Masked monsters — or actors — may be screaming and grunting for our attention at theme park-style events around town this Halloween, but there are plenty of places in Los Angeles for a trip into the city's past. Back in the days when “trunk murders” caught the public imagination and it was easy to buy poison — and get away with murder.
Police were once searching for a “Ghost Woman” who'd given her husband cyanide coffee for lunch at the Alexandria Hotel, and long-gone owner Thomas O. Glover Sr. gets angry when there's talk of change at Yamashiro.
Are these places really haunted? Maybe order a drink or dinner and then decide. Turn the page for 10 of L.A.'s bars and restaurants that may have more than alcoholic spirits.
10. Yamashiro — Hollywood
In 1948 Thomas O. Glover bought this exotic hillside Japanese bungalow — pagoda, gardens, black swans and all — from the previous owners. Today he's still keeping an eye on his investment — literally, since his (and his wife's) ashes are buried in the inner court area. It's no wonder security guards don't last very long here, especially since the ghost of a woman sits eternally waiting at one of the tables — and it's not to get served. The view across L.A. is worth the risk though … or it is it?
9. Union Station — Downtown
The funky Traxx bar will serve you some damn fine cocktails here, but in Oct. 1931 inspectors found something very nasty in two trunks: the dismembered bodies of two women. Found guilty of their murders — apparently in a catfight over a man called “Happy Jack” — was Ruth Judd, a woman the press named “Velvet Tigress” and “Tiger Woman.” She charmed the jury and despite being found guilty, was sent to an asylum — from where she continually escaped. She was eventually released in the 1980s. Where's her TV movie?
8. Roosevelt Hotel — Hollywood
A grand dame on the Boulevard, it's famous for its Hockney swimming pool and starlet-spotting, but also for “Marilyn's Mirror,” a large mirror that reflected an image of the actress soon after her death, and has re-appeared many times since (but is apparently in storage right now). Suicides happen here too, including former child actor Tom Conlon who checked in one afternoon in 1940 to make his second attempt of the day …
7. Oviatt Building/Cicada Restaurant — Downtown
James Z. Oviatt was a flamboyant designer, and in the early part of the last century he lived in the penthouse of the Art Deco building he designed with business partner James Alexander. Their style emporium dressed the male movie stars of the early Hollywood, and Oviatt is still seen in his home (people smell his pipe smoke too). The ground floor was converted to a restaurant, but the big haberdashery drawers and reservation book are often found open, while chairs and doors move on their own. As for Oviatt, he fell down a step in his apartment at night and never really recovered from his injuries; in a way his building killed him.
6. Magic Castle — Hollywood
The Magic Castle has its own resident ghost — piano-playing “Invisible Irma” — and is the place to go for a taste of old-fashioned illusions “the likes of which you've never seen.” There's Harry Houdini's séance room too, but owner Milt Larsen often gets compliments about the friendly bartender in the Hat & Hare (one of their five bars). Thing is, this chummy chap died years ago. Maybe you should order a Corpse Reviver #2 (Lillet Blanc, gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and a dash of Galliano) — apparently four of these will do the trick.
5. Georgian Hotel — Santa Monica
Rosamund Borde was a local pioneer, and The Georgian was one of the first skyscrapers in the area. She'd already opened The Windermere Hotel some 20 years before, and it was from there that her sister-in-law Celine went out for a walk to Santa Monica Pier. Her badly decomposed body was reported “cast up by the sea” several weeks later, though the Coroner ruled it an accident. The Windermere is long gone, but guests at the Georgian have heard sighs and gasps in the Verandah Restaurant — which looks out onto the ocean. Grab their special “Georgini” cocktail (Absolut vodka and Hpnotiq Liqueur shaken with ice and served with a lemon twist) and watch the merciless, never-ending waves …
4. Culver Hotel — Culver City
“Munchkin” myths aside, the hotel is still home to city founder Harry. He had offices on the second floor for over a decade, and even though he died in 1946 it's said that staff members occasionally see his ghost wandering the corridors – and the windows in his personal office are always banging shut. Maybe he doesn't like the sea breeze. Mortal guests can sample the Culver Lemonade (Sagatiba Pura rum, fresh mint, lime, sugar and pomegranate juice).
3. Biltmore Hotel — Downtown
Only nicknamed “The Black Dahlia” after her gruesome murder, Elizabeth Short was last seen alive at the Biltmore on January 9, 1947, and the inevitable cocktail of vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur and Kahlua is their big seller. The elevator regularly stops on the 8th floor for no reason here too, and guests often notice the ghosts of two kids running across the balcony in the gorgeous Crystal Ballroom. Well-known yogi Paramahansa Yogananda's mahasamadhi is here too — he died in the Music Room of a heart attack in 1952.
2. The Basement Tavern — Santa Monica
In 1973 this Queen Anne-style building was moved — nuts, bolts and all — through the city to Heritage Square, and later opened as a restaurant. Now called The Victorian it's used for weddings and events, but their hipster secret basement hangout was a secret (for about five seconds). It seems former owner Delia came along for the ride (everyone here is used to flicking lights and footsteps), and when two of Delia's nieces visited they said they were sure she'd still be here. Staff created “Delia's Elixir” (bourbon, agave, raspberries and lemon) in her honor.
1. Alexandria Hotel — Downtown
Home to The Gorbals and the Down & Out Bar, “the Alex” was where Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin and many more hung their hats. It's also been the place many checked out for good. In 1922, a Mrs. H. L. Boyden left an unsigned poem by her body after swallowing opium tablets (“One other bitter drop to drink …”) and later that year the Los Angeles Examiner declared “Ghost Woman Sought” when Oregon man Vaden Boge drunk cyanide coffee and gasped that his wife was the killer. Police combed the city, but it later emerged he'd staged the whole “Death Luncheon” himself. Outside, check out the grey, dusty windows of the “Ghost Wing” – unoccupied and sealed off for 75 years …
James T. Bartlett is the author of Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles, a new guide to ghosts, murders and mysteries at bars and restaurants across L.A. that's available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook and at local independent bookstores, or direct via www.gourmetghosts.com. He'll be signing and leading a mini-walking tour from the Last Bookstore in downtown L.A. on Oct. 26 at 7.30 p.m., and more events can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@Gourmet Ghosts).