Halloween is almost here, and among the costumes and candy corn it seems that people have an insatiable thirst for the bloody real. Podcast My Favorite Murder, documentaries Making a Murderer, The Witness and Amanda Knox, countless TV shows and, of course, O.J. and JonBenét, are still water-cooler fodder long after the coroner’s closed the file.
Los Angeles leads the way in famous gore: Manson, the Black Dahlia, the Night Stalker, O.J. Simpson — hell, that actress who jumped off the Hollywood Sign — but under the hysterical glitz and conspiracy theories, there’s still plenty of violent crime splattered out among the city’s lesser-known mortals.
My book Gourmet Ghosts 2 is another journey into murder, mystery, crime — and ghosts — at L.A.’s bars, restaurants and hotels. It suggests a good cocktail or dinner list, too, so the Weekly asked me to journey into the darkness and come up with an unusual unlucky seven…
1. The Ace Hotel is noted for its buzzing scene, but before the impressive United Artists building even came into being, not one but two body parts, a leg and a foot, were found here, the former wrapped in newspaper and tied with string. They came from different (dead) people. More recently, hotel guests have reported the disturbing sounds of children laughing and crying, and the Ace's stunning Spanish Gothic theater is host to a ghostly woman in white. Get your group together on the rooftop, listen for vibrations and have a communal Union Station cocktail (vodka, gin, cachaça, mezcal, ancho reyes, lemon, agave and lemon-lime soda). Coincidentally, L.A.'s Union Station has been the last stop for assorted limbs, too: trunks full of murder victims.
929 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 623-3233, acehotel.com/losangeles.
2. On either side of the Fine Arts Building is a sports bar and a Lebanese/Mediterranean restaurant (take your pick for dinner and atmosphere), but inside is perhaps the most beautiful vision in DTLA; it was the fave of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in 500 Days of Summer. The Fine Arts also is home to a ghostly man who roams the basement, and a small spectral girl. The connection? That Peter Pan–esque lobby fountain; it was modeled on the children of architect Burt Johnson, who died before the building was finished.
811 W. Seventh St., downtown.
3. Roosevelt Building. Strangely, there are two O.J. connections to downtown. In late 1943 at this huge building on Seventh and Flower, an angry patient pushed his way into Dr. Verne Hunt’s office and shot him, then turned the gun on himself. That crime gave us the law that allowed victims' families to sue their killer’s estate (as the Brown and Goldman families did against Simpson). While you're at the music-friendly Salvage bar on the street level, be sure to check out the bar. It’s made of the massive doors that used to be at the main entrance of the Roosevelt, and at least two men passed through them and disappeared (one of them going to meet what turned out to be a fake client at the Hoover Dam).
717 W. Seventh St., downtown; (213) 688-7755, salvagela.com
4. Double Tree Hotel. The “Japanese O.J. Simpson” case originated here, back when the hotel was called the New Otani and Kazuyoshi Miura was suspected of organizing the attempted murder of his wife, Kazumi, in a room here in 1981. He was there when Kazumi was actually murdered in a suspicious street robbery years later, but it took even longer before he was brought back from Japan to finally face the law. Ruminate over the facts with a Beet the System (white whiskey, St. Germain, apple bitters, lemon and fresh beets), one of many ironically legal-themed tipples in the hotel’s adjoining bar called Justice.
120 S. Los Angeles St., downtown; (213) 253-9235, justicela.com.
5. El Carmen. Move out of deadly downtown to this popular tequila bar on Third Street, and you might be the lucky recipient of a handful of candy. They still seem to be secretly delivered by sweet Martha, the long-gone but generous stepdaughter of original owner Encarnación, though staff also have reported less appealing things: cold spots and items inexplicably falling off shelves. Here you can taste some True Blood (Tapatio 110 Blanco, house hibiscus syrup, Canton ginger, lime juice, Guajillo chili and cucumber slices in a Tajin-rimmed glass) and think dark thoughts about the people who hide behind lucha libre masks.
8138 W. Third St., Mid-City; (323) 852-1552, elcarmenla.com.
6. At Tom Bergin's, a ripping, shamrock-covered Irish pub, there’s whiskey and Guinness galore — and the ghost of old Tom himself. He’s often seen at the bar or at his old table, his cigarette smoke still wafting around, and co-owner Derek Schreck says that many nighttime cleaning crews have quit after he paid them a visit. Calm the nerves with an Irish coffee — allegedly invented right here — and ask Derek about the nice old lady who passed into the afterlife when she was sitting at the bar one night.
840 S. Fairfax Ave., Mid-City; (323) 936-7151, tombergins.com.
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7. Hollywood Plaza Hotel is a good place for some late munchies. Now very different from its grand celebrity days, it was the place for the final scene in the Alaskan Blonde scandal of 1954. The date was Feb. 14 and Diane Wells, 34, wrote a note: “My Valentine, I love you” — encased in a heart shape — here after checking out of her room at the nearby Drake Hotel, and walking round to the Plaza.
Then she reached for a bottle of pills, determined to avoid her upcoming murder trial.
As for her sad, tabloid-friendly story (and why no one will go on the Plaza's roof), that’s in the book and can be revealed on another night – but you can console yourself with something sinful at the Chocolate Bar Pastry Café here.
1635 Vine St., Hollywood; (323) 467-7577, chocolatebarpastrycafe.com.
Author James T. Bartlett will launch "Gourmet Ghosts 2" ($19.95) and be in conversation at the Last Bookstore on Oct.28 at 7 p.m. For more details see lastbookstore.com or gourmetghosts.com or @gourmetghosts.