long defined the city’s identity and culture. Sure, I understand intellectually that not every lost diner or dive bar is the result of gentrification: Owners retire, or sometimes a chef-change results in a restaurant going downhill, or maybe none of those people wringing their hands about a closed bar or restaurant had actually been there in 20 years. Gentrification in the city is a real problem for small businesses, but it’s not the only problem.

But it’s nice to know we get to keep a place we love a little longer, albeit in a new location. It’s also nice when we get things back, which seems to be the case with Guertin’s Café, which is apparently set to reopen sometime in the near future, according to rumblings out of the License Commission. I’m not certain other cities get as excited about the prospect of dive bars returning as Worcester does, but it’s definitely a thing. I remember chatting with Vincent Hemmeter, owner’s of Vincent’s and Ralph’s Rock Diner, when Ralph’s was named one the country’s “diviest dive bars.”

"I'm not insulted," said Hemmeter, at the time. "I love dive bars," asserting that he thinks of dive bars more as smaller, neighborhood bars, pointing to George's, attached to Coney Island Hot Dogs on Southbridge Street, and Guertin's Café on Grand Street, with its great, vintage backbar and stained glass above the bar, as a couple of his favorites.

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Of course, I’m writing this on April Fool’s Day, and therefore everything I write is suspect. That said, while I used to love April Fool’s Day, I’ve found the world’s tenuous grasp of the truth these days has sucked some of the joy out of more innocent pranks. We already had political lies and disinformation from foreign governments, but now we have AI to add to the confusion.

For example, the other night I asked Chat GPT for 50 weird facts about Worcester. While most of the facts were indubitably true — “Worcester is home to the Burnside Fountain, also known as the Turtle Boy statue, which depicts a boy riding a giant turtle” and “Worcester is known for its vibrant cultural festivals, including the Latin American Festival, the Worcester Caribbean American Carnival, and the Worcester Irish Festival” — others were a little ... off. For example, one “fact” was, “Worcester has been home to many notable people, including poet Stanley Kunitz, actress Eliza Dushku, and inventor Robert H. Goddard.” Goddard and Kunitz, sure, but I’m pretty sure the closest the Watertown native and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Dushku has come to Worcester is appearing in Craig S. Semon’s columns about comic conventions. But then, that was hardly the weirdest false fact about the city. That distinction goes to: "Worcester's 'One Eleven Chop House' is rumored to be haunted by a ghost named Sarah."

This was a new one on me. While I'm familiar with a lot of the city’s ghost stories, I’d never heard anything about One Eleven Chop House being haunted. Turns out, neither had anyone else I could find. Apparently, that “fact” was manufactured wholesale. One need only look to X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook to see that’s going around.

So no, this isn’t an April Fool’s Day column, at least in the “jokey” sense, but it’s true we find comfort in people and places which are indelibly “true” in our lives. Places you can get a dang good pie, or a good drink in a classic bar. These are things that make the city “real,” which is why we mourn them when they go, and celebrate when they return.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go dancing at Sh-Booms ... (you know, that local hangout that closed years ago.)

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