Eat & Drink

Ghostly diners visit familiar haunts around Kansas City

Poltergeists roam Harvest Caenen Castle in Shawnee

Renee Kelly, chef-owner of Shawnee’s Renee Kelly’s Harvest, describes the numerous ghosts and other poltergeists she believes haunt her Shawnee business, in Caenen Castle.
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Renee Kelly, chef-owner of Shawnee’s Renee Kelly’s Harvest, describes the numerous ghosts and other poltergeists she believes haunt her Shawnee business, in Caenen Castle.

Kansas City poltergeists prefer congenial surroundings to the traditional spooky haunted mansions and abandoned buildings. They’re a festive lot, these ghosts, and clearly like to hang around the same kind of places — bars, cafes and restaurants — they enjoyed while they were alive.

In some cases, the ghosts won’t leave. In at least one example, the ghost hasn’t shown up … yet.

If the ghost of Wanda Lust is ever found sitting on a bar stool at the Alamo Drafthouse in the Power & Light District, it will be news to the bartenders who work there. But, reportedly, the spirit of the murdered female impersonator — stabbed to death in 1980 inside the lobby of the Empire Theater — never really left the scene of the crime.

Lust, better known as 30-year-old Stephen J. Jones, had shushed the wrong patron during a screening of the movie “The Fog.” After the film, Jones was walking into the lobby and was stabbed in the chest, dying shortly afterward.

But stories about Jones lingering around the lobby of the multiplex, which became the Alamo Drafthouse in 2012, were passed around for years. And since the original lobby, with its polished terrazzo floors, has been incorporated into the Alamo’s Chesterfield Lounge, it might seem plausible that Wanda Lust might stop in for a nightcap.

After all, that’s the story of Radar, the former regular at the old Dutch Hill Bar & Grill at 2601 Holmes Street. Radar was a fixture at the far end of the bar inside the longtime neighborhood saloon, always smoking his distinctive cigarillos.

When restaurateur Beth Barden was transforming the former bar into Succotash, her expanded bruncheonette in 2008, she learned that the long-dead Radar was still a tenant.

“When we were working late, we could faintly smell the cigarillo smoke, which has a unique aroma. You could only smell it at night,” Barden says, “never during the day. And people have seen him, out of the corner of their eye, when dashing through the dining room.

“We had a baker here, working late, who smelled the cigarillo smoke and felt the presence of something. He told me he had to get the hell out of there.”

Barden says that Radar seems like a happy ghost. He doesn’t throw glasses or frighten customers.

“The worst thing he’s ever done is to make the lights flicker,” she says.

Restaurant ghosts tend to be more mischievous than malicious. When Dawn Slaughter, the owner of the Corner Restaurant in Westport, was rehabbing the first floor of the building — which is over 100 years old — with her former business partner, they nearly jumped out of their skin the first time they were in the basement and heard footsteps above them, coming from a dining room that they knew was empty.

“These footsteps weren’t walking, they were running across the floor,” Slaughter says. “We would go up, make sure the doors were locked, and wait around to see what would happen. The minute we went back to the basement, the running started again.”

As in Succotash, another former restaurant regular has been known to make return appearances. A former Corner server from an earlier incarnation of the venue told Slaughter that a longtime favorite customer had always whispered a certain phrase into her ear after he paid his bill.

“After the customer passed away, strange things started happening in the restaurant, so she asked someone she knew — someone with knowledge of psychic phenomenon — to come into the dining room. The server was told, “I don’t know why I’m supposed to tell you this, but …’ And she whispered the same phrase that only the customer had told her before.”

The Corner Restaurant isn’t the only local restaurant with running ghosts. Renee Kelly, the chef/owner of Shawnee’s Renee Kelly’s Harvest, says that several active ghosts populate the 108-year-old home that she uses as both restaurant and event space.

“This house has had a very active life,” Kelly says. “It was a private home and later, a rest home. We’ve heard the sound of children running and laughing, even a ball bouncing on the mezzanine when no one is there. We’ve had sightings of shadowy figures in the basement, and my staff insists there’s an old man who walks the back hall.”

A more physical poltergeist has pulled pots and pans off the walls and thrown them on the floor.

“There’s a spot near the bar that’s always ice cold,” Kelly says. “Supposedly, there’s a spirit who stands there.”

At least two restaurants in the Kansas City metro once had pharmacies on the first floor and medical professionals living upstairs. The Main Street Galleria in Weston has a charming tea room on the second floor of the building, once occupied by the town’s pharmacist, Beno Hillix and his wife, Creola.

Longtime Weston residents can still remember how Beno liked to chain-smoke cigarettes and swear, and every so often they can smell the aroma of Lucky Strikes in the drugstore on the first floor. Tea room employees swear they’ve heard Creola chattering away upstairs, usually from behind a door.

In Kansas City, Jane Zieha’s Blue Bird Bistro is housed in a former drugstore that later became a speakeasy and a church. Zieha believes that all the current spectral residents — including Dr. Bagbee up on the second floor — are positive spirits who are happy to be there.

“Haunted is such a negative word,” Zieha says. “I think that the spirits in this building bring a lot of positive energy. We’re happy to have them.”

Charles Ferruzza is a freelance food writer who plans to haunt the Savoy Grill in his next life. He’s currently working on a book on a history of Kansas City dining.

Even ghosts get the blues

Not only have the most famous restaurants — the Terrace Grill, Café Picardy, Le Bistro, Café Trianon — checked out of the historic Muehlebach Hotel at 12th and Baltimore over the last 70 years, apparently the hotel’s famous resident ghost, “The Blue Lady” has, too.

“There haven’t been many sightings of her in a few years,” says Cynthia Pistilli Savage, vice president of the Raphael Hotel Group.

“She’s been laying low.”

The Blue Lady — by most accounts a very visible spirit; 30ish, blond, in a blue gown — was first reported wandering through the halls by hotel staffers in the 1930s. She allegedly made periodic forays into the restaurants on the lower levels of the hotel, looking for someone.

“A lost love,” Savage says. “She is said to have been an actress at the old Gayety Theater around the corner and had been jilted.”

The theater was torn down in 1950. The Blue Lady may be looking for a job.

Charles Ferruzza