The arrival of Worden Hall, the new 160-plus-seat tavern and deep-dish pizza stronghold opening a stone’s throw away from the Broadway MBTA stop in South Boston, should be welcome news for weary commuters of the Red Line after it opens this week.
Owner Dylan Welsh has already found success and fans with his two previous neighborhood enclaves—5 Horses Tavern in Davis Square and the South End—and judging by the neighborhood buzz about the opening, the third time may indeed be the charm. And yet Welsh says all along he wanted this new project to be a fresh start, rather than an attempt to drop another Five Horses into the ever-changing new face of Southie.
“I wanted to take the Five Horses concept to the next level,” says Welsh. “For starters, the food. I like challenging myself, and doing another Five Horses would’ve been the easy way out.” Welsh says after talking with over 20 chefs he eventually settled on Tim McQuinn, who has manned the lines at The Merchant, Banq, and Craigie on Main, and will be doing a 100 percent from-scratch kitchen, from the burgers to the pâtés, terrines (“We’ll be doing a lot of charcuterie and making our own sausages down the line,” says McQuinn), and the range of vegan and gluten-free focused items Welsh says will be integral to the overall menu.
However, when things first got underway in the new construction where Worden Hall now sits, the original space was half the size it is now. After a deal was reached to procure the space of the newsstand that would have been next door, Welsh and his team knocked the wall between the two down to allow for the full shape of the restaurant to take hold. They added their private dining space in the back (adorned with a 20-foot mural of a horse race in Saratoga Springs, NY, where Welsh is from, done by a Quincy-based artist) and outfitted the space with an exposed kitchen, custom booths made using reclaimed factory flooring wood, and a dramatic brand-new bar to house over 100 whiskies and 40 rotating drafts that will feature local (think: Cambridge Brewing Company, Wormtown, Jack’s Abbey) as well as national craft beers.
“We’re going to support the local Mass craft beer scene as much as possible, but all 40 lines are rotating, and we’re going to give everyone a shot as long as their juice is good,” says Welsh.
And like all interestingly named restaurants, this one has a story behind it. Welsh spent two weekends in his native Saratoga Springs doing research in the local library, meeting with local historians to find the right name for his new spot that would evoke the region he grew up in with some nuance. Eventually he met with a nonagenarian with a house like a museum and heard stories about the old Worden Hotel, a favorite hangout spot for locals, celebrities, jockeys and trainers from the Saratoga Springs racetrack, and even gangsters alike (an original coaster from the hotel’s tavern is laid into the bartop here; look for it in the corner).
Given the previous layout of his new restaurant and the legacy of the hotel which survived 60 years and three fires without a dent to its place in the local hospitality scene, the name “Worden Hall” was a clear winner. “You gotta have a story,” says Welsh. “So many people open restaurants without a lot of thought to the concept or the passion or story behind it, and that’s why you see a lot of turnover.”
Recently it’s been less about turnover and more about the ever-expanding roster of chef-driven restaurants popping up in Southie. Some say it’s welcoming; others see it as creating a cutthroat environment.
“I’m a competitive person, so I welcome the competition,” says Welsh. “The more good restaurants and talented chefs in Boston … it raises the bar for everyone. And the people that can’t hang will fall off.”
WORDEN HALL. OPENING 8. 27. 22 WEST BROADWAY, BOSTON. FACEBOOK.COM/WORDENHALL