Ralph Moberly, the man who created one of Worcester, Massachusetts more interesting venues for rock and alternative music passed away last Thursday morning suddenly at age 64. Reportedly suffering a heart attack while visiting in Philadelphia, Mr. Moberly was most recently residing in Vermont. Here is the text of an article that appeared in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette on Friday…
Legendary city eccentric dies Owned Chadwick Square diner
By Scott McLennan Telegram & Gazette Staff
WORCESTER— Friends of Ralph Moberly last night were mourning the loss of one of Worcester’s wildly eccentric characters whose legacy is a one-of-a-kind nightspot that still bears his name six years after he sold it. Mr. Moberly, believed to be 64, apparently suffered a heart attack yesterday morning while visiting Philadelphia. He had been living in Vermont, but was in Worcester earlier this month for the opening of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.
“I saw him when he came for the opening of the Hanover. He looked great,” said Vincent Hemmeter, who bought Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner from Mr. Moberly. Mr. Hemmeter also worked for Mr. Moberly, joining the staff of Ralph’s Diner in 1986.
“He hired me to work the stage door. Then he gave me the register to the diner. I had to be bartender and he told me, ‘Whatever you don’t know, fake it,’ ” Mr. Hemmeter recalled, the story a fitting vignette about a place that seemed to thrive on improvisational zeal.
Mr. Moberly bought the diner in 1979 and moved it from Route 9 to Prescott Street, affixing it to a warehouse building that would eventually become the premier music club in Worcester. Adorned with classic bar fixtures taken from the Blue Moon Saloon in Milford plus an assortment of eclectic eye candy, Ralph’s created an environment that nurtured all manner of lunacy. Artists, jocks, bikers, musicians and weirdos of any stripe all managed to call Ralph’s theirs as the nightclub became both landmark and booming business in Worcester.
Mr. Moberly, his wife, Carolyn, and their sons Miles and Brigham all worked the diner nightclub. Mr. Moberly opened Bowlers nightclub in 1992 near Ralph’s Diner. Upon separating from his wife and business partner Carolyn, Mr. Moberly took to operating Bowlers and leaving his namesake establishment to Carolyn. In 2000, he reappeared at the diner, quipping that as part of his divorce agreement with Carolyn he “lost the custody battle and got the diner.”
But tired of the business, Mr. Moberly struck a deal to sell Ralph’s Diner to Mr. Hemmeter, who had left the nightclub to open his own namesake bar in 1997.
Mr. Moberly’s enigmatic personality cultivated his legend as someone who was either brilliant or deranged. Most will say he was probably a little of both.
“He was a folk legend,” said Joey Rovezzi of his longtime friend Mr. Moberly. Asked his favorite Ralph story, Mr. Rovezzi shot back, “Being with him in New Orleans and getting drunk with Dr. J.”
The annals of Worcester nightlife are full of such Ralph lore. “He wasn’t cheated.” Mr. Hemmeter said.
“He lived his life exactly the way he wanted to.”
Funeral arrangements were not clear last night, but celebrations of Mr. Moberly’s life are expected in the coming week.
3 thoughts on “Ralph Moberly, formerly of Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner dies”
Sorry to hear it, quite a story. Nice photo!
Wow. That’s just heartbreaking. Ralph was quite a legend in that town. I remember when I first started driving around central Mass visiting all the diners in and around Worcester, any discussion of Ralph would start with a question like this, “Ralph Moberly? Have you ever met that guy?” Stories of his antics were widespread and more colorful than rainbows.
But my favorite Ralph Moberly observation came from Worcester Telegram columnist Jim Dempsey: “Trying to carry a conversation with Ralph is like trying to make a phone call with a toaster.”
Indeed, keeping Ralph on topic was usually a struggle, but man could that guy cook. The story doesn’t mention that for a time Ralph also owned the Corner Lunch, trying to operate it like Worcester’s version of the Empire Diner in NYC or Boston’s Blue Diner. Great food, but the whole upscale diner thing just won’t fly in a town like Worcester.
The story also doesn’t mention that when Ralph took back his namesake diner in 2000, he expanded the famously thin menu of burgers, chili, and booze — cooking full meals at dinner. Again, this was one of Ralph’s many unsung talents.
Mr. Moberly, you will be missed.
I don’t believe I ever met him (I’m sure I would remember if I did). I did eat at the diner back in the early 80’s when I was out in Worcester going through the diner collection and files at the Historical Museum.