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Monday, February 2, 2015

Moshulu: World's toughest restaurant a history-rich delight

In a world where restaurants fabricate elaborate themes and motifs to bestow illusory charms, diners aboard the Moshulu are to be forgiven if they suspect fraud.

“We still have guests who ask why the floors are all tilted from the center to the sides,” says Jake Wade, general manager of one of dining-rich Philadelphia’s pre-eminent restaurants and the only one capable of raising anchor and vamoosing to sunnier ports.

“I explain to them they’re tilted because when giant waves used to splash water on and below the decks on board, it had to drain off the sides or else the ship would sink.”

So carelessly spilled drinks are a day at the beach for Moshulu (pronounced: moesh-U-lu), the world’s toughest restaurant.

Moshulu has been around the world and 54 times survived the treacherous passage through Cape Horn at the tip of South America, a ship graveyard and home to some of the world’s most fearsome sailing conditions.

It’s hauled supplies to Central American copper mines, lumber to Australia, grain to Europe, nitrates to Chile, coke and coal to Mexico and Coca-Cola to thirsty soldiers. 

It was confiscated by Germans in one war and Americans in another.

It’s seen on film going toe-to-toe with Rocky Balboa in the still electrifying training scene and the Moshulu brought one of America’s most beloved cinematic gangsters, young Vito Corleone, to America in “The Godfather II.”

Launched one year after the Wright Brothers made their 1903 mark, it has survived fire and neglect and it could be argued Moshulu -- a Seneca Indian tribal word for “fearless” -- didn’t really take off until it had been in the water for nearly 90 years. 

It was in 1994 when HMS Ventures Inc. in Philadelphia purchased the decaying ship and lavished it with affection and restorations. Another sale and another re-opening in 2003 and today Moshulu routinely gets as many AAA diamond ratings as it has masts. 

It remains the world’s largest and last remaining four-masted sailing vessel still on the water.

Fans of nautical literature will remember it for its starring role in Eric Newby’s 1956 classic, “The Last Grain Race” about the exhilarating 1939 voyage when Moshulu bested a fleet of other grain haulers racing from Belfast to Australia and back with 4,875 tons of grain in just 82 days, nine days better than its nearest competitor.

The background adds texture to a dining experience already imbued with elegance and atmosphere, but it is ultimately irrelevant to whether Moshulu succeeds in its current mission.

Taste buds have no appetite for history lessons, not as long as the old cargo ship proves it can still really deliver.

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