A new “haunted” food tour takes wannabe ghost-hunters to the spookiest Denver restaurants
Tragic but true: Colorado has been around for awhile, and at some point, someone has died pretty much everywhere.
A 150-year-old building in Larimer Square? Dead people. A jail-turned-fondue restaurant in Littleton? You know it’s got some freaky stuff happening. The longest-running bar in LoDo? Ghost stories aplenty.
It almost doesn’t matter whether or not we believe. If a restaurant or bar has a haunted history, we want to know more. We want to experience the unexplainable, to be flooded with adrenaline when the threats aren’t real, to be scared by the paranormal because our real-world normal has become so frightening.
To capitalize on our desire to be spooked, haunted tours abound, including the new Nightly Spirits food tour that takes wannabe ghost-hunters around downtown for shepherd’s pie served with a side of hair-raising haunted lore. (According to representatives, the tour stops at Rose & Thorn, Brass Tacks, The Celtic on Market and Corridor 44.)
Bryan Bonner, member of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society, which uses a scientific approach to study — and often explain away — supernatural claims, gets the appeal of our culture’s obsession with the paranormal.
“It’s something that’s inherent in human nature. We always have tried to give some sort of supernatural explanation to things we don’t understand,” Bonner said. “With the extreme popularity of the paranormal in the media, people jump to the paranormal way faster than they should. People are easily convinced that things are paranormal, especially if they’re really wanting it to be.”
And we seem to really want them to be. Bonner told the story of a now-closed restaurant in Larimer Square that advertised itself as having a resident ghost.
“Then they admitted that they made the whole thing up. We’re running into that a lot more — places that don’t have a historic haunted history but wanting to be haunted because a haunted restaurant makes a lot more money,” Bonner said.
If you want to believe in ghosts — and also appreciate a stiff drink and a solid meal — here are some bars and restaurants with a reputation for having haunted histories.
The Melting Pot
“Oh yeah, we all have them,” an employee said of The Melting Pot’s ghost stories. Most of the waitstaff has a bizarre experience to share, like seeing reflections of faces in glass cases, hearing footsteps when no one was there, overhearing conversations between invisible people and seeing faucets turn themselves on. The building was once the Littleton police department and jail, and the ghastly rumor is that a prisoner, after killing an officer during an escape attempt, was gunned down before he got away. Could the jailbird specter be spending his eternity turning fondue restaurant faucets on? Not likely. Bonner investigated The Melting Pot and explained the faucets switching themselves on as cameras’ infrared beams triggering the automatic sensors on them. (Buzzkill.) 2707 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-794-5666; meltingpot.com/Littleton-co
The Cruise Room
One of the oldest bars in Denver, the Oxford Hotel’s glamorous bar has tons of history, including the legend of a postal worker who bellied up to the bar at Christmastime on his way to deliver presents in Central City. It didn’t go well for this Santa, though: The body of the postal worker was found thawing the following spring, presents undelivered. Susan Wieser, general manager of The Cruise Room, said that around Christmastime, people have reported seeing a man in an old-timey postal uniform come in, order a beer, complain about the prices and then leave the beer untouched. The bathrooms, once the site of a barbershop, are believed to be haunted, too, with shadowy figures popping up in the mirrors and the smells of a barbershop wafting through the stalls. 1600 17th St., Denver, 303-628-5400; theoxfordhotel.com
Neon Baby (formerly The House of Mirrors, and a part of Lodo’s Bar & Grill)
“That building was one of Denver’s first brothels. It’s got murder mysteries, and it has a very vivid ghost history to go with it,” Bonner said. One of the ladies who worked at The House of Mirrors, Ella Wellington, died in an upstairs room by a gunshot wound to the head. According to the tale, she had a politician in the room with her when she died. He said it was suicide, but him being a politician and all, some doubted the validity of the claim and thought that maybe he killed her. Over the years, employees reported unusual stuff happening upstairs, like the piano playing itself, the elevator moving between floors without being summoned and a woman walking around when the building was supposedly empty. Bonner and the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society did some investigations in the building, and during their first visit he said they came away with a recording of a conversation between two men who were definitely not there. Now, the space is used as a disco club, which is a whole other sort of ghost. 1942 Market St., Denver
“Brass Tacks is probably the most haunted,” said Jared Broach, chief spirit hunter/taster of Nightly Spirits (we can’t make this stuff up) of the Denver haunted food tour. Previously, the bar/restaurant was the Blake Street Vault, and a while before that, a brothel (yes, another one). The story you’ll hear on the tour is about Lydia, one of the most popular — and let’s just say aggressive — prostitutes who lived there. “One time, she took it too far and got into an argument with a guy not expecting that,” Broach said. “He pushed her down the basement stairs and broke her neck.” Broach said that employees have heard the sound of high heels walking around, have seen Lydia show up out of nowhere, and have seen an image of a woman flicker on an upstairs television set. The kicker? The television set didn’t work. 1526 Blake St., Denver; brasstacksdinebar.com
Rose & Thorn
The pan-Latin restaurant may be new, but the building is not. At this stop on the Nightly Spirits tour, Broach talks of the 17th Street underground tunnels that connected the Market Street brothels (brothels again!) to area hotels. Ghosts believed to haunt the tunnels include several from The House of Mirrors and even the Denver Strangler himself. Jessa Robuck, senior vice president of operations for the restaurant, said she’s experienced weird vibes, especially in the basement. Just last week she said a motion detection camera caught a door locked from the outside open itself at 4:50 a.m. Was it a ghost? A malfunctioning lock? The Denver Strangler back from the dead? We may never know. 1433 17th St., Denver, 303-367-3533; roseandthornlodo.com
The Brown Palace
“The Brown Palace has more than its fair share of ghost stories,” Bonner said. The high-end hotel, which houses a few bars and restaurants, including Palace Arms, Ellyngton’s and the Churchill Bar, however, doesn’t want anything to do with them. A representative for the hotel said that they’d rather not promote this ghostly angle, but noted that The Brown does conduct private Enduring Spirits ghost tours. Bonner’s favorite Brown Palace story is of a restaurant staff member cleaning up when he heard big band music coming from another room. “He went in and nobody was there,” Bonner said. Others have reported lights turning themselves on and off, creeping carpets and apparitions dressed as train conductors (part of the hotel once housed a railroad ticket office). 321 17th St., Denver, 303-297-3111; brownpalace.com