If you want a side of chills to go along with your entree this Halloween, you’ve come to the right place.
The following establishments remind us that it’s not just the food and service that make for a great dining experience; it’s the story behind the restaurant.
Sometimes a clever starter or impeccable main isn’t enough to sate the appetite. No, sometimes you need a good ghost story to wash it all down.
The West Coast is often starved for the kind of places that echo with the complement of decades of history.
At Old Town Pizza & Brewing, that isn’t the case. It’s festooned with the kind of vintage character that you might ordinarily find in other parts of the country. It even comes complete with its own famous ghost, Nina (pronounced Nigh-na).
Old Town is located in the lobby of what was once the Merchant Hotel, one of Portland’s oldest buildings, dating back to 1880.
The city’s “Shanghai Tunnels” in the building’s basement and the lore of Nina, a woman who is said to have been thrown to her death at the bottom of the hotel’s elevator shaft, make this one of the premier haunts in the area.
“Supposedly she was murdered in our elevator shaft, which is our most popular seat in the restaurant,” explained owner Adam Milne.
Adding a little depth to the tale, there is also a brick that dons her name nearby. The rumor is that Nina herself carved her name into the brick — posthumously, of course.
Even if you aren’t a believer, you have to love the fact that you can actually dine in what was once the elevator shaft.
And if you don’t believe, Old Town has a way of remedying that fact rather quickly.
“Right after I purchased the restaurant, there was the kitchen manager that didn’t believe in ghosts told me how he saw an old woman in a black dress wandering into the basement,” Milne recounted. “He walked down to tell her, ‘Hey we’re closed, you’re not supposed to be down there.’ And when he got there, nobody. The woman wasn’t there. Nobody was there.”
Milne also remembers something that took place a couple years ago. His beer and wine distributor was making a delivery through the sidewalk cellar doors into the restaurant’s basement, which connects to the famed tunnels. That’s when he came rushing back to the surface.
“He came up in front of me and the general manager freaked out, saying, ‘Tell me about this Nina woman,’” Milne said.
After the two described her, the delivery man said, “I just saw her.” “He asked to be taken off of our route because he was so scared of those tunnels,” Milne recalled.
Milne has had his own brush with the supernatural. “We have a picture frame in the dining area. And all of a sudden, out of the blue, it started moving while I was doing some paperwork,” he said.
Milne described the movement as an incessant swaying, much like a pendulum. “It didn’t stop rocking back and forth for 15 minutes until I physically touched it to stop it,” he said.
Renowned for its pizza and award-winning beer, Old Town Pizza & Brewing ceases to be a place of frivolity once the living goes home.
“It’s very creepy,” Milne said. “You don’t want to be there by yourself at night. I don’t think any employees are there (by themselves). We sort of have a policy when the doors shut, everyone leaves at the same time.”
And, perhaps, somewhere Nina is waving at them as they close up shop.
St. Louis, Missouri
At the Lemp Mansion Restaurant & Inn, you’re family. That also goes for any supernatural beings that may be lurking.
“I do see apparitions, sometimes full-formed apparitions,” said resident paranormal investigator and official historian at Lemp Mansion Betsy Burnett-Belanger.
Sunday’s dinner is an all-you-can-eat affair and is particularly delightful, described as old-fashioned grandma-style fried chicken cooked in a skillet. It also comes with a side of stark realization that you’re chowing down in a place that has witnessed several suicides.
Belanger has been around Lemp Mansion in some capacity for 24 years and was acquainted with its eerie ambiance from the start.
“As far as me, it starts way back when I first started there, hearing dogs bark that weren’t there, feeling things around me, [but also] some very kind things,” she told HuffPost.
The historian, who now runs a haunted tour of the location, explains that not all spirits are diabolical.
“I was walking up the front steps with a whole armload of things for my tour,” she said. “I got all the way to the top of them and I had my arms full so I couldn’t hold onto the bannister and I lost my footing. And something grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me forward. So, I didn’t fall backward or else I would probably be a ghost there if I had.”
The entity that pulled at Belanger could be any number of candidates, although some more likely than others.
You see, Lemp has a long but not always happy history. It begins back in 1868 when the Lemp home was finished, a project of William Jacob Lemp, who had seen his family grow from selling groceries on the riverfront to what he called the William J. Lemp Brewery, which produced German-style lager.
William and his wife, Julia, would eventually move into the mansion and have 10 children. Life back in the 19th century was often married to hardship and the couple lost their first daughter, Luisa. Belanger admits that there is not a lot of mention of her and she seems to be in one census and not another.
By 1904, the family endured yet another horrible tragedy. Following the death of his son Frederick four years earlier, patriarch William died by suicide in what was the first of three suicides that would take place on the premises.
Belanger states that William told his wife, “I’m not feeling well. I’m going to go back upstairs and lay down.” He then shot himself in the head.
Julia would die two years later in the same house due to cancer.
The family experienced a remarkably dark period during these years as William Jr., referred to as Billy, took over as president of the business.
He is described as handsome, an admirer of ladies but someone who could be “a brutal man at times.” He also suffered what may have been a bout of depression and also died by suicide in 1922 in an office area of the house.
The home would again welcome a Lemp when a family member by the name of Charles settled down at the now dilapidated mansion.
He would live there for 19 years, eventually dying by suicide while also killing his dog on May 9, 1949, after battling bone cancer, arthritis and depression.
Both the office area where Billy died and the library were Charles passed are used as dining areas today.
Belanger is eager to regale guests with tales from this restaurant’s rich history. And as for the ghosts, “I’ve had things walk around me, touch me, try to scare me off,” she said. “And I haven’t gone anywhere.”
And, it seems, that goes for the Lemps, as well.
New Orleans, Louisiana
“A wide cast of characters has traveled through the building over the years,” general manager Christian Pendleton said of Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans.
And when you have so many people coming through your doors, doors that have been around since 1756, an impression is bound to be made. Sometimes, well, a person’s presence doesn’t leave. It remains like the aroma of a perfectly prepared breakfast.
“It’s no surprise that there might be ghosts lingering in some of these historic French Quarter buildings ― famed for their many owners and storied pasts,” said Ralph Brennan, owner of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group in New Orleans. “Growing up in Brennan’s, it was always rumored that Paul Morphy had a presence upstairs, but I never had the pleasure of encountering his spirit firsthand. And I don’t dispute for a moment that the spirit of Paul Blangé, Brennan’s legendary chef presides at Brennan’s. We’re all conscious of his legacy and his standards. If we’re talking about his actual ghost rattling pots and pans, well, if that notion keeps us on our toes, so be it!”
It seems that a place as legendary as Brennan’s is bound to have a couple of famous ghosts.
“He’s probably one of the more thoughtful people to haunt the building,” Pendleton remarked of chef Blangé.
During a recent renovation, the restaurant was closed for 18 months, leaving the spirit of the renowned chef rather anxious.
“So when we first opened, you would absolutely hear people, you know, the first two, three, four people in the building would call a little freaked out because there were a lot of sounds of pans rustling and things like that as everyone was getting ready for breakfast at Brennan’s.”
Not one to tempt fate, Pendleton has made sure to stay on the good side of chef, putting his picture in the kitchen so that he might watch over the proceedings and know what he is always a part of the establishment.
Another entity inextricably linked to the building is that of Paul Morphy, a renowned chess player who lived at the location in the mid-19th century.
The general manager noted that one of the more beloved patrons of the restaurant won’t step foot into the restaurant’s Morphy room: “There’s a room that she will not go in there because she’s like, ’He’s in there, I can feel that I want no part of it.′ She’s completely freaked out about going in that room.”
But you can walk into the room, which is often used as a staff meeting room. There you can determine whether the tingles you feel are from nearby spirits or just the spirited environment.
Perhaps it’s the echo of death from a massive flood or the century of visitors. Regardless, there is something spooky about the delightful cuisine they have at Twisted Vine, which is situated in a building that once served as the Birmingham National Bank starting in 1892.
In fact, the restaurant still exudes some of the classic charm of its former bank self as the old bank vault can be seen in what is referred to as the main dining room. It’s a place that beckons those interested in local history, which is fortunate because it now features in a paranormal tour.
“A lot of customers approach me once they’ve been there. They sense a presence. Me, personally, once in a while I’ll hear some voices,” owner Mike Picone said. “Things are moved around quite often.”
It’s always a difficult task to track down the impetus behind the things that go bump in the night.
In the case of the Twisted Vine, Picone has heard some theories. “Back in 1955, the area, particularly the Naugatuck Valley area, got hit with a massive flood. It was like a one-in-a-hundred-year flood. The flood of ’55, they call it,” he said.
The flood swept through the area thanks to two back-to-back hurricanes. The result was catastrophic. It also meant that more than homes were destroyed.
“A lot of cemeteries, particularly in Seymour, were getting washed out. And caskets were floating down the rivers,” Picone said.
He explained that while unsubstantiated, the theory goes that the old bank was used at the time as sort of a makeshift morgue for all the washed-away caskets.
“Another story floating around is before the bank was there, there was a house that burned down and children and some adults perished in the fire,” explained Picone.
What you can expect from the Twisted Vine is a complement of dishes like the Tuscan salmon, penne alla vodka and sole Picone, as well as a chance to capture mysterious voices, images and orbs like others have over the years.
Picone recounts one time eight or nine years ago when he, his maître d’ and wait staff were at the front desk and heard voices from the dining room. When they went to find the source of the voices, as he said, “no one was in the dining room at all.”
More recently, the restaurant’s resident spook decided to rearrange Picone’s personal belongings.
“I was in there a few months back doing some paperwork up in one of the balconies,” he said. “And it was kind of warm up there, so I took my shirt off and I had a T-shirt underneath and I left it up there. I was doing some paperwork, went downstairs to see the bartender, came back upstairs. My shirt wasn’t where I left it.”
It wasn’t anywhere where it should have been. Instead, it was tossed on the floor in the main dining room as if to remind that some places are not merely inhabited by the living.
New Orleans, Louisiana
A lot of work has gone into renovating a place that has been around since 1814. And still, Napoleon House has the look and feel of a building that has lived and breathed New Orleans from the very beginning.
It started as a home for the city’s first mayor, Nicholas Girod. As for its name, it’s rather simple.
“It was rumored that [Girod] was adding on and making embellishments to this opulent apartment in the French quarter to ready it for Napoleon Bonaparte if and when they rescued him from his exile,” explained Chris Montero, chef and general manager.
“The building and the environment just wreaks of hauntedness, especially when you go into the fourth-floor attic, an area that could have been slave quarters,” he said. “They’re still very much in 1800 condition.”
Montero said that the restaurant, famed for its Pimm’s Cup and muffuletta, has welcomed paranormal investigators who attempt to make some sense of the location’s haunts.
The verdict: Napoleon House is teeming with ghosts.
“They found ghosts everywhere,” Montero told HuffPost. “There’s a captain at the bottom of the stairs. In the courtyard, there’s a woman who died; they can’t tell if she was murdered.”
The investigators concluded that the ghostly captain drinks whiskey (but, really, what proud ghost wouldn’t?) and that there was a heartbroken woman who met her demise either by being murdered or taking her own life.
The restaurant is also said to house a the spirit of a sailor that likes to drink downstairs. It is perhaps this entity that is to blame for the glasses that have been found along the bar long after the area has been cleaned for the night.
Four stories up is a cupola wherein a photographer spotted something interesting after a photo shoot a few years back.
Montero recalled, “A week or two goes by and she contacts my sales manager and says, ’You won’t believe this, but I’ve got a photograph in one of the many proofs that has a man’s image in the window, adjacent to the young lady.”
Despite my efforts to track down the photo, I had to make do with the general manager’s description: “This isn’t like a Jesus on a piece of toast kind of thing where you have to use your imagination to see it. This is a very distinct image as a reflection in a windowpane.”
As I was reminded, this is four stories up, where no man could possibly be standing.
All of this is to say that you should remember that next time you dine, you might have an unexpected guest at your table.