7 Spooky L.A. Spots for Dining with the Dead
A haunted restaurant is a thing of delight.
Photo by Jared Cowan
Forget mazes, rides, haunted hayrides and houses of horror with their hordes of mask-wearing actors providing cheap thrills. Instead, grab a drink at one of L.A.'s haunted restaurants — seven dining and drinking spots that all have real resident ghosts far spookier than most made-up macabre.
Befitting their age, most are downtown, but Hollywood and Long Beach also offer eerie places for your dining delight this spooky season.
The balcony at La Golondrina
7. La Golondrina
Right near the original settlement of Pueblo de Los Angeles, and perhaps the best place to prep for El Dia de los Muertos, this is one of many contenders for the first Mexican restaurant in town — and arguably the best burrito especial. More importantly for our purposes, it's still being watched over by La Consuela (or “The Mistress”). She has been seen on the stairs leading up to the offices and out on the balcony, which is now in the back room area but used to look out over Olvera Street itself.
Workmen, as well as owner Vivien de Bonzo’s father, have been scared out of here by something, and although they had the building blessed in the early 1960s, de Bonzo's certain that the lady is the ghost of her grandmother, who was known as “The Queen of Olvera Street.”
Beer & a shot at King Eddy
Acme Hospitality Group/Look at Me GFX
6. King Eddy Saloon
Though the Parkinson/Bergstrom-designed hotel opened its doors over a century ago, the adjoining King Eddy bar gets all the headlines. It sold pianos in the 1920s and 1930s, though of course the tunnel-linked basement speakeasy did much brisker bootleg business. After the heyday of Fante and Bukowski, more recently it was one of the Skid Row bars of choice: cheap beer, microwaved food, buzzer bathrooms, and lots of drama — a place where, famously, “no one gave a shit about your name.”
Acme Hospitality gussied the place up a couple of years ago and beers are still cheap at least, but they couldn’t get erase the dark drinking past of its neighboring hotel. Shortly after opening, one of the guests, Benjamin E. Smith, committed suicide in his room after a three-day binge, taking an ounce of laudanum before writing a suicide letter that blamed his wife: “Minnie, you killed me.” A few years later on Christmas Day 1909, H.F. Windward shot himself in the head with a .38 — he was said to be “disappointed in love.” But then who isn’t? So be nice to the guy staring into his whiskey at the bar…
Checkers - where "Miss X" fell
Shaped like a devil’s trident, this was one of the first 12-story buildings allowed in L.A. and is still known to many old-timers as “The Mayflower.” Its current name reflects the colorful history of this place too: “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford almost bought it in the late 1950s. The view off the roof is to die for, and that’s exactly what “Miss X” did in 1953 — her body was found in the walkway below and later identified as recently registered guest Teresa Drauden.
Drauden wasn't the only death here. A couple of years before the hotel was built in 1927, two separate men living on-site chose a gun and poison to end it all. Was it one of their spirits the "strange person" a valet named Ruben and his two guests found in one of the 8th floor rooms? The trio burst in on this unexpected guest, but when security returned, the bed was made, was as cold as ice, and the person had gone. Maybe he, she or it had gone out of the front doors — CCTV footage clearly shows it opening and closing, but no one is there.
If you choose to take your rest here, try either the lounge — where there's a chess board ready to play in the corner — or the restaurant featuring California cuisine with French and Asian influences in the back.
4. Figueroa Hotel
Originally built as a hotel for professional women, men and their families by the YWCA, the Figueroa is now a decadent Moroccan/Spanish-style hotel holding its own by LA Live and the Vegas-style JW Marriott hotel nearby.
Management doesn’t like to talk about any strange happenings here (not even the common — and probably explainable — hotel quirks of strange sounds, televisions turning themselves on and off and elevators running on their own), but back in April 1950 there was a nasty murder here.
Hallie Cecilia Oswald’s naked body was found in one of the rooms, and waiter Harry Gordon, her deranged regular heavy-drinking partner, confessed: “I killed her. I killed her because I loved her.”
Even more famous in its day was the earlier drama of William L Tallman, a ship radio operator who stayed here before meeting — and killing — his lover Virginia Patty, and remained on the run for the rest of his life.
The Lobby Café offers steak, chicken and burgers, but go through to the Veranda Bar out back. It’s a small bar and patio area with a stylish red and gold four-poster “Sultan’s” bed, facing the hexagon-shaped pool and the cactus garden around it. It’s a gorgeous spot, but try not to think of school principal David Ray Arnold. In 1946 he jumped from the fire escape on the 11th floor — and he didn’t land on the street.
A celebrity hangout since way back, this place was the dream of Antonio Gutierrez, who had just arrived in town from Mexico and was waiting tables. An empty lot caught his eye, and after bargaining the owner down to $3,800, he set about building his own restaurant. That was more than 50 years ago, and his mother’s recipes (belting burritos!) are still keeping locals happy.
Antonio’s as spry and charming as ever — he has his own tequila, too — and will happily tell you about the ghosts here: "They turn off lights, and ring the bell. One time they pulled at my shirt.” He won’t say who he thinks the ghost is but does mention that Frank Sinatra spent many nights here, and Howard Hughes even had a phone installed (ask to see it in one of the private rooms).
The arch at the Cat & Fiddle
2. Cat & Fiddle
If you want to stagger somewhere nearer to Hollywood, then on Sunset Boulevard you’ll find the Cat & Fiddle pub. Even though it's slated to close, it's still open for now. And while Halloween’s not such a big deal in the U.K., but you'll probably still see what the Brits call "fancy dress" here on the night — though you should forget about Tootsie rolls; this place is a haven for Scotch eggs and Cornish pasties.
Opened by British Invasion musician Kim Gardener and wife Paula in Laurel Canyon in 1982, it moved here a couple of years later and has always been a family business — and a place to spot musicians past and present.
Security guard Michael Savage says he's been told of the ghost of a 1930s Tong gangland murder victim in the Casablanca Room, plus strange noises, flying glasses, dark shadows and cold spots, but for him “The Smoking Man” he first saw by the arched front gate in 2006 is someone he knows well: Kim Gardner, who died of cancer in 2001. “He was smoking a cigarette, and had his arms folded. And then suddenly he was gone. But he was right at the very place where Kim would go for a cigarette.”
1. Queen Mary
Get in the mood — or take courage — with spirits of a different kind at the Queen Mary's 1930s Observation Bar, but try to ignore the mazes and monsters of their notorious Dark Harbor attraction and step on board into a whirl of history. There are endless stories behind this Scottish lady’s 2,000 portholes, and the supernatural and ghost tours run here all year round.
During WWII this ship was even temporarily named the Grey Ghost, and there are many more tales afloat here — from rumors of how many people died during her construction, to the horrific wartime tragedy, when she collided with and sunk the escort ship HMS Curacao, but was forbidden from stopping to rescue 300 or so men drowning in the seas. It's said their desperate pummeling on the hull can be heard when you're in the bowels of the ship.
There are many reports of a supernatural vortex too, and one was captured on film and revealed for the first time in the book Gourmet Ghosts — Los Angeles, located at one of the ship's behind-the-scenes corridors where a tragic accident occurred. Dine at Sir Winston's before taking the "Dining With The Spirits" tour, and later you'll pass by this watertight door — which is, of course, No. 13. Spooky.
Karen & Jason Miller
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