Haunted Hot Spots: A local look at the things that go bump in the nightlife

Wanna down a couple of frothy brews with Casper the Tipsy Ghost? (Heads up: he gets a little less "friendly" after slamming a few Pete's Wicked Ales.) With Halloween creeping around the corner and our appetite for spooky stories kicking into high gear, we've assembled a motley crew of nightlife locales that are rumored to be stomping grounds for spirits . . . and we don't mean the kinds that come in a chilled martini glass. Nope, our list includes a bevy of atypical haunts, ranging from a sleek new lounge in the Back Bay to an old-school candlepin alley in Davis Square. Whether you're a believer in the "Boo!" business or just an amused skeptic, we recommend you pull up a barstool and swill a pint of hard cider or two before you read on - you might need the liquid courage.

 


Photo: JOEL VEAK

Stanhope Spooks: The Brahmin

Is there a well-dressed ghost spooking the staff of The Brahmin? Russ deMariano and Ed Brooks, the duo behind the new restaurant and lounge on Stanhope Street, say that their elaborate summer-long renovation project stirred up some paranormal activity at the space formerly occupied by 33 Restaurant & Lounge. It started back in July, when they were busy transforming the two-story building, once a carriage house and stable for horses, into a brownstone-inspired homage to Boston's early-1900s elite. Brooks and deMariano say that they were visited by a shadowy figure while working in the kitchen area.

"One night we were closing a gate downstairs to go into the liquor room. And behind that door - the light is always on - we did see something walk by . . . a shadow . . . underneath the door," says deMariano. "You know when you do a double take and see something at the corner of your eye? I'm not sure what we saw." When he and Brooks investigated the space, no one was there - and Brooks noticed that the temperature had become extremely chilly. The two fled the restaurant faster than moviegoers bolting out of Madonna's new movie. (Sorry, Madge, but those reviews were pretty scary.)

Brooks claims to be more of a Scully than a Mulder. (Um, that's an X-Files reference, for those of you who were just little spooks in the '90s.) But he says he's seen shadows moving underneath the door as if someone were pacing back and forth. His mother, Judy, a self-proclaimed sensitive to the spirit realm, told her once-skeptical son that The Brahmin space had a paranormal presence from the beginning. Also, deMariano's mother, Susan, who likewise believes in the supernatural, swears she spotted a man dressed in an old-fashioned gray suit, who vanished after a second glance.

"Whatever this thing is, it seems that he's into breaking glass," deMariano continues. "One night we heard a large crash, and I thought the chandelier had fallen down the staircase. Ed and I looked in every room twice, and we didn't find anything. A couple of servers have heard glass break, and we thought that someone may have walked up the stairs and ran into someone with a plate of food and it smashed. But there was nothing there."

Tiffany Spearman, lead server at The Brahmin, echoes the owners' accounts of paranormal encounters. "There have been a couple of times, late at night, when I'm checking the women's room and see a reflection [of a figure in the mirror] on the door when it's closed," says Spearman.

The co-owners say they're probably not going to reach out to a paranormal-investigation team anytime soon. "I'm not sure if I want to start spooking people and staff," deMariano concludes. "I'm not seeing any broken glass on the ground. Nothing has been damaged and no one has been hurt, so we're going to leave whatever or whoever it is alone and let them do their thing."

Of course, the Brahmin crew are still looking forward to Halloween, as they'll be teaming up with their neighbors at Zócalo on October 28 for a Devils & Angels Soirée benefitting Children's Hospital Boston. Sounds fun, but there's at least one guest who may not leave after last call.


Man, the Afterlife's a Drag: Jacques Cabaret

Night of the Living Diva sounds like a good title for the campiest zombie flick never made. (Someone get on that, please.) But here's a real-life equivalent: Boston-based comedian Jim Lauletta says he had a close encounter of the paranormal kind last year while performing a stand-up set at Jacques Cabaret, a Bay Village theatrical space known for its drag shows. Lauletta has appeared everywhere from Comedy Central to HBO, thanks in part to his knack for channeling celebrities in his impressions - but he says he also possesses an uncanny ability to tap into the spirit realm. "I felt a little uneasy when I went down to the basement of the club," Lauletta recalls, saying he felt a "whoosh" feeling when he was walking on the stairs. "I then saw something out of the corner of my eye, looked, and it was gone."

Lauletta asked retired performer Ashley Michelle if Jacques was haunted, mentioning his run-in with the strong energy with "a bit of an attitude" on the stairs. (Sassy, even as a specter.) "He told me about Sylvia Sidney, and I then told Ashley about the vibes I got and described her to a tee." Sylvia Sidney, born Sidney Sushman, is a legend in the Boston-area LGBT community. The late, great trailblazer began his career as a drag performer in 1947 at the age of 17 and was famous for crossing over into mainstream venues. "I nailed her attitude, what she looked like, and even some of the things she would have said without ever meeting her," Lauletta remembers.

On top of that, Jacques Cabaret is located near the site of one of Boston's more infamous tragedies, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire that killed 492 people in November 1942. Historical accounts indicate that the nearby garage of a Bay Village film-distribution company served as a temporary morgue for the hundreds of partiers who were engulfed in flames, some reportedly still holding drinks in their hands. Several of those presumed dead who were dropped off there were actually still alive. And it's rumored that the Jacques building may have been that makeshift morgue. "That totally makes sense," Lauletta says of the Cocoanut Grove connection. "It felt like a very heavy energy in that place when I went down there."

When asked if he's had any other local ghostly encounters, Lauletta jokes, "I know the ghost of my comedy career haunts a couple of buildings on Warrenton Street, but other than that there are none that I'm aware of." He continues, "Actually, Dick's Beantown Comedy Vault gives me a weird vibe. And sometimes when I do my show, there's a light bulb that goes off and on when I'm onstage."

He laughs, "Maybe it's God just giving me the light to get off the stage."


Spirit Bowling: Sacco's Bowl Haven

Are ball-wielding spirits still frolicking at Sacco's Bowl Haven in Somerville's Davis Square? Back in 2009, crews from the Syfy Channel show Ghost Hunters arrived to investigate some strange occurrences - an inexplicable dark shadow, the sound of child-like laughter from the area behind candlepin alleys, and even reports of the ghost of a former worker, Charlie, still lingering in the maintenance room. Such happenings seem fitting for a space that exuded so much history: originally opened in 1939, Sacco's remained a total throwback to the '50s until 2010, when renovations added a wood-fire oven and a sleek bar space, turning the joint into a hipster hangout where locals flock for bowling, brews, and the Flatbread Company's pizza concoctions.

During the Ghost Hunters investigation, then-co-owner Joseph Sacco claimed that a dark shadow would pass by him at a very high speed. Damon Sacco had similar scares: "My employees seem to think there are some weird things happening after hours," the then-co-owner spilled to the Ghost Hunters team. "I definitely heard some funky stuff at night." One guy quit because he felt something, or someone, behind him breathing on his neck.

The show's TAPS team discovered that there were non-supernatural explanations for most of the phenomena - for example, the so-called breathing noise heard by staffers turned out to be a leaky toilet. And Mike Brooks, assistant manager of the Flatbread Company, says things have changed a lot since the ghost-busters paid a visit: the pool-table space was transformed into an open dining area, and there's been much turnover among the site's pre-renovation employees. But one thing hasn't changed. Brooks has heard of a few "creepy encounters" from the current staff, especially when the lights are turned off after closing.


Barstool Vortex: The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrah, the Omni Parker House's fabled bar, is the only place in town where you can down a Sam Adams . . . and check out his grave across the street at the Granary Burying Ground. In fact, sit down on a barstool here, and you have a ringside seat to some of Boston's most reputedly haunted corridors.

The Omni Parker House opened its doors in October 1855, and it has since become America's longest continuously operating hotel. Local lore suggests it's also New England's most haunted. The Omni doesn't exactly shy away from the reputation, considering that there's a page devoted to "haunted tales" on its website. It has been home to various sightings of the misty apparition of the hotel's founder, Harvey Parker, who reportedly has been spotted roaming the 10th-floor annex, checking up on unsuspecting guests. Other spooky happenings involve elevators mysteriously being called to the third floor - once frequented by both Charles Dickens and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. That's also where stage siren Charlotte Cushman and an unnamed businessman died. In fact, one third-floor guestroom was converted into a closet after the unexplained reports of raucous laughter and the smell of whiskey spooked management.

Tim Shields from Iowa says he heard noises during a recent stay at the hotel. "I've been staying at the Omni Parker House for the past few days," recalls Shields. "I haven't seen Mr. Parker on the 10th floor, where I'm staying. However, I've heard what sounds to be a rocking chair in my room in the middle of the night." The freaky thing? There are no rocking chairs in the hotel.