13 Scary Samplings from Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles
October 12, 2012
1. The Magic Castle, Hollywood
Home to piano-playing resident ghost “Invisible Irma”, this club for magicians has a Harry Houdini séance room and stories of sprits other than the ones you can find at the five bars. A blackout darkened the city one night, but didn’t stop Irma’s “playing” — something owner Milt Larsen knew couldn’t happen. Milt is also happy to get compliments about Loren, the bartender at the Hat & Hare — even though Loren died several years ago.Home to piano-playing resident ghost “Invisible Irma”, this club for magicians has a Harry Houdini séance room and stories of sprits other than the ones you can find at the five bars. A blackout darkened the city one night, but didn’t stop Irma’s “playing” — something owner Milt Larsen knew couldn’t happen. Milt is also happy to get compliments about Loren, the bartender at the Hat & Hare — even though Loren died several years ago.
2. Yamashiro, Hollywood
A luxurious Japanese-inspired bungalow - complete with pagoda - in the hills above Hollywood, Yamashiro still has late owner Thomas O. Glover on site - literally. He's buried in the inner court, and many security guards have found it hard to stay on the job when they take a walk around the gardens. There's a lady waiting endlessly at table 9 in the Sunset Room - and not for the check - and a possible tunnel in the basement (though no one dares look under the hollow floorboards).
4. Jones, West Hollywood
A former haunt of thedailymeal.com’s own Colman Andrews, it’s now a now a rock n’ roll bar with killer pizza and rows of Jack Daniels bottles above the bar. Table #34 is the one to choose — so many glasses spill and pizzas roll off their stands here that promo slips are marked “ghost” — and one server came a whisker away from being hit on the head by a box. The CCTV footage was watched over and over by all the staff, but no one could work out how it seemed to be shoved off the shelf.
5. Formosa Café, West Hollywood
A red beacon on Santa Monica Boulevard, it has been a movie star hangout for over 70 years; the former Warner Bros. studio is right next door. It’s a former gangster joint too — Mickey Cohen’s safe is in the floor and he used to run a book out of the back train car restaurant — and the co-owner from that era, Lem Quon, is still at work. He’s been seen and heard by many members of staff (usually making them get busy), so don’t hang around booth 8 if you’re feeling lazy.
6. La Golondrina, Downtown
Heralded as the first Mexican restaurant in town, it’s owned by Vivien Bonzo and overseen by “La Consuela” (or “The Mistress”), who has been seen on the stairs and on the balcony, which is now in the back room area but used to look out over Olvera Street. Bonzo is sure it’s the ghost of her grandmother, but says there are more spirits here. She also says that her father used to sleep here at night on occasion and despite being a “big, macho man,” he left all the doors open so that he could escape in a hurry.
7. Spring Arts Tower, Downtown
Formerly a bank and now home to a huge used bookstore, small restaurant Café Nine and a nightclub in the vault — as well as apartments and offices. Years ago, the former building manager was on the third floor when he heard jingling keys and someone trying door handles — and he knew he was the only person in the building, and the only one with keys. Searching the archives, I found a Los Angeles Times story from July 4, 1927 that made my hair stand on end: a building watchman had fallen down the freight elevator shaft from the third floor and slowly bled to death as puzzled bank workers heard someone shouting — but didn’t know where he was.
8. Alexandria Hotel, Downtown
Home to Scottish/Jewish restaurant The Gorbals and the Down & Out Bar, this grand dame hotel was the location for several suicides by poison, the most notable one being that of Oregon man Vaden Boge in 1922. He ordered lunch for him and his wife and then drunk a cup of cyanide coffee, staggering into the corridor and gurgling his last words: that she was the killer. The Los Angeles Examiner declared “Ghost Woman Sought,” but Boge had faked the whole thing and ordered the “Death Luncheon” for one. Outside, look up for the dust-covered windows of the “Ghost Wing” — dozens of rooms that have been sealed off for over 75 years.
9. Traxx at Union Station, Downtown
You know it from Blade Runner and (500) Days of Summer, but it’s been the last stop for some “trunk murders,” the most famous of which was the double killing by “Velvet Tigress” Ruth Judd. In October 1931 inspectors saw her trunks were dripping blood, and inside they found the chopped up bodies of two women — rivals of Judd that she’d killed in what appeared to be a huge fight over one man. Found guilty of their murders but charming her way off death row and into an asylum, she escaped six times before being released. Have a Traxx Martini (two parts Hendrick’s Gin, a hint of dry vermouth and a float of Dubonnet Rouge) and remember the “golden age” of trains.
10. Oviatt Building/Cicada Restaurant, Downtown
James Z. Oviatt was a flamboyant designer, and he lived in the penthouse of the Art Deco building he designed with business partner James Alexander. Their 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 were 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.
11. 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, and staff have got used to flicking lights and footsteps; they created “Delia’s Elixir” (bourbon, agave, raspberries and lemon) in her honor.
12. Queen Mary, Long Beach
Way out of town, but you just can’t beat it for looks. She was re-named “The Grey Ghost” during WWII, and on one of supply runs she collided with HMS Curacao. Ordered not to stop for anything, they left over 300 men to drown in the icy waters — a tragedy that was hushed up for years. It’s said the screams and desperate banging of the drowning men on the hull have been heard, which makes the footprints and the small girl seen in the former first class swimming pool seem almost charming. Investigators have identified a vortex of energy behind the wall near the pool, though when the Miller family was visiting in 1999 they photographed something strange near the watertight door where someone had been crushed to death.
13. Biltmore Hotel, Downtown
No guide to Los Angeles’ infamous past would be complete without a reference to Elizabeth Short, who was only nicknamed “The Black Dahlia” after her gruesome murder. The last place she was seen was at the grand Biltmore Hotel, and the inevitable cocktail of vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur and Kahlua is their big seller. As for the Manson Family murders, the building Sharon Tate and her friends met their terrible end is long gone — though you can eat at the last place they did; stalwart Mexican restaurant El Coyote.
3. Barney’s Beanery – West Hollywood
A roadside diner moved alongside the then-new Route 66 (and one of Janis Joplin’s last stops), today it’s a sports neon sign haven with a menu like a newspaper (most expensive dish? the Dom Perignon and chili cheese dog breakfast). There are regular reports of a “Man in Black” near the pool table and even in the walk-in freezer (a chilly place known for sliding kegs), and there’s even a possible link to the bizarre life of James Edward Baker, a man convicted of manslaughter and re-invented as 1970s cult leader “Father Yod.”